The VHEC Collections website provides tools for educators to teach about the Holocaust through a range of media.
The User Guide
has tips for searching and browsing each collection and using other features of the Collections site, including Lightbox, Finding Aids and Research Guides.
For additional guidance on how to navigate the online VHEC Collections, please contact 604-264-0499
Engaging with Primary Sources
The VHEC Collections online catalogue of museum, archival and testimony holdings offers teachers a rich resource for engaging students with primary sources of historical evidence in the classroom. Many of the primary sources represent a Canadian perspective on the history of the Holocaust.
What are Primary Sources?
Primary sources are the raw materials of historical research—original artefacts and records or first-hand accounts created at or near the time of the event under study. Primary sources provide direct evidence about the events, practices or conditions during the period in question. In contrast, secondary sources (such as textbooks, scholarly books and articles) are created after a historical event and offer a description or interpretation of the event based on an analysis of primary sources.
Primary Sources in the VHEC Collections
In the VHEC Collections, primary sources include original materials created, written or used before, during and after the Holocaust as well as eyewitness accounts that were documented later, such as the oral testimonies and memoirs of those who directly experienced the events. Within the Primary Sources browse tab
, materials are grouped according to their physical characteristics (e.g. objects, photographs, testimonies) or their subject matter (e.g. arts & culture, business & economics, daily life & household). Types of primary sources found in the VHEC Collections include: correspondence
, government documents
, business records
, propaganda materials
How to Use Primary Sources in the Classroom
The VHEC is committed to assisting teachers use primary sources effectively in the classroom. Our Collections website incorporates many unique tools to allow students to make personal connections to Holocaust history.
Worksheets for Analyzing Primary Sources
The VHEC has created printable worksheets designed to support students’ independent inquiry into primary sources in the VHEC Collection. Each item in the VHEC’s Collection is described in catalogue records, and often includes digital representations of the item, making it possible for students to independently investigate the creation, ownership, appearance, use and history of any item. Students may choose from among hundreds of primary source documents, objects and photographs; guiding questions in the VHEC worksheets will assist the student to place the primary source in historical context and make inferences to deepen their understanding of historic events.
Click to print worksheets or download a PDF:
Collections in the Classroom
The VHEC offers support for classroom learning and education experiences through the investigation of primary sources and contextualization through secondary materials. More information about how to use materials from each collection:
Lightbox is a tool within the collections system that allows users to create, manage and share a customized collection of items from the VHEC Collections catalogue. Students can save selected items from their search or browse results to their Lightbox in order to create their own collection to include in classroom presentations, lesson plans, assignments or group projects. Once a Lightbox collection has been created, items can be added, organized, filtered and annotated, and can also be viewed on an interactive timeline. View the User Guide
for more instructions about how to use Lightbox.
- Presenting with Lightbox: Lightbox collections can be presented in the classroom as a web-based slideshow. Users can organize items in their Lightbox by dragging and dropping to determine the order in which items appear in a slideshow presentation.
- Creating an Interactive Timeline with Lightbox: Items in a Lightbox can be viewed on an interactive timeline based on their creation date. The timeline function is accessed from within a Lightbox collection by clicking on the clock icon at the top right corner of the screen. Users can navigate the timeline by clicking the arrows on the screen. Clicking on an item’s title will show the full catalogue record for that item.
Why Use Primary Sources in the Classroom?
- Creating a Shared Digital Workspace with Lightbox: Lightbox can be used to create a shared digital workspace in the classroom. Users can annotate items in their Lightbox with comments or questions and can grant access to other users via the “Share the Lightbox” function. In this way, teachers can create and share Lightbox assignments with students using the annotation feature to pose questions or direct the students’ inquiry into a collection of items. Similarly, students can respond to questions or share observations through the annotation/comments within the Lightbox. Creating a shared digital Lightbox workspace also enables students to collaborate with each other on joint projects or presentations.
Teaching with primary sources has been embraced by education professionals as crucial to the study of history and the development of historical thinking
skills. Engaging students with primary sources in the classroom offers many benefits and it advances key curriculum objectives, including:
- Active, self-directed learning: In contrast to passive learning from a textbook, students actively participate in the process of historical inquiry when they work with primary sources. Students direct their own learning as they ask questions, uncover evidence, make reasoned inferences and construct meaning from primary sources.
- Arouse curiosity and personalize history: Primary sources inspire curiosity in students because they are tangible and real, offering an unfiltered glimpse into the past. Primary sources provide students with a direct and often personal link to individuals of the past, enabling them to see history as a series of human events and to empathize with figures from the past. Since primary sources are incomplete fragments of history, they also motivate students to seek further information from other sources to answer questions and gain a deeper understanding.
- Reveal multiple perspectives: Primary sources encourage students to see diverse perspectives on past events and to understand the importance of consulting a variety of sources to gain a sense of balance. With practice, students develop the ability to recognize bias, assess reliability, reconcile contradictions and challenge assumptions in the sources of historical information they encounter.
