The extensive collections that are available at the New York Public Library’s Digital Collection will provide any world history teacher with fabulous materials to create a lesson or to supplement an existing lesson or unit. These collections are a breathtaking undertaking, which were begun in 2005 by conscientious and resourceful librarians and archivists. Its description reads “In the always expanding digital realm, The New York Public Library provides patrons worldwide with powerful online tools to help them discover its extensive resources and services. On nypl.org visitors can browse the Library’s immense collections, download e-books, and view more than 700,000 items from our award-winning Digital Collections.” It contains “900,207 items and counting. While that is a small fraction of the Library's overall holdings, it is representative of the diversity of our vast collections—from books to videos, maps to manuscripts, illustrations to photos, and more.”
It is indeed a fabulous collection and as part of an easily navigated site, which contains excellent links to different aspects of world history, culture, and contemporary affairs. Numerous categories and listings appear on the home page, for example 30 Recently Digitized and Updated Collections and 30 Photography Collections. As of December 2020, the Public Domain listings are a useful start, since educators know that they can be immediately used. There one finds 15 sub-categories, among them are categories that would be interest to world history teachers: 1,717 Italian Old Master Prints, 1,473 German Old Master Prints, 20,622 Farm Security Administration Photographs, 178 Indian Colored Drawings, and 1,469 Renaissance and Medieval Manuscripts. When one clicks on each of these links, one finds another more detailed link. For example, in checking out “Indian Colored Drawings” I found a detailed list of this collection and then I clicked on Casket with 4 bearers and 2 aristocrats leading Procession which illustrate Hindu funeral rites and ceremonies from the late 18th century. It could be used on its own or as an enlightening part of comparative rituals.
Teachers may also find the Blog Post by Bridget McCormick, Using Public Domain Materials in the Classroom useful tips as to ways to use these materials in the classroom and/or the basis for independent research.
What makes this site so wonderful is in the ease in navigating it, as well as the delight in finding unusual, distinctive, and hard-to-find sources. There are endless possibilities as to how educators can use these materials, depending on the class, level, assignment. The only caveat that is worth highlighting is that patience is warranted to choose among this embarrassment of riches and then afterwards an educator may find a better example that was not immediately apparent.
James A. Diskant, Ph.D, a historian of modern German History, is a retired high school history and government teacher. From 2001 to 2017 he taught at the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science in Boston, Massachusetts, where he taught courses in world and big history, as well as in government and in research methods. As the author of student-based curricula, he had been an active member of history and pedagogical associations, including the World History Association and the National Council for the Studies, where he led workshops for teachers. He currently lives in Berlin, Germany and is an active member of EuroClio’s History and Learning Team.