A CIESE Primary Source and
Archived Collections Project

Historical Treasure Chests

A Social Studies and Language Arts Activity

Part 2:  Treasures for Classroom Use

Imagine that you have accidentally wandered into the basement of your school. It is dark. You begin to search for the light and trip over something. After investigating, you realize that you have tripped over a large wooden box. Inscribed on the box are the words "Pieces of the Past."  You try to open the box, but it is locked. You search for the key and eventually find it taped to the bottom of the box. You open it and inside you find four pieces of primary source materials; a photograph, a map, a letter, and an old book. 

You quickly gather basic information about the materials. The letter was written by Theodore Roosevelt. The photograph documents a 19th century profession. The map was made in 1562. The book was published in Baltimore in 1825. You guess that these materials are not related to each other, but you are curious about each one. There is no other information in the box so you look to the resources for clues. 

Work with a partner to examine each resource from the box.  Click on the links below to view each object.  For each object there are questions to help you examine the resource.  You can print the questions to have handy.

Photograph Letter Map Rare Book
  1. After you and your partner have finished examining the "treasures," meet with another set of partners to share your findings.  Are there any differences in the way each pair interpreted the materials?  Each group should support their interpretations with evidence from the source.
  2. Now, select a reporter from your small group to share your answers with the whole class. Did all students analyze the materials the same way?  As a class, consider the following questions:
    • How can you account for varying interpretations?
    • Is it possible for more than one interpretation to be accurate?
    • What additional resources can you turn to to aid interpretation?
    • What types of information can you get from primary materials that you can't get from other types of resources?
    • Did you notice any particular difficulties when analyzing primary source materials?

  3. The Internet is filled with primary source materials like the ones you have just explored. You can find sources to help you learn about things you are studying in school or you can explore personal interests and hobbies. Click on the first link below to explore the table of contents of  The Library of Congress American Memories web site. Go to  the second link, This Day in History,  and click  on the birthday cake to find out what happened on the day you were born.