Teaching History through Archives
“Teaching History through Archives” examines strategies to promote critical pedagogy through engagement with archival collections. The use of primary sources has long been seen as a valuable tool to teach history. But all too often pedagogical literature has simply assumed that using such sources will inherently lead to an authentic learning experience. Reading rooms in special-collections libraries are busier than ever before. History departments are urging their faculty members to include archival investigations on their syllabi. Common core standards include primary-source study as a foundational element in critical thinking. The mass-digitization of archival materials has vastly increased the accessibility of archival materials, creating the potential for students at all levels – high school, undergraduate, and graduate – to engage with distinctive collections. There are now millions of individual documents, images, and texts, available for classroom use. But despite all of these developments – and the impressive commitment of labor, time, and funds they represent – scant attention has been paid to the best practices for utilizing these materials in authentic ways. The historians on this panel will discuss and draw lessons from their experiences teaching in archives, classrooms, museums, and online learning environments. Representing a diverse array of historical inquiries – a spatial analysis of Harlem education, the memory of racism and sexuality at Bryn Mawr College, a massive open online course on the Civil War and Reconstruction, and workshops examining the Brooklyn waterfront – these projects are linked by their commitment to exploring how thoughtful engagement with archival materials can enrich students’ understanding of the past.