A picture book focused on a historical event or person is special. It has a distinct beginning, middle, and end. At the same time, it makes you want to know more. That is exactly how I felt after reading Mara Rockliff’s Around America to Win the Vote, and I knew primary sources would give me the answer. But how can students curate their own list of primary sources?
Around America to Win the Vote is the story of Alice Burke and Nell Richardson. These two suffragists traveled across the U.S. in 1916, from New York to the west coast and back, to promote voting rights for women. In an early time for automobiles, where vehicles could break down easily and roads were questionable outside of cities, Rockliff’s is a tale of adventure and celebration of determination that echos the voting movement itself.
Giving Purpose to Primary Source Curation
Many students may be aware of the voting movement, but they may not know specifics. Sharing the picture book can not only give them some background to the suffrage movement, but also gives an opportunity for students to ask questions. Ask students to share their wonderings about the trip. Questions can be specific to the event itself or may place the trip in the broader context of the suffrage movement. Encourage them all because they can drive the curation of primary sources.
Share that newspaper articles about these two women may be a starting point to find answers to questions.
Help Students Collect through Search
Point students to Chronicling America, the database of over 12 million digitized pages of newspapers published between 1789 and 1963. Return to the picture book and ask, “What keywords can we find in the picture book to use in our search? What other information might help us refine our search?” Students may point out that the event took place in 1916 so narrowing the search to 1916 publications may be helpful. Phrases such as Alice Burke, Nell Richardson, and yellow car may be suggested as search terms.
Encourage students to vary searches, using one or more of the search phrases to see if different results are found. The visual results in Chronicling America show search terms highlighted in pink. This allows the students to see if results are in an article, headline, or caption.
As students begin identifying articles or photos and captions from the search results, suggest that they look for other keywords to search. They may find Saxon, the name of the cat, or Golden Flier, the name of the car, to add to their search queries. All of these can expand the collection of articles on the event.
Evaluate Articles through Questioning
As students are collecting, they will likely begin reading and evaluating articles to determine whether the article is worth curating into a final grouping. When evaluating, I ask students to look at value and authority. When considering value, students can ask:
- Does this confirm or call into question information I already believe to be true?
- Are there details here that can clarify parts of my understanding of the story?
- Does this provide information completely missing in my understanding of the story?
Students consider authority, especially when information is conflicting or is the only source of a detail. They can ask:
- Who is telling this story? How closely are they connected with the event?
- How are language and perspective evident? What does this tell me about the author’s believability?
Connecting Back to the Picture Book as Part of Curation
Return to the picture book. Revisit the moments in the book by placing copies of pages or descriptions of moments across the wall. Students can begin to connect the articles by organizing them with the moments of the picture book. As they enter the final stage of curation, key questions can guide their work:
- Where are moments represented most authentically?
- What articles hold several key pieces of information?
- Where are otherwise untold stories revealed?
- For individual moments, which articles have the most value and authority?
Rich discussions should take place amongst the students. They can use this discussion to guide their selection of key curated pieces to represent the moment of Alice Burke and Nell Richardson’s journey.
While examples will look different, here is my students’ collection of articles along with a curated list that was selected to accompany the book. For those interested in connecting primary sources in different ways, explore this Recommended Topics page on the event from Chronicling America.
Author: Tom Bober
Tom Bober is an elementary librarian at RM Captain Elementary in Clayton, Missouri, a former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress, and a Digital Public Library of America Community Rep. He has written about the use of primary sources in classrooms in School Library Connection, Social Education magazine, and the Teaching with the Library of Congress blog. Tom also presents at regional and national conferences, runs workshops, and has developed and presented webinars for the Library of Congress and ABC Clio on a variety of strategies and topics for students’ use of primary sources in the classroom.