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National Archives’ DocsTeach Website is an Outstanding Resource for Teaching About the Civil War

The National Archives recently launched, a new online tool for teaching with documents, and it offers many exciting possibilities for teaching about the Civil War.

“ is a significant and welcome addition to our popular education programs,” said Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero. “It will engage teachers and students in new ways and stir their interest in history through the use of original documents in the National Archives. It is also consistent with our goals to make as much of our holdings available to the public as easily as possible.”


DocsTeach combines primary source content with the latest interactive capabilities of the Internet in ways that teachers who have used the site are calling “brilliant!”

Not only does the site invite educators to explore thousands of documents in a variety of media from the holding of the National Archives—items such as Civil War Recruitment Posters, Robert E. Lee’s Resignation Letter from the Union Army, and a telegram announcing the outcome of the attack on Ft. Sumter—but it also allows teachers to combine these materials using clever tools to create engaging activities that students can access online. 

The seven tools featured on the site are designed to teach specific historical thinking skills—weighing evidence, interpreting data, focusing on details, and more.  Each employs interactive components including puzzles, scales, maps, flow charts, and others that both teachers and students can tailor to their needs.

On the site, teachers can 1) browse or search for documents and activities, 2) customize any activity to fit the needs of a unique classroom, 3) create a brand new activity with its own web address from scratch, using one of seven distinctive tools, and 4) save and organize activities in an account to share with students.   After participating in an activity, the site even allows students to submit their work to their teacher via e-mail.

Typical online educational tools are prescriptive – they provide a specified set of activities on a single subject.  Any interactivity is usually separated from the lesson plan which takes the form of an article or essay.  DocsTeach is revolutionary because the interactive is the lesson; teachers can create lessons from scratch, adapt lessons from others, or even let their students create the lessons; and a single suite of tools can be applied to a broad range of subjects and skill levels.

For more than three decades, the National Archives has provided educators with methods and materials for teaching with documents.  Working in partnership with the Foundation for the National Archives and Second Story Interactive, DocsTeach is the latest component in this program that advances the National Archives ability to meet its strategic goal of improving civic literacy.  The National Archives is not just “providing” methods and materials anymore.  Now, the agency is reflecting the philosophy of open government, encouraging educators to participate, create, and share.

DocsTeach is proudly brought to you by the Foundation for the National Archives, with the generous support of Texas Instruments.

About the National Archives


 The National Archives and Records Administration is an independent Federal agency that preserves and shares with the public records that trace the story of our nation, government, and the American people. From the Declaration of Independence to accounts of ordinary Americans, the holdings of the National Archives directly touch the lives of millions of people. The National Archives is a public trust upon which our democracy depends, ensuring access to essential evidence that protects the rights of American citizens, documents the actions of the government, and reveals the evolving national experience


About the Foundation for the National Archives

 The Foundation for the National Archives is an independent nonprofit that serves as the National Archives’ private-sector partner in the creation of and ongoing support of the National Archives Experience, which includes permanent exhibits, educational programs, traveling exhibits, special events and film screenings, educational literature, and historical/records-related products and media. The Foundation helps the public understand the importance of the holdings of the National Archives by presenting the depth and diversity of the records through award-winning, interactive educational exhibits and programs. It generates financial and creative support for the National Archives Experience from individuals, foundations, and corporations who share a belief in the importance of innovative civics education.