SHANTI - Sciences, Humanities, and Arts Network of Technological Initiatives

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PrimaryAccess is a web-based tool that offers teachers and students frictionless access to digital images and materials that enable them to construct compelling personal narratives.

The connected world of the internet offers unprecedented opportunities for students and teachers to access an impressive archive of primary source historical documents from the convenience of their web-browser. It is widely agreed among educators that students who effectively use primary source documents will develop better historical thinking skills than they would using another author’s interpretation. The PrimaryAccess Initiative offers students and teachers the opportunity to use primary source documents to create digital movies (historical narratives) that provide a compelling and meaningful learning experience. Historical Narratives A historical narrative is a short digital movie that explores some facet of history. It is typically 1-3 minutes in length, contains a montage of images, text or movies accompanied by a narration done in the students own voice. Since much of our history occurred before the invention of movies and television, many of the primary sources available are photographs, still images, and documents. With easy to use tools provided by PrimaryAccess, narrators can add motion to these otherwise static images (i.e., the “Ken Burns effect”). These narratives typically follow a story structure, with a beginning, middle, and end, providing an educational and entertaining experience for both creator and viewer alike. The act of producing the narrative provides a strong active learning experience, in which the learner must research the topic, actively construct meaning from the primary documents available, craft a written story that conveys that understanding to others, and finally, create a movie that uses the documents to accompany the narration in a visually compelling manner.


Bill Ferster, Director

Glen Bull

Rhonda Clevenson


duPont Foundation

PrimarySource Learning (Library of Congress)


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