The Who, What, Why and Where of Primary Sources in Undergraduate Education


The Digital Public Library of America just unveiled an exciting new Education component.  In addition to providing access to a host of excellent primary source sets on such topics as the Black Power Movement, American Indian Boarding Schools, and the Bracero Program, the site features Education Outreach Materials including a PowerPoint presentation I’ve given many a time around campus here at Southwestern University.  (I hope versions of it will now make their way around other campuses, too!)  The presentation is aimed at undergrads and its goal is to get everyone on the same page about what primary sources are, why we should engage with them in the humanities, and how to research them.  You can access the complete PowerPoint including presentation notes and discussion questions here: Nunes_Primary-Sources-in-Undergraduate-Education-Presentation.  Or check out the PDF below.

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Using Digital Collections in the Theatre History Classroom


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.

New Year, New Opportunities to Teach with Archives!


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.

Digitizing Texas Cultural Heritage: A Look Inside the Digitization Process


Southwestern University’s Smith Library Center Special Collections is in the midst of an ambitious digitization initiative with generous grant support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)

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and the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC).

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The Digital Texas Heritage Resource Center will make items from Southwestern’s Texana collections digitally available to the public by connecting them with the University of North Texas Portal to Texas History, which is a Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) Hub.  (Read about the relationship between the Portal to Texas History and the DPLA here.)  We at Southwestern are very excited to connect Southwestern’s unique special collections with state and national networks that are significantly enhancing access to archives for students, scholars, and educators.

As part of the team working on the Digital Texas Heritage Resource Center, I’ve been working on transcription and metadata tasks for the Thomas Falconer Correspondence.  Falconer was a British lawyer turned explorer on the Texas frontier.  As a colleague of Falconer’s relayed in an 1841 letter, during a trip to Austin in that year Falconer was enticed to join “an exploring party of 300 armed men consisting of traders to the Mexican posts + other hardy adventurers… [T]he large scope for scientific observation proved an irresistible inducement to his joining in traversing the fierce wilderness hitherto scarcely pressed by the foot of civilized man.”  On the way to its destination of Santa Fe, the expedition was brought to a halt and its members taken prisoner by Mexican soldiers; Falconer describes the episode in his book “Narrative of an expedition across the great southwestern prairies, from Texas to Santa Fe; with an account of the disasters which befell the expedition from want of food and the attacks of hostile Indians; the final capture of the Texans and their sufferings on a march of two thousand miles as prisoners of war, and in the prisons and lazarettos of Mexico.”  Falconer’s writings provide insights into the border tensions that would culminate in the U.S.-Mexican War of 1846-1848.

Below is one letter I’m trying to transcribe; can you read that script??  Tricky, isn’t it!  The letter, dated December 5, 1841, recounts a steamboat trip Falconer once took on the Mississippi River, from Louisville to New Orleans.

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Zooming in: check out Falconer’s teeny-tiny drawing of the steamboat!

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In addition to improving access for researchers and students, transcribing the letters is useful for the process of collecting metadata, as it allows us to identify people, places, and historical events to include in the “Keywords” section of Adobe Bridge.


Above is a screenshot of Adobe Bridge, the program we use to manage the metadata for each digitization.  The digitizations appear on the right side of the screen; to the left are the metadata fields, covering categories such as Creator, Date Created, Description, Source, and Copyright Notice.

Below, Emily Russell, University of North Texas Capstone Student Extraordinaire, is pictured at the digitization station where all the magic happens.  Along with the rest of our team of interns and archivists, we take turns doing work at this station.  Emily is contributing her digitization and metadata expertise to the Digital Texas Heritage Resource Center as part of her graduate degree in Information Science.


Emily Russell getting things done at the digitization station. To the right is the flatbed scanner used to digitize documents and photos; on the computer, we save multiple versions of each scan and enter metadata for each image into the Adobe program Bridge.

The Digital Texas Heritage Resource Center initiative is off to a great start.  Updates to follow as items become available at the Portal to Texas History!