Bring the Past Alive with HERB

The guy with the pipe in his mouth is the one you want to talk to.  That’s HERB, the “mascot” for the CUNY Graduate’s Center website Social History for Every Classroom.  Herb presides over a vast collection of primary sources that will bring U.S. history alive for your students.

What is so absolutely fabulous about HERB?  For one thing, the sources themselves.  Photographs, posters (including over-the-top propaganda posters), graphs, tables, diary entries and letters from ordinary citizens immerse students in the past in the way a textbook never could.  What’s more, the HERB collection is carefully curated to be accessible, and those that are more challenging come with text supports.  These primary sources also represent history in all its turbulent, chaotic glory, with a wide variety of perspectives represented for every era and issue.

Take, for example, a letter written by a citizen to Eleanor Roosevelt.  The entry reads “A Worker Warns Eleanor Roosevelt of Growing Class Unrest,” and the letter begins:

Will you please warn the people of what’s going to happen to America if these property owners don’t quit making industrial slaves of their laborers?

Or the entry called “An Africans American Asks FDR to End Racial Inequalities in Federal Relief:

I will give you just one example of how the relief is down here: the widow Nancy Hendricks owns land, is a stockholder in the bank, and she is supplied with blankets, cloth, and gets a supply of canned goods regularly.

Or a photograph of an African-American man protesting labor discrimination:

Or a poster from A. Philip Randolph’s planned March on Washington in 1941:

Of course, even a wonderful collection of primary sources can be too much of a good thing if it requires hours of sifting through resources to find exactly what you need.  One of HERB’s best features is the fact that it is searchable not only by historical era such as the Civil War and Reconstruction, but also by themes such as Work, Labor Activism, Imperialism, Immigration and Migration, and “Race and Ethnicity.  In addition, each source is clearly labeled as “table,” “photograph,” ‘letter,” “poster,” etc.

This is a highly recommended go-to site for primary sources.

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About Kate Brandt

Kate Brandt is a Professional Developer in the adult literacy field in New York City and she loves her job. She loves her job so much that she commutes 2 hours per day, from her suburban home in Shrub Oak, New York, to get to work. She loves working in adult literacy because she gets to work with people who are smart, kind, and dedicated.

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