A new program in Cotsen Children's Library offers local teachers an opportunity to instruct with rare primary sources

Dana Sheridan working with students

Dana Sheridan, Education and Outreach Coordinator for Cotsen Children's Library, started a new program that offers local teachers an opportunity to instruct their students with rare primary sources. Photo by Princeton University Library


Through a collaboration between Princeton University Library and the Program in Teacher Preparation, local teachers now have an opportunity to instruct in their classrooms with rare primary sources. “Time Travel 101,” a new program led by Cotsen Children’s Library, offers educators a circulating case of special collections materials and corresponding curricula for their students.

Teachers can borrow one of five cases: “Illuminate Me,” which examines and compares 15th-century manuscript pages to better understand how books were created and used in the Middle Ages; “Selling, Selling, Sold!,” which demonstrates life in late 19th-century New Jersey by examining authentic period advertisements and colorful trade cards; “Show Me the Money,” which utilizes a timeline of monetary artifacts to demonstrate how New Jersey was colonized, grew, and nationalized; “Got Anything to Read?,” which walks students through period publications and household objects; and finally, “World War II New Jersey,” which explores items children encountered on the World War II home front. 

“We actually purchased a set of teaching collections of primary source objects – medieval manuscript pages, a World War II child’s gas mask, colonial money from New Jersey (some of the first printed colonial money) – and made them available to teachers to check out in cases, take to their classrooms, and using the suggested curriculum provided, teach using actual special collections,” said Dana Sheridan, Cotsen Education and Outreach Coordinator.

To the program, Sheridan brings over 10 years of collections-based educational programming with local and home schools, as well as experience developing creative literacy programming for local youth.

“No one has ever taken materials like this and used them in this manner with teaching collections,” she commented. “This is innovative and different.”

As a beta in the 2018-2019 academic year, “Time Travel 101” partnered with the Princeton University Teachers as Scholars program, which provides scholarly and intellectually engaging opportunities for teachers in neighboring schools and districts. The program was also available to Princeton University student teachers. But this year, the program will expand to include more schools and districts in New Jersey.

Student working with rare, primary manuscript

A student in Cambridge Elementary School studies a primary source. Photo by Princeton University Library

“History can be dry and irrelevant to a lot of kids,” Sheridan said. “It’s a lot of dates, a lot of places, and you’re not exactly sure how it applies to you. I think there is really a deep connection when you realize you’re touching a 14th-century manuscript page or when you see an actual war ration book. You see the real thing. You might see a photo of a soldier in a uniform, but in the World War II case, you can actually take out a jacket and try it on. . . You can handle pamphlets. . . you can see actual receipts in people’s handwriting from different eras of New Jersey. I think there’s real power in finding and seeing these objects and exploring them."

The program was born from a similar initiative entitled “Cotsen in the Classroom,” which ended in 2017. For 10 years, Sheridan brought reproductions of materials into Kindergarten through fifth grade classrooms within a 10-mile radius of the University. While “Cotsen in the Classroom” was highly acclaimed, she said, Sheridan ultimately found that she needed to “take this resource and put it in the hands of the teachers, so they could themselves use and teach with collections material."

“Time Travel 101” is designed for students in grades four through 12 but can also be modified for younger students. For teachers and schools outside of New Jersey, the curricula and primary materials are digitized and available online for free.

To learn more about the program, visit Cotsen’s website.

Written by Stephanie Ramírez, Library Communications Specialist and Staff Writer

Media contact: Barbara Valenza, Director, Library Communications