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New York State Archives
Throughout the Ages
A Visual Document Resource

Teacher's Guide

Teachers are confronted with a dual task when it comes to teaching history: they must make the past real and understandable to students, and they must also help students think and write about the past in coherent and analytical ways. This website is designed to help teachers meet those challenges.

Image. Barge Canal. A modern lock in operation.
A modern lock in operation.

One effective way to excite students' interest in history and develop their higher-level thinking skills is to incorporate historical records into the process of teaching and learning. Students can benefit from the use of documents in the classroom in many ways, but document based learning is unique because it asks them to make conclusions on their own, not just read and remember the information presented in the texts.

Students thus become junior historians: they observe evidence and make conclusions based on what they observe, and in the process get excited by what they see and understand.

This website is about the Erie Canal, students will work through three sections that explore important time periods in the life of the Canal (1825, 1830s and 1918). They will read the background material and look through the historical records in the Document Index.

Teachers can then use the Questions section to help students focus their observations and conclusions about the Erie Canal. Once students complete these questions they should be able to write a coherent, well-reasoned essay on the topic suggested at the end of each section.

The demands of the classroom are complex and time is sometimes limited, teachers should use this web site flexibly. Some will find the background material useful, while others might simply select a few documents to examine and discuss. Others might guide students through the process of reading, document analysis and writing, but only for one selected time period.

Whether teachers want to use this site as a basis for writing or as a means of stimulating thinking and classroom discussion or as a way to incorporate historical records into their instruction, the content presented here can help teachers keep history alive for their students.

Learn more about using historical records in the classroom.