Using Digital Collections in the Theatre History Classroom

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I recently enjoyed visiting Dr. Sergio Costola‘s Theatre History class to talk to students about how they might incorporate digital archival collections in final projects for the class. Dr. Costola’s class centers on theatre and performance history around the anti-abolitionist riots that took place in New York City in 1834. I highlighted several digital collections I thought might be of use to the class, including:

The Harry Ransom Center Digital Collections

The New York Public Library Digital Collections

The Library of Congress Digital Collections

The Digital Public Library of America

Students shouted out keywords corresponding to topics they’ve addressed in the class, and it was a fascinating to see what popped up in basic keyword searches.   For example, here’s a screen shot of our search of the term “burlesque” in the NYPL Digital Collections:

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 3.55.51 PM

Before we began searching, we opened the session with a discussion of Kostas Kiriakakis’ brilliant comic A Day at the Park

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 3.58.51 PM

This whimsical graphic take on questions versus answers allowed us to start a discussion about the inquiry-based nature of archival exploration. After discussing the features of the characters in the comic and what the dialogue between them might tell us about how to approach archival research tasks, students completed this Archival Research Glossary Exercise. The glossary pulls from the Society of American Archivists Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology. Once they finished the exercise, we discussed basic terms. For example, what’s the difference between a primary source and a secondary source? How do libraries and archives relate to each other? And what’s a finding aid? Covering basics like these ensures that students are on the same page and prepared to approach final projects using primary sources.

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