3 Activity Implementation

Activity Outline [1][2][3]

Class Time:

Approximately 60 minutes

Step 1: Setting the Stage to Investigate Primary Sources and Archives (15–20 min)

Instructor (to students): Begin the activity with a brief review of the Resources for Archival Research  in the previous section of this text.  Students should have explored these tools that provide an introduction to archives before class. Most of us have likely been to a library, but many people have not have visited an archive and the Resources for Archival Research will provide necessary background information.

Archives house unique materials that document the lives and activities of individuals, groups, and organizations.[4] These items include primary sources, or materials created at the time of the original event being researched.[5] Primary sources were created by people with experience of the time, topic, or event. Working with primary sources can help us gain a fuller understanding of history through the experiences of people who lived it.

* Remember that secondary sources are items like textbooks or scholarly articles that provide valuable analysis and interpretation of data or other primary sources.

In this activity everyone will have a chance to explore primary sources from 20th century Baltimore history and consider how to use them in order to form research questions. While we can’t use physical items as we would in-person, we hope you will enjoy playing detective and examining the digital surrogates of items in the archives.

Before class, students should explore the Research Using the Archives LibGuide. Address any questions students have about the first few sections of this guide and review as necessary.

If students don’t offer questions, then highlight the Introduction to Primary Sources and Archives page and Finding Archival Collections at UBalt Special Collections & Archives. Encourage students to revisit to this guide during the exercise.

Step 2: Analyze Primary Source in Groups (10 min)

Divide students into small groups to collaboratively work with one of the digital collection items. Direct students to the online activity (found in next section/Chapter 4), which will provide them with the digital item and the link to the finding aid. Ask that they look at both to complete the questions. Students can use these resources and those provided before class. They can also use the internet and other knowledge.

Students will answer questions adapted from the Library of Congress’ Primary Source Analysis Tool.[6]

Step 3: Brainstorm Research Questions and Identify Other Resources to Explore Regarding Baltimore History (10–15 min)

The class returns from small group work to review the worksheets and their answers together. Then students return to work in small groups to identify a specific research topic related to their object and brainstorm other resources to use for a possible research project. Students should use the objects, finding aids, and the LibGuide to assist them with this brainstorming process.

Step 4: Discuss Research Questions and Search Strategies as a Class for Primary and Secondary Resources (15 min)

At the end of Step 3, the class comes together again to discuss search strategies for both primary and secondary resources; review resources available through the archives; and answer any questions.

At the End of Class Student Will:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of primary sources and knowledge of the research process in the archives
  • Complete and submit activity worksheet answers
  • Use and understand tools and workflows that can be applied to future research assignment in the archives
  • Create a list of potential resources to use for research assignments

After class the group will have created a list of search strategies based on their object(s) and have a better understanding of using archives for future projects. The instructor will then be able to set up assignments using the archives outside of class and ask students to contact the UBalt Special Collections & Archives for assistance. The instructor could also choose to use this exercise as an introduction on which to build a larger project for the class, but that would be separate from this exercise.


This exercise includes pre-selected digitized items from archival collections at UBalt Special Collections & Archives and is intended to be completed as a group exercise for students learning online. Alternatively, this exercise could be explained and set up for students to complete online individually and/or asynchronously if necessary. However, learning in small groups and having the opportunity to explore the objects together with instructor feedback may provide a more engaging hands-on learning experience.

  1. The format of this exercise is based on: Barton, M., & The RBMS Instruction and Outreach Committee. (2019, May). A lesson plan template. Retrieved March, 2021, from https://tpscollective.org/guidelines-toolkit/toolkits-planning-with-the-guidelines-1/
  2. The activity is based on: Spitz, B. (2021, March). Structured Close Looking: Modifying a Primary Source Analysis Activity for Asynchronous & Synchronous Remote Teaching. Retrieved March, 2021, from https://tpscollective.org/notes-from-the-field/structured-close-looking-modifying-a-primary-source-analysis-activity-for-asynchronous-synchronous-remote-teaching/
  3. The activity is also based on: Kopp, Maggie (2014). Start to Finish: Learning the Primary Source Research Process in 50 Minutes. In Bahde, A., Smedberg, H., & Taormina, M. (Eds.) Using Primary Sources: Hands-On Instructional Exercises: Hands-On Instructional Exercises. (pp. `8-20). ABC-CLIO.
  4. https://dictionary.archivists.org/entry/archives.html
  5. https://dictionary.archivists.org/entry/primary-source.html
  6. “Primary Source Analysis Tool,” Getting Started with Primary Sources, Library of Congress, accessed January 21, 2021, https://www.loc.gov/programs/teachers/getting-started-with-primary-sources/guides/


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