- Develop critical thinking skills: Interaction with primary sources develops cognitive and analytical thinking skills as students must critically observe, question, analyze and interpret original materials. Students learn to form reasoned conclusions based on the evidence they uncover. They use deductive reasoning skills to draw inferences about the material and construct knowledge by integrating information they have acquired from other sources.
- Illustrate abstract concepts: Physical artefacts can animate abstract concepts. By analyzing multiple primary sources, students learn to make connections between ostensibly unrelated information, see links between past and present in various contexts, identify patterns and recognize cause and effect relationships.
- Accommodate personalized learning and multiple learning styles: Primary sources can be experienced in a variety of mediums, accommodating diverse learning styles. Oral testimonies may resonate more effectively to auditory learners than written documents. Graphic materials (photos, maps, plans, posters) may engage visual learners and physical artefacts may engage tactile learners. In this way, primary sources offer the flexibility to include all learners and to personalize learning to best suit student needs and interests.
Teachers can use the tools and resources provided in the VHEC Collections website to advance the core competencies in the British Columbia curriculum
- Creative & Critical Thinking: Students develop cognitive and analytical thinking skills through critically observing, questioning, analyzing and interpreting primary source materials. Students use deductive reasoning skills to draw inferences, form conclusions based on the evidence they uncover and construct knowledge by integrating information they have acquired from other sources.
- Communication: Students independently acquire, apply, interpret and present information using the digital technology of the VHEC Collections website. The website's online tools also promote collaboration among students through the use of shared digital media and workspaces.
- Personal and Social Competency: Students reflect upon personal and cultural identity and social responsibility as they discover the first-hand historical accounts revealed by the primary source materials in the VHEC Collections. Students are encouraged to see diverse perspectives of past events when they encounter a variety of sources of historical information.
Many of the key emphases of the curriculum are also supported, including:
- Inquiry-based, personalized learning and deeper learning processes: Students actively participate in the process of historical inquiry when they question, uncover evidence and construct meaning from primary sources. The website allows students to explore topics of interest to them, seek further information and direct their own learning by linking to related people, places, events and subject matters across the VHEC Collections.
- Digital literacy: The online tools and resources of the VHEC Collections website give students the opportunity to enhance their digital literacy skills, develop user generated content and co-construct meaning as it relates to digital and online technologies.
Other VHEC Teaching Resources
- Diverse learning styles: Primary sources in the VHEC Collections can be experienced in a variety of mediums (e.g. oral histories, three-dimensional objects, artworks, graphic representations, photographs and documents) to accommodate diverse learning styles.
In addition to the tools and resources featured on this website, the VHEC offers a variety of educational resources for teachers to engage students with the history of the Holocaust:
Survivor Outreach Speakers
Survivor Outreach Speakers are survivors of the Holocaust who visit classrooms in person or via video conferencing. They address close to 15,000 students annually, mostly at schools in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, at the VHEC, or at the Symposia on the Holocaust held yearly at the University of British Columbia. More information about Survivor Outreach Speakers can be found here: How to Book a Survivor Outreach Speaker
School Program: Exhibition Tours at the VHEC
Teachers may book a school visit for students to engage with primary sources on site. Interactive sessions last 75 minutes and consist of a docent-led tour of the current exhibition as well as a workshop or presentation by a Holocaust survivor speaker. One or two exhibitions are mounted annually. Due to high demand, it is recommended teachers book at least two weeks in advance. More information about school programs can be found here: Book a Tour or Workshop for Your Classroom
Teachers' guides complement VHEC exhibitions and support classroom learning. They include pre- and post-visit activities, discussion questions, student readings, primary source documents, glossaries, timelines and recommended resources. Browse past Teachers' Guides in the VHEC Library collection here
Discovery Kits developed by the VHEC are available for two-week loan periods free of charge. Kits place reproductions of primary source documents such as letters, diaries, newspaper articles, photographs, identification card and government documents into the hands of students. Students are encouraged to examine, describe and analyze the artefacts as a way to investigate issues of discrimination, segregation, hiding, resistance, as well as the aftermath of war and immigration. Teachers' Guides are also included. Discovery Kits provide the opportunity for students to engage with museum items when travel to the VHEC is not possible. More information about Discovery Kits can be found here: How to Book a Discovery Kit
Online Exhibitions and Multimedia Tools
Primary sources, including testimonies, can also be incorporated into classroom activities through the VHEC's online exhibitions and multimedia tools. Educators can explore the VHEC's online resources to inform their teaching here: Online and Multimedia Tools for Teachers
Classroom Book Sets
Classroom Book Sets engage young adult readers while offering insight into the authors' experiences of the Holocaust. They are commonly taught as part of the British Columbia provincial curriculum and are appropriate for middle and high school students. Classroom Book Sets are available for four-week loan periods free of charge. Each set contains 30 copies of the book, and some include additional resources and readings. More information about Classroom Book Sets can be found here: How to Reserve a Classroom Book Set.