Archives for Teachers

What can archives do for teachers?

Archives are a wonderful source for teachers. Original documents are the ’raw material’ of history. They provide pupils at all stages with an immediate, direct connection to the past, and bring history to life.

Handwritten letter

Pupils can become ’real’ historians, using archives to carry out their own research.

They can analyse and evaluate sources, extract information, and draw conclusions.

Archives can provide different viewpoints

  • the views of contemporaries with different opinions
  • the accounts of individuals which add to or contrast with standard interpretations of events.

Studies of local history at all key stages can draw on a range of different sources available in archives. Some of the most useful sources are maps, trade directories and census returns – find more details about using archives for local history.

But it isn’t only for local history that archives can be useful – teaching of major historical events can be brought to life by archives which show how local communities were affected. This photograph of Swansea in the Blitz is one of a series held by West Glamorgan Archives (reference P/PR/95/4/35a).

Photograph of Swansea in the Blitz showing empty roofless buildings and piles of rubble.

How can archives be used?

In the classroom

use archives as

  • ’hard copies’ – photocopies of documents
  • digital images of documents as part of a whiteboard presentation

use archives for

  • initial stimulus material
  • lesson content
  • in-depth study
  • worksheet material

Visits to archives

Some archive repositories are able to accommodate visits by school groups – pupils can experience archives at first-hand, seeing and handling original documents. The visit may provide a general introduction to the material held, or it may focus on a specific area of research, with pupils studying particular documents related to their courses.

Not all archives are able to offer this service. Smaller archives in particular will be restricted in the educational services they are able to provide by space and staff time.

How can teachers access archives?

Your first step is to contact the relevant archives repository – see a list of all archives here, and discover whether the one you are interested in is able to offer an educational service.

Some are not able to accommodate visits by pupils, but may be able to offer INSET days for teachers. Where no specific service for teachers is offered, teachers are always welcome to visit archives to look at relevant material. Most archives will be able to make copies for teachers to use in the classroom.