Getting It Right in the Archives: Best Practices for Archives-Based Student Learning

Saturday, January 9, 2016: 3:10 PM
Regency Ballroom VI (Hyatt Regency Atlanta)
Julie A. Golia, Brooklyn Historical Society
Educators often assume that any student exposure to primary sources is inherently good. A three-year project at Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) produced findings that call that assumption into question. Between 2011 and 2014, Students and Faculty in the Archives (SAFA) brought into the BHS archives more than 1,100 early-career college students with majors ranging from pharmacy to architecture to history. By workshopping curricula over several semesters, project participants refined best practices for modeling document analysis to students. Julie Golia, co-director of SAFA, will discuss the pedagogy and logistics of introducing inexperienced students to the archives and to the fundamental research and analysis practices of historians. Golia emphasizes that setting and communicating specific learning objectives, pre-selecting a small number of documents, and tailoring prompts for small group work are essential in crafting effective in-archives exercises. When done right, Golia argues, archives-based learning can have a significant positive impact on student engagement, individual skill building, course learning objectives, campus goals like retention, and civic participation at large. Golia will expand on two key findings about student engagement. She will show how effective educational experiences with original documents in the SAFA project reinforced to students that they were creators, not simply consumers, of historical narratives. Golia will also discuss an innovative approach to teaching students care and handling procedures of archival documents. SAFA care and handling methods pushed students to see themselves as stewards of BHS’s manuscript collections and essential members of the institution’s scholarly community.