Published Date

January 1, 2004

From Teaching Difficult Legal or Political Concepts: Using Online Primary Sources in Writing Assignments (2004)

Located at
Reviewed by Sue Patrick

Project WhistleStop of the Harry S. Truman Digital Archives is a valuable site for teachers from the elementary to the university level. Supported by a United States Department of Education Technology Innovation Challenge Grant, the site’s table of contents is divided into sections containing documents, photos, information about Truman’s public and private life, teaching resources, and student guide. However, the home page of the site lists other possibilities, including cartoons, the quote of the week, and “Truman 4 Primary Kids.”

The documents are divided into nine main topics, all of which are valuable to teachers of U.S. history and some of which would also be useful in Western civilization or world courses. The topics (which sometimes also include photos) are “The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb,” “The Recognition of Israel,” “The Marshall Plan,” “The Truman Doctrine,” “Truman’s Personal Files,” “Desegregation of the Armed Forces,” “1948 Campaign,” “The Berlin Airlift,” and “NATO.” Some topics seem more user-friendly than others. For example, “The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb” page has 11 explanatory subdivisions under the heading of “During the War” and two more under the heading of “After the War,” which enable to user to find particular kinds of documents more easily. Similarly, the “NATO,” “Berlin Airlift,” and “1948 Campaign” pages have subheadings that make navigation and use easy. “The Recognition of Israel” page, however, is divided into four folders that contain absolutely no hint of what is in each folder. The “The Marshall Plan” and “The Truman Doctrine” pages are arranged in the same fashion as the Israeli page. Documents in “Desegregation of the Armed Forces are divided into chronological folders.

Users can access the photos through time periods in Trumans’ life or through the topics of “Famous People” or “Portraits.” Within each category or time period, the photo descriptions are one page. To see the photo itself, the user clicks on its description. There are no descriptions on the page with the photo.

The Truman File page promises “links to essays, letters, speeches, photographs and other materials that paint a picture of Truman’s life and times.” This section of the site contains three major divisions: “Pre-Presidential Years,” “Presidential Years,” and “Post Presidential Years.” The section with his years before becoming president contains a chronology, a set of secondary sources, and some of his letters to Bess and Margaret. In addition, it has “You Are What You Read,” a chance to look at books that Truman enjoyed when he was young (with interpretive text, graphics, and quotations). It also contains maps, text, and photographs on historic places from Truman’s youth. The presidential section contains two chronologies (first and second terms), various official documents, some messages to Congress, articles, and links to sites on the Cold War and the Berlin Airlift. It also has an Oval Office tour and information about his presidential plane. The final section begins with a chronology of 1952-73. It also has information on the building of the Truman Presidential Library and a tour of the facility.

Teaching resources at the site are primarily for the Missouri Show Me Standards Incorporating Inquiry-Based Learning, Technology, and/or Primary Sources. However, they can be useful for those teaching outside of Missouri. There is information about inquiry-based learning, guides for viewing various kinds of primary sources, and ideas for integrating technology into the classroom.

The student guide is to help pupils find information on the site that may apply to their research projects. The guide covers the most requested topics from students in elementary and secondary grades. In many cases these duplicate other parts of the site already described above. However, the guide also has trivia questions, games, six months in the life of President Truman (September 1948 to February 1949), and information about his cars. It also contains a link to model student projects.

Next section: The Avalon Project at the Yale Law School