State Archives Bring the Past to Life

A picture showing a collection of old documents, photos, and/or artifacts next to an archival box

In British Bulldog, the best-selling mystery novel by Scottish writer Sara Sheridan, agent Mirabelle Bevan's investigations lead her to archives where the wise Matron Gard reassures the heroine that "nothing is long ago in an archive, my dear." For Sheridan, whose works include historical novels and literary fiction, archives research is invaluable; the author and Huffington Post blogger is widely recognized for her advocacy for both libraries and archives. In the case of agent Bevan, her fictional trip to the archives helps solve the mystery of a missing pilot.

For teachers, archives can serve a similar purpose, unlocking mysteries of the past and helping students make connections between history and the present.

The Federal Reserve's Sixth District encompasses Florida, Georgia, Alabama, eastern Tennessee, and the southern parts of Louisiana and Mississippi. Each of these states has an archive and library system with numerous online resources from books, photographs, documents and videos to lesson plans and traveling trunks that can be loaned to educators. An online tour of these resources will uncover not only new facets of history, but maybe even a little something about ourselves.

Alabama leads the way
Alabama was the first U.S. state to establish an archive system. Founded in 1901, the Alabama Department of Archives and History has served as a model for other states. On its robust education page, teachers can find a guide to free in-person tours of the department museum in Montgomery, school tour guidelines, and information on the archives' traveling backpack program. The traveling backpacks are teaching kits that teachers can borrow; they include artifact reproductions, books, maps, activity sheets, lesson plans, and multimedia resources. The kits cover a number of topics, with several centering on economic influences on the state such as cotton, the Civil War, and flight and space. Teachers and students can also explore the economy of the American Indians of Alabama through the backpack program as well as hands-on "architrunks," bigger teaching kits.

The site also houses a vast collection of lesson plans written by Alabama teachers and university professors for all grade levels; many include writing prompts and cover subjects such as Birmingham's iron industry, the economics of slavery and child labor, farm life, the Great Depression, and transportation. The Alabama Moments Project contains useful links for high school history teachers, and the Mapping Alabama's History page has historical maps accompanied by classroom activities and writing exercises.  Activity sheets on important events, people and places in Alabama history are also useful teaching resources.  The interactive Alabama in Transition map shows county-by-county information on changes in population, family income, employment, agricultural production, and education from 1950 to 2010, a great visual for understanding the dramatic shifts in Alabama's economy. Teachers wishing to enrich their own knowledge of Alabama's history and economy can search the collections online, view the site's large selection of educational videos, access numerous documents and informational websites, or attend one of the free monthly "ArchiTreats" educational programs, which feature speakers lecturing on interesting topics in Alabama history.

Florida archives offer much more than history of oranges and alligators
Digital records and other online resources from the State Archives of Florida are available on the Florida Memory website, which includes educational resources and maps. The photograph collection contains more than 185,000 pictures, including poignant images of Florida's migrant workers during the Great Depression and collections chronicling the history of important economic drivers past and present such as citrus, cigars, the space industry, tourism, movies, cattle ranching, railroads, and baseball. The site also features video and audio recordings, with resources linked to state learning standards in both history and science.

On the site's Classroom page, you can read features on economic topics such as how the cigar industry, the railroads, and the Space Age changed Florida, with lesson plans that include documents, media, and photographs. Primary source sets with photographs, letters, newspaper articles, video and other historical documents include learning guides containing historical contexts, teaching suggestions, and the related state educational standards, as well as tools and strategies for using primary sources. The site's blog integrates historical sources with modern-day events to provide perspective on Florida's past. Festival recordings and Florida Memory radio, which highlights nearly 3,000 recordings from the Florida Folklife Collection, provide students who tend to learn better by listening with a window into the past through music from a variety of genres, while podcasts feature interviews with people as diverse as Zora Neale Hurston and Seminole alligator wrestler Richard Bowers. History month collections highlight notable Floridians of Asian-Pacific and African-American heritage as well as the contributions of women; and the site's timeline chronicles Florida history from its first people, the Paleo-Indians, through modern day with links to historical documents and photographs.

See important documents in Georgia's "Virtual Vault"
The Georgia Archives, administered by the University System of Georgia, contains a "Virtual Vault" housing some of the state's most important documents dating back to 1733. The "Vanishing Georgia" collection allows you to search by county for historically significant documents that were held privately throughout the state and collected by the Archives beginning in the late 1970s, and historical maps can also be searched by county and viewed online. Campaign materials from various political campaigns can also be viewed on the site, as well as scenes of everyday life collected in the "Virtual Georgia" collection. You can use the search tools to find the Capitol Art Collection's tribute to well-known Georgians such as Jimmy Carter and Martin Luther King Jr., browse through the Archives' collection of military, marriage, railroad, and court documents, and find a number of photographs related to Georgia tourism. Early trademarks and logos for such familiar products as Georgia's own Coca-Cola can also be searched on the site's records covering the time period from 1894-1959. The Archives also hosts free lunch-and-learn lectures on notable Georgians and events in Georgia history.

