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:

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

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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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New Year, New Opportunities to Teach with Archives!

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I’m looking forward to an exciting semester working with Southwestern University undergrads on projects involving a host of digital archives initiatives: the Digital Public Library of America, the Human Rights Documentation Initiative, and the Rule of Law Oral History Project, to name just a few.  The beginning of the semester is a good time to evaluate teaching resources that have worked well in the past and think about incorporating new ones.  Inspired by my colleague and fellow Council on Library and Information Resources Postdoc Monica Mercado’s (@monicalmercado) Twitter appeal this morning on behalf of her independent study undergrads–“does anyone have an article they like on *doing* archival research?”–I’ve collected here my go-to resources for facilitating undergraduate engagement with archives.  I developed these resources with the support of the Bridging Disciplines Programs at UT-Austin in 2013, when I was still a wee graduate student.  I’m happy to report that I still find them useful for getting everyone (students and faculty) on the same page about what archives are and how undergrads can orient themselves to the archival research task.

Without further ado:

Archival Research Glossary and Exercise. This glossary pulls from the Society of American Archivists Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology.  The accompanying exercise enables students to familiarize themselves with common concepts and terms they’ll encounter in physical and digital archives.

Archival Artifact Analysis Worksheet. This basic worksheet challenges students to make analytical observations about a selected archival object.  It also asks students to think about next steps for researching context, thus initiating the process of identifying secondary sources to contextualize primary sources.

Undergraduate Archival Research Considerations. This hand-out offers strategies and considerations for undergraduates new to the archival research task.

Archives and Interdisciplinary Education. This hand-out for faculty offers strategies and considerations for involving students in archives-based coursework.