Monday, March 14, 2011

Exploring History in Plantation Letters

In the article "Exploring History in Plantation Letters," part of the March/April issue of Learning & Leading With Technology, the authors discuss the lack of primary sources that shed light the on the experience of enslaved peoples in the Antebellum South.  The faculty at North Carolina State University have begun digitizing documents that give a first-hand account of what life was like at that time, allowing students to access them online and learn more about slavery and its effect on the country.

Most of the documents come from the Cameron family papers, a family who regularly communicated with friends and business associates regarding their plantation.  A small portion of the more than 35,000 documents discuss what life was like for slaves on an Antebellum plantation.  So far, more than 100 letters have been uploaded to a site call the Plantation Letters and includes an interactive document viewer that allows students to browse and retrieve letters of interest using keywords such as childbirth, doctors, clothing, food, housing, transportation and more.

The document viewer allows users to see a photograph of the original letter and a transcribed copy.  The goal of the project, according to the authors, is "to enable students to conduct historical inquiries on a variety of topics using contemporary tools" (Oliver & Lee 2011, p. 2).  The site also includes links for teachers to existing lesson plans to help them use standards for "promoting and assessing students' historical think in six core areas: establishing historical significance, using primary source evidence, identifying continuity and change, analyzing cause and consequence, taking historical perspectives, and understanding moral dimensions of history" (Oliver & Lee 2011, p. 2).

This sounds like an excellent way to incorporate technology into the study of history.  Being able to access primary source material online helps bring the past to life and can build a connection between students and the material they are studying.  The more projects such as Plantation Letters that are available, the more students can feel closer to the past.

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