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How Historians Use Primary Sources: The Ulysses S. Grant Collection Provides a Lesson (lesson plan)


Who decides who is a historical figure and who decides what should be written for our history books? It is the historian, assisted by the archivist. In this lesson plan, students will assume the role of the historian, using The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant from the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Collection at Mississippi State University as their primary sources and write their version of a key event in Grant’s political career.

Ulysses S. Grant is an American historical figure who played a role in shaping the history of the state of Mississippi. As a major general in the Union Army, Grant led the siege and surrender of the city of Vicksburg during the American Civil War. As president of the United States, Grant oversaw the most turbulent of times in the history of the nation. In Grant’s own words, “It seems that one man’s destiny in this world is quite as much a mystery as it is likely to be in the next.” With the location of the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Collection now at Mississippi State University, it appears that Grant’s legacy was destined to live on in the state of Mississippi.

*It is recommended that teachers use the Mississippi History Now lesson plan, Vicksburg During the Civil War (1862-1863): A Campaign; A Siege, prior to this lesson plan in order for students to have a background on the Siege of Vicksburg.


Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 3 and 4.


Grades 7 through 12


Mississippi History Now article, How Historians Use Primary Sources
• Overhead projector and transparency
• Chalkboard or whiteboard
• Computer and internet access
• Notebooks
• Paper


The students will:

  • Analyze a primary source.
  • Explain the role of historians and archivists in preserving history.
  • Determine the significance of using primary sources to understand historical events.
  • Construct a written report and oral presentation about one of the key events in President Grant’s political career.


The teacher will play Walt Grayson’s “Look Around Mississippi: Who’s Buried in Grant’s Tomb?” The video can be found on the Grant Association website under “Videos” The link to the site, accessed July 2010, is below. After viewing the video, the teacher will ask students the following questions:

  • Why was the state of Mississippi a surprising location for The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant?
  • Why is access to the papers important?

The teacher will explain to the students that over the next several days they will study the role Ulysses S. Grant played in Mississippi’s history.


The teacher will place a web diagram similar to the one at the end of the lesson on an overhead transparency or classroom board to lead a class discussion on the Mississippi History Now article, “How Historians Use Primary Sources: The Ulysses S. Grant Collection Provides a Lesson.” The students should copy the web into their notebooks and then read the article to determine what role both historians and archivists play in writing history. The students should also determine why primary sources are significant to both historians and archivists. The students will record information on their web as they go through the article. This portion of the lesson can be assigned as homework prior to the discussion of the Mississippi History Now article. Once the students have completed their web, the teacher will ask for student volunteers to share examples from their webs with the class. The teacher can record student responses on the overhead transparency or classroom board.

For the next portion of the lesson, students will need to access the Ulysses S. Grant Association website. Students can work alone, with a partner, or in a small group to complete this activity. The teacher will instruct the students to locate primary source documents in The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Volume 8, that relates to the Siege of Vicksburg, or choose specific primary sources and assign them to each student group (Some suggested pages: 422-423; 439-440; and 471-474). A link to volumes of The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant can be found under Digitized Items on the Grant Association website. Once the students have located, or have been assigned, a primary source they should copy the questions at the end of this section to analyze the source. Once the students have completed the questions, the teacher will ask for student volunteers to share their findings with the class. Have the student groups/partners share their findings based on chronological order of their sources.

Primary Source Analysis

  • Who is the author of the document?
  • What is the date of the document?
  • Who is audience for this document?
  • What are the main points made in the document?
  • Can a particular mood of the author be detected? Use quotes to support your perspective.
  • How is the content of the document valuable in understanding the siege of Vicksburg?

For the last portion of the lesson, place students in groups of three or four. The teacher will place a list of key events in the administration of President Grant on the classroom board. Student groups will be instructed to select one of the events to research. Students should be instructed to include primary sources from The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant in their report.


Student groups will present their reports to the class, making note of Grant’s own words concerning the topic of their presentation/report.


• Class participation
• Webs
• Primary Source Analysis
• Reports


Analyze a political cartoon found on the Ulysses S. Grant Association website.

Create a comparison timeline that lists key events in the political career of President Grant and key events in the history of the state of Mississippi during the same period.

Evaluate the effectiveness of Grant as a general and president.

Research the location of official papers for other United States presidents.

Follow up this lesson by using one or more of the Mississippi History Now articles and lesson plans listed below that focus on Mississippi during the Civil War.

Sherman’s Meridian Campaign: A practice Run for the March to the Sea

Jackson: the Capital City and the Civil War

Vicksburg During the Civil War (1862-1863): A Campaign; A Siege

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