Reading Between the Lines: Primary Sources in the High School History Classroom


Created by Paul Ergen and Patricia Turner

History is told using a variety of “primary” sources; that is, sources that date back to the period under study. These include archaeological, environmental, astronomical, oral, representational, and written records.   For the early modern and modern periods, written material -- in the form of publications, archival records, diaries and letters, statistical sources, etc. -- comprise the primary sources most commonly used by historians.  Learning to interpret and draw conclusions from written records is thus a skill essential to historical analysis.


These programs, all written using Articulate Storyline software, focus on three topics central to high school curricula, including AP courses.  They provide students with opportunities to practice close reading, primary source interpretation, and the creation of arguments and thesis statements to explain the past.

World War II and the Atomic Bomb: A Perspective Analysis


Utilizing primary sources, this project introduces students to the debate surrounding the use of the atomic bomb on Japan during World War II. The project also incorporates testimonials from Japanese survivors of the atomic bombs to promote a more inclusive and culturally responsive narrative. Finally, students explore the 1995 Smithsonian Enola Gay exhibit controversy and why the exhibit was ultimately canceled.


AP European History DBQ Prep: The French Revolution


An understanding of the causes, justifications, and challenges of the French Revolution is paramount to understanding European History from the 19th century to the present. In this project, students examine primary sources that explore the causes, justifications, and challenges to the French Revolution.  This program promotes close reading of primary sources and gives students the opportunity to practice writing a DBQ.

AP US History DBQ Prep: American Foreign Policy 1914-1954


In the first half of the 20th century, United States foreign policy shifted dramatically from isolationism to interventionism. In this DBQ program, students explore primary documents from US leaders’ justifications for and against the US’s entry into World War I to the policy of containment during the Korean War. This program promotes close reading of primary sources and gives students the opportunity to practice writing a DBQ.



About the Author


Paul Ergen is a graduate student at UW-Eau Claire. The next digital history project he would like to pursue is digitizing and mapping the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee reports on bus-station integration located at UWEC’s Special Collections. Paul is currently writing his thesis on the Milwaukee NAACP Youth Council titled “’We’re Black, We’re Proud. We’re Commandos’: Respectability Politics, Armed Self-Defense, and Gender in the Milwaukee NAACP Youth Council, 1966-1968.”