Sunday, November 16, 2014

Document Box Fun

By Jeff Burns

Of course, I love book stores, new or used.  Barnes & Noble, and other chains, often have great “Bargain Book” aisles in which I can spend lots of time, often finding great materials that I can use in my history classroom.  It was there that I was introduced to various historical collections created by Chronicle Books.  Their products  are also available in many museum gift shops and online. Chronicle publishes creative journals, notecards and stationery, and books.  They also published boxed collections of reproductions of primary documents relating to particular topics.  Unfortunately, it seems that these items may not be available through the website anymore, but they may be found elsewhere.

The boxes themselves are beautifully designed, conversation starters on a table or shelf.  The Ellis Island box for example is made to resemble a piece of luggage, and the Titanic box is designed to look like a steamer trunk, complete with a lift-out inner tray.  Inside each box is a treasure trove of primary documents, carefully archived and explained in the accompanying booklet, in order to present a detailed view of the topic.  In Ellis Island, for example, you find reproductions of postcards, shipping line advertisements, letters from and to immigrants, letters of naturalization, photographs, inspection cards, etc.  In Titanic, there are copies of menus, postcards, ship diagrams, and other documents.   Each document is transcribed and described in the accompanying manual.

For classroom use, I usually laminate the documents for durability.  Then, students can practice interpreting the primary sources.  In reading the documents, students learn important critical reading and interpretation skills, and they gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the time.     Students might be asked to arrange or group the documents in order to create a particular project or address a particular question.  Documents can be distributed to students who are assigned to create a character or situation based on their assigned document, or the students might be required to use the assigned document as a starting point for a research project.  The accurate reproduction details provide a high level of verisimilitude, making students think and feel like historians.  I also use the documents for bulletin board displays and teaching trunks.  Beyond the classroom, they provide hours of entertainment for history buffs.

If you can find these great resources, I hope you check them out.  If you know of other similar products, please comment below.