Historical societies and small museums are overlooked treasure troves of primary sources for local history and themes—letters, diaries, scrapbooks, photographs, local publications, ephemera, and more. All of these primary source documents and images can be used to teach a social history theme in a local context. These local institutions are usually thrilled to work with teachers to showcase their collections and the staff will know about local history and have primary sources that you didn’t even know existed! They may also be eager to work with your students on projects related to their collections.
Call or visit the archives of local universities’ archives, historical societies, community libraries, and area and regional museums. Discuss the themes that you are researching for the classroom. Ask for primary source recommendations from their collection.
If possible, take students on a field trip to an archive. Students gain insight into the process of historical research used by historians.
Below are a few local historical primary source treasures discovered at historical societies near my home in Kentucky. Most are related to the theme of travel and transportation.
About the header image: Sanborn Map of Lexington KY, 1896. Courtesy of Library of Congress.