Working with primary sources

Activities and reading guides for K–12 and college students working with historical primary sources.

Distribution of land and slaves

In this activity, students analyze census data and maps to understand the distribution of land, wealth, and slaves in antebellum North Carolina.

Migration into and out of North Carolina: Exploring census data

Just how many people left North Carolina in the first half of the nineteenth century — and where did they go? To answer questions like this, the best place to turn is census records. The census can’t tell us why people moved — we’ll explore their reasons on the following pages. But a look at the numbers can give us a sense of the scale of the migration.

A railroad timetable

Railroad schedule from the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, 1859. In the accompanying activity, students use maps (print maps and Google maps) and railroad schedules to compare train travel in 1859 and today.

Reading slave narratives: The WPA interviews

A reading guide for students working with WPA Federal Writers Project interviews with former slaves.

A snapshot in time: How to study a photo

Photographs from the past can teach us about people and events. This article uses a picture from the North Carolina State Archives to demonstrate the process of analyzing a photo.

Workers’ pay and the cost of living

In this activity, students examine census records of nineteenth-century North Carolina tobacco mills and retail prices of food to determine how much money factory workers made in “real dollars.”

Wills and inventories: A process guide

Guiding questions for students investigating daily life in the past through wills, inventories, and probate records.