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Each week on the Junior Curators blog, we travel back in time to a different place in Tennessee history. Stories may be about a famous person, place or event from Tennessee’s past. They will include things like priceless artifacts, pictures, videos, and even some games. Be sure to better understand the story by answering the questions at the end of each post.
After learning the story, be sure to share what you've learned with your parents, family, or friends. Try making your own exhibit about it, shooting a movie, or writing a story about it. Let your creativity run wild!
by Grace Allen
Have you ever played the game Telephone? It can be very funny to see how a story changes when it is passed down a row of people. Someone starts with a sentence and whispers it to the person next to them. That person tells the next person and so on. It is a great example of how stories can change each time someone tells the tale.
Telephone, 1960s, Tennessee State Museum Collection.
History is passed down over years, decades, and centuries. That is a long time! When we teach about history at the museum, we want to get as close to the truth as possible. We want to be accurate. So how do we make sure we know what actually happened in the past? We look at sources. Sources are things that tell us about a specific event, person, or time period. Have you ever read about history in school, looked at the items on display at a museum, or listened to a grandparent talk about their past? Then you have used a source to learn about history.
There are many different kinds of sources. The two main types of sources are primary and secondary sources. Primary sources come from the people who watched or lived through an event. A primary source can be a piece of writing, a recording, or it can be an object. If you wanted to learn about Wilma Rudolph, the three-time Olympic gold medalist from Tennessee, then you might look at newspaper articles from her lifetime or interviews she gave. These would be examples of primary sources. In museums, we consider objects great sources because they can tell us things that people might not think to write down.
Signed Wilma Rudolph U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame Card, Tennessee State Museum Collection.
You also might look at secondary sources to learn about Wilma Rudolph. Secondary sources use several primary sources to create an account of what happened. An example of secondary sources about Wilma Rudolph’s life might be a recent book or article about her athletic achievements or her importance to the Civil Rights Movement in Tennessee.
Even though they aren’t firsthand, secondary sources can be very important. Have you ever disagreed with a referee while watching sports? Sometimes people watch or experience the same thing, but disagree about what happened. People who leave behind primary sources might even favor one side of a story over another. This is called a bias. Authors of secondary sources study many primary sources to draw conclusions about what actually happened. That is why secondary sources are also important in learning about history.
Getting to the truth of a historic event can be as exciting as a sports match or as interesting as listening to people remember their past. What is a topic from history that fascinates you? See if you can find some sources to learn more about it this week.
Accurate – A true account, no mistakes
Source – Something that tells about a specific event, person, or time period.
Primary Source – Something from people who lived through an event or time period.
Secondary Source – Something that uses several primary sources to create an account.
Bias – Favoring one side or point of view over another.
How many gold medals did Wilma Rudolph win?
What are three things that could be a primary source?
What is one way that primary sources and secondary sources are the same? What is one way they are different?
How can bias affect how someone remembers an event?
Find a historic topic that interests you and write a sentence about it. Use the sentence to play a game of Telephone with your family or friends. How much did the information change?
Grace Allen is an Educator at the Tennessee State Museum.