As a teacher of history, I am always looking for new ways to invigorate my teaching and my students. A few years ago, I developed a teaching model using primary documents. In November of 2010 I presented the model at the National Council of the Social Studies Annual Conference in Denver. I have continued to develop the model from the initial lesson on the Cuban Missile Crisis into more including lessons on Civil War Baseball, The Battle of Stalingrad, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Greensboro Sit-Ins, and Hobos in the 1930s.
However, the other day I came across a site which I found to be a treasure trove of primary documents. Similar to the teaching model I designed, the John F. Kennedy Library has put online a wonderful site filled with documents about the crisis.
The site is not making me rethink the model by expanding the lesson in to a full-blown week-long simulation rather than a single day on how it began. It is literally a bonanza of documents. Up until now, George Washington University had what I thought was the best site about the Cuban Missile Crisis.
What I like about the JFK Library site is it easy to maneuver and broken down day-by-day. It’s only drawback might be a lack of video and audio. In analyzing the site, I am thinking about how students could access the site. While GWU had a large mass of documents in several forms, it is meant more for academics. The JFK Library is meant for the public. Students could easily piece together the thirteen days of the crisis in several lessons through documents on the site. Here’s an example of one document found on the JFK Library site. It is a letter JFK wrote to Khrushchev on the 28th of October.
What makes it a unique document is its color. Most kids tend to the think of the world in that time period as colorless. In fact, they think of the entire Cold War as some ancient relic of outdated ideologies. The letter itself details the feelings of relief that the crisis was over and also infers how close the two sides came to destroying each other. The micro site is filled with transcripts, letters, newspaper headlines, and other important moments from those 13 days. The site would also be invaluable for anyone doing a National History Day Exhibit or Website.