Diving Into Maine History with Primary Sources

Looking for ways to connect your students with national issues and events through a local lens? Three Maine agencies have partnered to create “primary source sets,” themed packets of images, documents, artifacts, and sound recordings that open a window into Maine’s past.

The Maine State Museum, Maine State Archives, and Maine State Library have partnered with the Maine Department of Education to offer these free resources to schools and homeschools across the state.

The structure is simple. Each packet provides an introduction with contextual information on the topic. Then, students receive the primary sources – with no explanation of what they are. Students spend time with their source, finding clues, making observations, asking questions, and interpreting what they see and how it might connect to the broader story. The materials are presented like mysteries that the students can solve, with optional analysis worksheets to walk them through the process. They actively do the work of historians.

Only after these steps do they get the “answers,” labels with the names, dates, and facts associated with their sources. Optional reflection questions and activities offer opportunities for additional depth to the lesson, often drawing the line between the historical materials and issues that impact the present.

The themes and the questions they explore:

Maine Pandemics

old tuberculosis vaccine poster
Image source: Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/item/98508942/

Explores sources with information on the local story of smallpox, cholera, tuberculosis, influenza, and polio.

  • How do people carry on with life during a pandemic?
  • How do information and misinformation spread during a pandemic?
  • How do pandemics impact different people in different ways?
  • Is it right to control people’s actions during a pandemic?

Access this set here »


Freedom & Captivity

old photo of a jail cell
Maine State Prison Jail Cell Around 1924

Sources exploring the history of incarceration in Maine.

  • What Kinds of People are in Prison?
  • Life in Prison
  • Captivity Outside of Prison
  • Working in Captivity

“Since mass incarceration is such a critical part of our history and our present, we must be able to offer students a way to understand how we got to this point,” said Freedom & Captivity Coordinator Catherine Besteman who worked on some of the materials for this project. “The U.S. is the world’s largest jailer.  It is likely that many children have been impacted by the legal system because of the arrest or incarceration of a family or community member. Understanding how the criminal legal system in the U.S. developed, how it has grown, how it impacts families and communities, and what alternatives exist is a profoundly important task for our schools if we are ever to correct the abuses and problems of the past in order to build a healthier future.”

Access this set here »


Maine’s Bicentennial

old map of maine
The Province of Maine 1794

Different elements of Maine’s story leading up to statehood in 1820.

  • Creating a Maine Identity
  • Mapping Maine
  • Power of Maine’s Vote
  • Slavery and Maine
  • Statehood and the Wabanaki

Access this set here »


Here is the link to sign up for Joe’s famous Social Studies listserv where you can find out about great resources like this one.

Interested in learning more? Join the next webinar about these great resources. More information can be found below. You can also reach out to Maine DOE Social Studies Specialist Joe Schmidt at Joe.Schmidt@maine.gov or contact Manie State Museum Education Program Specialist Kate Webber at kate.webber@maine.gov.

Part 4: “Maine Pandemics” Primary Source Set
Exploring pre-packaged online educator materials on the theme of the history of pandemics in Maine. 3:00-4:30pm ET November 9th (Register for this session)