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Primary Sources: 100 Milestone Documents

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Oct 1 2009 cover, louisiana purchase

The website 100 Milestone Documents chronicles United States history from 1776 to 1965 through a chronologically-ordered compilation of primary sources. Cosponsored by National History Day and the National Archives, the selected materials range from Richard Henry Lee's resolution for independence in 1776 to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Each entry includes background information, images of the document (online or accessible as PDFs), a transcription, links to related documents, and teaching suggestions. The section Tools for Educators also includes a sourcebook for working with the documents and other ideas for teachers.

Questioning what's not there can be as educational as looking at what's included.

The documents focus on America's legal, diplomatic, and political history: six Supreme Court decisions, 24 presidential speeches or orders, 44 legislative acts, 20 treaties or international declarations, and five documents dealing with important inventions (from the cotton gin to the nuclear bomb).

You won't find speeches and writings from racial or ethnic minorities or from women included here, as a critical review on History Matters points out. Nonetheless, we sometimes learn as much from questioning omissions as inclusions, and at the least, the top-down perspective of the selections reflects prevailing mentalities and influences at the time people in power generated them.

Our Documents does offer ready and consolidated access to pivotal materials generated at critical moments in U.S. history. They are milestones, and their impact isn't a question—only perhaps the perspective of the compilation.

(Also take a moment to explore The People's Vote with accompanying comments—an initiative requesting the public to order these documents according to their importance.)