Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Perspective is Everything Using Primary Sources to Learn about History
Ronda Hassig
American History
Time Frame:
1-3 Days
Civil War

Grade Levels:

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:

During the lesson students will learn how to analyze primary sources, search for and find bias, decide which sources are most reliable, and create a blog post with their findings.

  • In 7th grade our students study 19th century Kansas history.  We take a field trip to Lawrence and visit the important spots from Quantrill’s Raid.  This trip is done from a Kansas perspective.  Students also see primary source documents from the University of Kansas Spencer Library before they go on the fieldtrip.  On the trip, students have a person’s name from the raid, either Kansan or Missourian, and they listen for information on that person throughout the day.  Once back at school they do research on their person.  This year we will take several days after the fieldtrip and look at primary sources from the Missouri perspective so that students can get a more balanced view of what happened during the Border War.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

  • 21st Century skill for critical thinking and problem solving – Kansas
  • Kansas, United States, and World History Seventh Grade, History Standard: The student uses a working knowledge and understanding of significant individuals, groups, ideas, events, eras, and developments in the history of Kansas, the United States, and the world, utilizing essential analytical and research skills.  Benchmark 2: The student understands individuals, groups, ideas, events, and developments during Kansas territory and the Civil War (1854-1865).
  • Information Literacy standard #2 – The student who is information literate evaluates information critically and competently. Benchmark 1: The student determines accuracy, relevance, and comprehensiveness. Benchmark 2: The student distinguishes among, fact, point of view, and opinion.
  • Information Literacy Standard #3 – The student who is information literate uses the information accurately and creatively.  Benchmark 1: The student integrates new information into one’s own knowledge.  Benchmark 2: The student applies information to critical thinking and problem solving.
  • Information Literacy Standard #13 – The student uses technology communication tools.  Benchmark 2: The student uses a variety of media and formats to communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences.

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • Bushwhackers of the Border : the Civil War Period in Western Missouri : a Summary and Appraisal by Patrick Brophy (Book)
  • Bitter Tears: Missouri Women and Civil War, Their Stories by Carolyn M. Bartels
    Bartels, Carolyn M.  (Book)
  • Jesse James and the Civil War in Missouri by Robert Dyer (Book)
  • Three Years with Quantrill : a True Story Told by his Scout, John McCorkle by John McCorkle (Book)
  • The Border between them : Violence and Reconciliation on the Kansas-Missouri Line by Jeremy Neely (Book)
  • The Civil War on the Lower Kansas-Missouri Border by Larry Wood (Book)
  • Other Noted Guerrillas, of the Civil War in Missouri by Larry Wood (Book)
    Wood, Larry (Book)
  • George Caleb Bingham : Missouri's Famed Painter and Forgotten Politician by Paul Nagel (Book)
  • William Clarke Quantrill: His Life and Times by Albert Castel (Book)

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • Original copy of “General Order #11” and the transcription - General Order No. 11 - Volume 22 (Part II), page 473, at: http://bit.ly/qsFB5r  (this is not the original)
  • George Caleb Bingham’s “Order #11” painting - http://shs.umsystem.edu/ssi/bannerslideshow/OrderNo11.html
  • Harry Truman video clip about his maternal grandmother – Access from Truman Library
  • Letter or diary entry of someone involved in the removal - A Young Girl in the Missouri Border War by Dorothy Brown Thompson (Article reprints a series of letters written by teen-ager Laura Brown in Missouri mostly during the Civil War time period. The first letter is dated July 28, 1859, and the last November 29, 1864.)   Includes photographs, October 1963, Missouri Historical Review – Found at Kansas City, Missouri Public Library

Full description of activity or assignment.
  • Students will analyze all of the sources.   They will write what they’ve learned from each source on a graphic organizer.  This is basically the 5 Ws – Who? What? Where? Why? When? 
  • Students will specifically identify the sources, make observations, contextualize, draw inferences, and look for bias, and ultimately decide which source would be the most reliable source for research.
  • As a culminating activity, students will write a letter to General Thomas Ewing and discuss his decision to order General Order #11.
  • Teacher and librarian will gather resources, both primary and secondary. 
  • Librarian will review what primary and secondary sources are with students.
  • Teacher and librarian will model how to use the graphic organizer.
  • Librarian will create a blog on http://www.edublog.org for students to post on.
  • Librarian will create rubric for assessment.
  • Teacher and Librarian will assess students’ final products.

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:

Primary Source type (letter, diary, photo,etc.) –  Be specific.

Recognition & Comprehension – Identify what is actually in you source

Making Observations – What about your source “jumps out” at you?

Contextualizing – Place your source within the time and events from which it comes.  Be specific.

Drawing Inferences – Draw inferences from the information in the source (about the creator of the source, his or her purpose, moment in time, and the source itself.


Recognize Bias – Identify any biases or historical inconsistencies you find in the source.

Source # 1













Source #2













Source #3













Source #4













Primary Source Graphic Organizer


If you were writing a research paper or creating a presentation on Missouri’s perspective on the Border War which primary source would be the most reliable?  Justify your answer.



Your final task is to create a blog post to Brig. General Thomas Ewing about his decision to implement “General Order #11” on August 25, 1863.   You can find the blog on the library web page.  Be sure that you put your first name, last initial, your teacher and hour when you log into the blog.  You must also respond to at least 2 other posts from your peers.  There is no right or wrong answer, but somewhere within your blog you must convince your readers that you have analyzed the 4 primary sources. 



Rubric for “Perspective is Everything”            Student Name __________________


5 points

3 points

1 points



Graphic Organizer

Student completed the graphic organizer and went over and above what was asked.

Student completed the graphic organizer.

Student was unable to finish the graphic organizer.  There are large holes in the information.


Analyzing the Source


Student was definitively able to recognize, comprehend, and contextualize the primary sources.

Student recognized, comprehended, and contextualized the primary sources but their answers lacked in-depth details.

Student made minimal or little effort to understand the primary sources.


Finding Bias


Student was able to find and explain the bias behind each of the primary sources.

Student made an effort to find bias in the sources but it was surface only.

Student was unable to find bias in the primary sources.



Student chose the most reliable source and gave justification for their choice.

Student chose a reliable source but their justification lacks substance.

Student chose a reliability source but gave no justification.


Blog Post



Student was able to go on the blog site and log in with the required information.


Some of the required information for login was on the blog site.

The student did not post a blog to General Ewing. 


Blog Post Content

Student’s post to General Thomas Ewing was creative and meaningful and showed they had analyzed the primary sources.

The student’s post was a mixture of fact and opinion, but showed they had worked with the primary sources.

The student made an attempt to converse with General Thomas Ewing but it lacks true effort.


Total Points Possible – 30