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What are DBQ's and why are they important?

DBQ's are document-based questions. In this case, documents are defined as any primary source material or resources that provide firsthand evidence of historical events. Photographs, literature, deeds, wills, advertising, and census records are all example of primary source documents. On a personal level, there are licenses, birth records, social security cards, tax records, family photographs, drawings, and post cards. School records including attendance records, blueprints, yearbooks, literary pieces, meeting minutes are also considered primary source documents. Many community resources including libraries, historical societies, museums, churches, and government offices are repositories for documents of this type.

Why are these documents important? For one thing, these resources give us a first-hand account of life in previous centuries and help us to put those times into perspective with the present. The importance of this is evidenced by the revised history curriculum recently released by the New York State Education Department. Students in New York State elementary, middle and secondary schools are being asked to use these documents as tool to expand higher thinking skills. The ability to analyze a group of documents and suggest reasoned answers is a life-long skill and one valued in this information-rich world.

Students at various grade levels are now taking exams that involve the use of these evaluative skills. They are asked to read a collection of documents and answer a series of questions relating to each document. They use their new skills to examine these items for content, statistics, demographics, etc. They must be able to compare the present, near past, and distant past, and then draw conclusions based on that information.

By using historical documents as a supplement to current instructional resource, teachers are able to instruct students in their relationship to the citizens of the past. These resources force the eyes to focus on concepts and, in doing so, open students' minds to a higher level of thinking. In using these primary resources, students are offered a new and more personal perspective on history. These documents provoke stimulating and sometimes unanticipated discussion among the students.

Currently, many primary source documents are available to teachers via the Internet, one example being the Library of Congress and its "American Memory" website. In addition to online resources, historical documents are available from 2,500 historical records repositories and 4,400 local government agencies in New York State. However, these resources, however useful, are not as stimulating or valuable as something of local interest might be. It is for this reason that the resources included in this book have been collected, scanned, and provided in this format to our schoolchildren.