Did you know that YOU can create a primary source? Be part of history and start documenting your life!
The Canadian Museum of History is full of primary sources, but they don’t just have to be in museums. Primary sources are the “stuff” of history — they tell historians what happened in the past by the people who lived and experienced the events. Primary sources can be lots of things: diary entries, letters, pictures, recordings and even scrapbooks! Document history by creating a scrapbook with diary entries, drawings, pictures and interviews.
A scrapbook is a primary source because it can tell future generations a lot about the person who created it, as well as the time and place in which they lived. Follow the instructions below and check out the tips from one of the Museum’s learning specialists, Katie (her bio is at the bottom of the page)!
You can check out this scrapbook in our collection for inspiration.
- Step 1: Make a scrapbook
- Step 2: Fill it in
- Step 3: Put it together
- Step 4: Keep it in a safe place
- A little bit about Katie!
Step 1: Make a scrapbook
A scrapbook is a book that you can write diary entries in, draw in, keep pictures in, and even record important information. They’re also easy to make with just a few household items. Here are some ideas for what you can use:
- A binder
- A notebook
- Paper you clip or staple (you can use cardboard to decorate as a front and back cover!)
Step 2: Fill it in
You don’t have to fill a scrapbook in all at once. Take your time if you want, and add one or two items every day. Here are some ideas:
Write a diary entry: You may already keep a diary or journal, so you know that this is the place you can write anything you want about who you are, what you do, and what you like (or don’t!). Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- What is the first thing you do each day?
- What is your favourite game, and why?
- How do you spend your weekends?
- What is your favourite time of year?
- What is your favourite memory?
Katie’s tip! Make sure to put the date on your diary entry. When you look back at your scrapbook, you can see what you did and when, and have an understanding of what else was going on in your community and the rest of the world at that time. Historians can learn a lot from this information.
Draw or take a picture of something: Are you more of an art person? Paintings and pictures from the past can really help historians better understand the world as it was. Think of something you would like to draw or take a picture of, like your:
- Favourite activity
- Favourite person
Katie’s tip! If you are using a cell phone or camera, make sure you hold it straight and steady. Find a “point of interest” (whether it is a person, building or object) and focus on that. If you are drawing a picture, add as many details as you can, but don’t worry about getting it absolutely perfect. You can break your drawing down into basic shapes and then add detail.
Conduct an interview: Interviews can be a great source of historical information! If you would like to interview someone, make sure you have their permission to record them. You can conduct the interview over the phone or through an online video chat, and write notes in your scrapbook. Some researchers use a technique called transcribing. That means recording the interview with a device like a phone, and then writing down what was said word by word! Here are some questions to get you started:
- Could you introduce yourself and tell me your name, how old you are and where you live?
- Where were you born? Do you have any brothers or sisters?
- What was your childhood like? Do you have one or two memories that really stand out?
- Tell me about the house you grew up in.
- What was school like for you? What was your favourite subject?
Katie’s tip! Ask questions that don’t have a “yes” or “no” answer. By asking open-ended questions, you will get more information from the person you are interviewing, which is helpful for historians and for learning about the past. For example, ask questions that start with “can you describe…,” “tell me about…” or “please explain….”
Step 3: Put it together
People like to put scrapbooks together in different ways. Some people like to build them as they go, while others like to plan them out. The point is, you can design the layout of your scrapbook any way you want. Create a table of contents if you like, or let it come together over time, the choice is yours.
Do you want to draw something on the cover? Do you want to put stickers on your diary entry? Let your personality shine through in the design — this is all part of your scrapbook being a primary source too.
Step 4: Keep it in a safe place
You want to make sure that you keep your scrapbook in a safe place. This way, it won’t get lost or damaged. Who knows, it might end up in a museum one day!
A little bit about Katie!
Katie has been working as a Learning Specialist at the Canadian Museum of History for almost three years. She is part of the team that creates all of the educational programming at the Museum. Katie has 15 years of experience volunteering and working in museums and heritage sites in three different countries — Canada, the United States and England. She loves history and exploring Ottawa with her best friend, Bennet, her five-year-old golden retriever.