Social Studies Federal File

Document Retrieval

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — March 22, 2005 1 min read

A National Archives Exhibit Offers Historical Resources for Teachers

The drawing for U.S. Patent No. 223,898 looks more like a doodler’s handiwork than a major technological advance. The design for the electric lamp, patented by Thomas A. Edison in 1880, is one of a number of historical documents intended to illuminate the past for schoolchildren and others visiting the nation’s capital this spring.

The exhibit at the National Archives, which opened last week, includes other intriguing papers from the nation’s history: the canceled U.S. Treasury check for $7.2 million paid to a Russian official for the purchase of Alaska in 1868; letters to the Federal Communications Commission from citizens frightened and angered by the 1938 radio broadcast of an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds; and, a secret letter to President Harry S. Truman from the U.S. secretary of war in 1945 asking for an urgent meeting to discuss the Manhattan Project, which built the atomic bomb.

A drawing of Thomas A. Edison’s electric lamp, from a National Archives exhibit for teachers.
—Courtesy of The National Archives

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The half-dozen displays offer just a sampling of the hundreds of documents available on a virtual field trip that teachers and students can take through the Archives’ Digital Classroom.

The agency’s Web site is a gateway to historical collections managed by the independent federal agency, including the nation’s founding documents and other papers, treaties, illustrations, maps, and official correspondence.

The Digital Classroom organizes documents by historical period and topic. It also offers lesson plans on specified topics and tips for doing research with primary documents.

The National Archives has provided schools access to documents for more than 30 years. More recently, it has offered professional-development sessions to help teachers bring history to life by incorporating original examples from the past. The Digital Classroom went online in 1996 and gets millions of “hits” on its site each year, said Miriam Kleiman, an archives spokeswoman.

The physical exhibit at the National Archives building will continue through May.

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