In my online history courses, I try to push students toward using primary sources that are available online. The surge of useful databases, exhibits and digital history projects has been great for this, as I can make the assignments more contextual than simple database searches. I call these assignments "Internet Assignments" (it's a very original title, I know). An example is the assignment that goes along with Slave Voyages. Students are assigned the Introductory Essay and Introductory Maps as part of their reading for that week. Then, I ask them to use the database and its associated graph-making platform to answer a question they have after reading the essays. Their assignment is to post their graph and research question, along with a paragraph on how the graph answers that question and what additional questions are raised.
In the spring, I'm teaching African American History up to 1877 for the first time. Over the course of the semester, I have 7 different Internet Assignments that correspond to the 7 topical (and roughly chronological) modules of the course. Here are the 7 I'm planning to use in the spring, some of which are new to me.
Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe - Walters Art Museum. Though it has a small number of sources, I hope students will be able to connect popular ideas of Africans in Europe to the context of settlement in the New World.
Slave Voyages Database - as described above, this gives students a chance to interpret data from primary sources
Black Loyalist - Cassandra Pybus, et al. This will be my first time using the database for a course, and so I'm not certain of the assignment here. I might ask the students to do a critical analysis of the sources and Pybus' connections between individuals.
Drayton Hall - National Trust for Historic Preservation. The website has minimal collections available, but it does give a full narrative of the long history of this plantation's owners and one enslaved family that lived and worked there for generations. Students use these narratives to talk about the house as a primary source.
Early American Newspapers - Readex. The database is not new, but the assignment is. For this course, I'll be asking students to find runaway slave ads and discuss them in the context of our reading for the week. I might also combine this with the anti-slavery petitions available at the National Archives to stimulate discussion of the opposing attitudes towards slavery.
Material Culture assignment - museum collections such as the Met, PMA, and V&A. In my general survey, students are asked to seek collections items that were owned or used by working class people. For many, the lesson is that there aren't that many museum objects that fit that description. For this course, I'll likely expand the assignment to include objects used by free or enslaved African Americans. Maybe some of them will come across these.
Emilie Davis Diaries - Villanova University, Falvey Memorial Library. I think the last time I looked at this site, you could browse through the pages of the diary. The assignment for this source is still undecided. I might ask students to compare Davis' diary to one of the diaries available at The Valley of the Shadow (I normally assign VotS on its own in the general survey).
I'm very interested to hear feedback on these sites, your experience using them in the classroom (in person or online), and especially and additional or supplemental troves of primary sources that aren't listed. How do you encourage students to use primary sources?