Louisiana archives include the work of public broadcast outlet
Louisiana was the first in the nation to put the media collections of a public broadcaster and a state's archives on a single site. The Louisiana State Archives' multimedia collection and the digital catalog of Louisiana Public Broadcasting contain thousands of hours of recordings going back a half century, from news programming and documentaries, oral histories and newsreels to campaign commercials, and even cooking shows. Economics topics include energy, commerce, and industry; and history collections focus on subjects such as civil rights, women's issues, hurricanes, and of course, Louisiana's famous food. In the "Spotlight on History" feature, anniversaries of historical events such as Hurricane Katrina and the Battle of New Orleans are commemorated through catalogued video collections. The video archive also includes episodes of Louisiana: The State We're In, the longest running statewide newsmagazine in the nation.

Borrow a "traveling trunk" of Mississippi history
The Mississippi Department of Archives and History's classroom collection of lesson plans and teaching units contains standards-based guides for grades 4–12 on topics such as early Choctaw trading, calculating percentages using census data, the Civilian Conservation Corps in Mississippi, and letter writing. An extensive video loan program includes more than 200 titles to enhance classroom learning about Mississippi history, literature, art, and culture from early times through the 20th century. An interesting comparison of Elvis Presley's humble Mississippi beginnings to his more opulent digs at Graceland is just one activity suggested for the DVD Elvis '56. Several titles focusing primarily on the state's civil rights and rich literary history include activity packets with primary source evaluations, viewing guides, discussion questions, and numerous classroom activities and assessment materials. Mississippi educators may also take out "traveling trunks" on loan from the Archives, with topics including Native Americans, the Mississippi River, and artist Walter Anderson. The trunks include a teacher's notebook and lesson plans, artifact reproductions, maps, graphics, reference and media materials, games, crafts and activity sheets, discussion questions, and student readings.

At the Digital Archives, thousands of images and documents of value to educators can be found; guides called "Learning Lagniappes" take educators step by step through highlights of 17 collections with links, discussion questions, and suggested classroom activities. Among the artifacts contained in the series are photographs of the devastating 1927 flood, audio recordings of the Freedom Riders, photographs from Hurricane Katrina, and military history. The site's large photo and postcard collections span from the late 19th century through the middle of the 20th century, highlighting rural scenes, cotton growing, hurricanes, and more than 8,000 photographs from the Mississippi Department of Education. Other teaching resources include historical maps, a guide to Mississippi historical sites, a Facebook page, an e-newsletter, and numerous professional development opportunities.

Tennessee archives offer look at Vietnam War through citizen's eyes
At the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA), educators can look over lesson plans based on maps of early Tennessee and photographs in the library's Vietnam collection. Organized into chronological themes, the digital collections can be searched by both era and content standards. The site also includes guides for educators on how to analyze sources such as letters, maps, political cartoons, posters, and sheet music, and it features webcasts, teacher workshops, and an e-newsletter highlighting the TSLA's collections.

Two other useful online tools are the Tennessee Electronic Library and the Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA). The electronic library allows Tennesseans to access more than 40 databases that contain 400,000 magazine, news and journal articles, podcasts, videos, e-books, census records, and more. Student resources include topics in business and economics, a literary resource center, a collection of articles on current issues from a variety of perspectives called "Opposing Viewpoints," and tools to help with career and college preparation, including college entrance exams. For teachers, lesson plans, articles on education topics, and even Praxis test preparation materials are accessible from the site. TeVA brings Tennessee history and culture to life with maps, photographs, historical records and documents, postcards, and film and audio recordings. Online aids are searchable by topic, with collections on Tennessee folklife, wars, the Civilian Conservation Corps, early 20th century schoolhouses, quilts, the famous Ryman auditorium, and the infamous Scopes trial. Sources also include census records and newspapers from the state.

Whether you visit the archives of the Sixth District from the comfort of your computer or go to  these repositories of learning in person (and maybe with your students), these state collections  are an excellent and free resource to aid in bridging the gap between what has happened before and history now in the making. By adding the advantage of local appeal and a wide variety of resources that speak to all learning styles, archival collections provide tools that can increase both relevance and interest in lessons about economics, events, and your home state.