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Teaching K-12 History with Online Primary Documents

A comprehensive resource for K - 12 history teachers

Welcome to Teaching History with Online Primary Documents

What Are Primary Documents?


Primary documents are documents from the time and the place that you are investigating with your history class. They can include, but are not limited to, letters, diaries, newspaper articles, speeches, photographs, artifacts, and more, written or created by people who witnessed or were involved in the events being studied.


Primary documents should be evaluated with a critical eye, and due consideration should be given to the identities of the creators of the materials, their intentions and biases, their audiences, and their accuracy. In particular, representations of Indigenous peoples created by settlers, colonial authorities, or other non-Indigenous peoples are fraught with bias and should not be taken at face value. Our research guide Infusing Indigenous Perspectives in K-12 Teaching can help you find teaching resources that represent the perspectives of Indigenous peoples. For more information on evaluating a variety of primary sources, and for lists of example questions to consider, see the University of Toronto Libraries’ guide to evaluating sources.


What Are Open Access and Licensed Resources?


Throughout this guide, you will find a number of links to both open access and licensed resources.


Open access materials are free to use and share without any licensing restrictions. More information can be found on the University of Toronto Libraries’ page about open access materials and publishing.


Licensed materials are purchased by the university for the use of staff and students. Check these resources for notes about their fair use. (More can be found about copyright and fair dealing in Canada and at the University of Toronto on the University of Toronto Libraries’ page on copyright.)

Further Resources for Understanding Primary Documents

Girl sitting at desk flipping through textbook pages at Putnam School

Girl sitting at desk flipping through textbook pages at Putnam School, 1961 (CC)
Retrieved from: Library and Archives Canada Photostream