Caribbean Genealogy Library Brings VI History Alive with Website for Classrooms

David Hamilton Jackson, a teacher, owner and editor of a newspaper, and a judge from St. Croix who fought for workers’ rights, is pictured in 1915 giving a speech in Denmark. The photo is an example of a primary source used by students to better understand history. (Image from the Danish Royal Library)

The Caribbean Genealogy Library has opened a window into history for US Virgin Islands students of all ages with the launch this week of the TeachVIHistory.com website.

The website was developed to assist educators in teaching US Virgin Islands history, and to encourage the use of digitized primary source material in the classroom, according to a press release announcing the launch.

“A primary source is a first-hand account of an event or topic. It’s something created by people who were present at the time in history you want to study. A primary source has not been modified by interpretation, ”the release explained.

Primary sources included in the project include artifacts such as a stone ax and a St. John Market Basket. There are historical maps of St. Thomas and St. Cross. Posters advertising a meeting about the sale of the Danish West Indies for use in teaching about the 1917 Transfer of the islands from Denmark to the United States, and a political campaign poster of Lorraine Berry for research about elections and voting, according to the release.

There are activities built around old photographs of street scenes in Christiansted, horse-drawn wagons, children playing marbles in Frenchtown and David Hamilton Jackson addressing a crowd in Copenhagen. Artwork by Camille Pissarro, public monuments, and poetry written in dialect by JP Gimenez are also included.

Documents make up the largest type of primary source used on the website, and included are activities using the Emancipation Proclamation, a manumission by will, letters about the St. John slave revolt in 1733, church records, E. Benjamin Oliver’s Identification card, The Herald Newspaper, census records, and the Judgment of Edith Williams, Anna M. Vessup and Eulalie Stevens in their fight against the electoral boards of St. Thomas for the right to vote, according to the release.

The instructional materials offered on TeachVIHistory.com are called activities. Each activity includes primary sources, a brief historical background, suggested teaching instructions, an analysis worksheet, and discussion points, the release stated. Some activities include extension projects. Forty-two activities are presented on the website, with 10 for lower elementary, 10 for upper elementary, 10 for junior high and 12 for high school.

Digitized primary sources included on this website are from the collections of various institutions including Rigsarkivet (Danish National Archives), DET KGL Bibliotek (Danish Royal Library), Danish National Museum, Danish Maritime Museum, Library of Congress, US National Archives and Records Administration, Bethlehem Moravian Archives and the University of the Virgin Islands through the Digital Library of the Caribbean, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Caribbean Genealogy Library, and others.

“In the past this material was largely accessible only by visiting a library or archive off-island. As a result, it was only seen and used by professional and dedicated researchers with the means, determination, and research skills to travel and visit the institutions in person, ”according to the release. “With digitization efforts in the last decade, particularly the Danish National Archives massive digitization project of Danish West Indies material released in 2017, there is a lot of primary source material available online. Using the material still requires determination and research skills, but accessibility is far easier than it has ever been. ”

The goal of the TeachVIHistory project is to provide enhanced access to primary sources for teachers and students, to help guide educators on where to find primary sources about the US Virgin Islands, and to encourage the use of primary sources in the classroom, the release stated .

Another long-term goal of the project is to encourage and inspire a young generation of historians.

Asking students to explore primary sources turns them into the historian – it gives them an active role in analyzing history, rather than passively receiving information from a teacher or book. A historic letter or old photograph captures attention and engages a young student. Examining several related documents helps students to learn and question where historical information comes from and how things fit together to tell a story, ”the release stated.

“The Caribbean Genealogy Library hopes teachers will take advantage of the website throughout the school year, but particularly this month since its Virgin Islands History month!” the release stated.

The website can be found at: www.TeachVIHistory.com.

TeachVIHistory.com is a product of the Caribbean Genealogy Library. Its mission is to identify, preserve, and provide access to Caribbean genealogy, history, and cultural heritage information resources for the Virgin Islands and the Caribbean, and to promote and encourage their use for family history documentation, education, and scholarship. CGL is a research library. It’s in Al Cohens Plaza, St. Louis. Thomas. For more information about the library, visit www.cgl.vi, or email [email protected]

TeachVIHistory.com was made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: CARES Act Emergency Relief Grants for Humanities, through the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands.

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