Past or Portal? Enhancing Undergraduate Learning through Special Collections and Archives

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In the age of ubiquitous access to information and mass digitization of materials, library special collections have received renewed attention, though most of this is focused on making these unique collections available outside of holding institutions through digitization. Special collections and archives have largely been used by advanced researchers and scholars. Few undergraduates darken the doors of rare book rooms or archives. Yet these materials offer both distinctive content and opportunities for students to experience learning though direct engagement with rare or unique items, or materials whose arrangement and organization illuminates, instructs, or delights. Beyond “hands-on history,” courses from across the curriculum may be enriched through assignments, experiences, and activities that draw upon or incorporate local or unusual items, primary sources, or material culture – particularly the book as art object or artifact. Undergraduates may also deepen their learning through Special Collections’ internships or participation as classes or individuals in designing and producing exhibits, projects, and publications on topics or scholarly or institutional value. The 47 cases explored in Past or Portal? Enhancing Undergraduate Learning through Special Collections and Archives describe successful programs which include a wide range of types of engagement (single assignments through certificate programs) with unique and rare materials and archival approaches and methodologies.

This book is suitable for all academic library collections, special collections, and archives. In addition it will be of interest to instructional librarians and library and information school educators.


The Artifact 1.       Colorado College: Case Study: The History and Future of the Book, a Half-Block Course at Colorado College, by Steve Lawson and Jessy Randall 2.       East Carolina University: Rebooting the Old North State: Connecting Undergraduates with State Focused Special Collections Materials, by L.K. Gypsye Legge, Matthew Reynolds, and Dale Sauter 3.       Johns Hopkins University: Teaching by the Book: The Culture of Reading in the George Peabody Library, by Gabrielle Dean 4.       Johns Hopkins University: The Scholar’s Bookshelf: Recreating a Premodern Library for the Classroom, by Earle Havens 5.       Merton College, Oxford University: ‘Speed-dating’ in Special Collections: A Case Study, by Julia Walworth 6.       The Ohio State University: Seeing through the ‘Priest’s Eye’: Teaching Medieval Codicology and Book History through William of Pagula’s Oculus sacerdotis, by Eric J. Johnson 7.       St. John’s University: “A Special Collection”: A Fine Arts-Library Collaborative Project, by Claudia Sbrissa and Blythe E. Roveland-Brenton 8.       Skidmore College: Artists’ Books: Esthetics, Media, Communication, by Ruth Copans and John Anzalone 9.       University of Pennsylvania: Crazy for Pamela in the Rare Books Library: Undergraduates Reflect on Doing Original Research in Special Collections, by Sarah Arkebauer, Toni Bowers, Lauren Corallo, Eoin Ennis, Rivka Fogel, Jessica Kim, Michael Masciandaro, John Pollack, Tatum Regan, Tyler Russell, Sandra Sohn, Marykate Stopa, Jessica Sutro, and Valeria Tsygankova 10.   Wake Forest University: Putting the Material in Materiality: the Embedded Special Collections Librarian, by Megan Mulder and Carolyn Jones 11.   Whitman College: What is Primary: Teaching Archival Epistemology and the Sources Continuum, by Michael J. Paulus, Jr.   The Pedagogy 1.       Colorado College: Archival Sound Recordings in Undergraduate Education: The Rubén Cobos Collection of Indo-Hispanic Folklore, by Victoria Lindsay Levine 2.       Connecticut College: Building a New Model: Faculty-Archivist Collaboration in Architectural Studies, by Nova M. Seals 3.       Dartmouth College: A Novel Approach: Teaching Research through Narrative, by Stephanie Boone and Jay Satterfield 4.       Emory University: “Teaching first-year writing with ‘all the detritus, debris and ephemera’ of literary manuscripts,” by Elizabeth A. Chase 5.       Harvard University: Common Ground: A Collaboration between the Harvard University Archives and the Harvard Yard Archaeology Project, by Barbara S. Meloni 6.       Millersville University:  Engaging the Text, by Carla Mary Rineer & Marilyn McKinley Parrish 7.       New York University: Computing in the Humanities @ NYU Libraries, by Janet Bunde, Deena Engel, and Paula Feid 8.       Pennsylvania State University: “Pulling on the White Gloves ... is Really Sort of Magic”: Report on Engaging History Undergraduates with Primary Sources, by Doris Malkmus. 9.       University of Chicago: Lighting Fires in Creative Minds: Teaching Creative Writing in Special Collections, by David Pavelich 10.   University of Colorado, Boulder: Special Collections Instruction in the Sciences: A Collaborative Model, by Barbara Losoff, Caroline Sinkinson, and Elizabeth Newsom 11.   University of Houston: More than Gold Leaf: Teaching Undergraduates in Capstone Courses about the Scholarly Use of Medieval Manuscripts, by Julie Grob 12.   University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Making It Personal: Engaging Students with Their University, by Ellen D. Swain 13.   University of Minnesota: Teaching Research and Learning Skills with Primary Sources: Three Modules, by Ryan Bean and Linnea M. Anderson 14.   University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Teaching Digital History Through the University Archives: The Case of Nebraska U: A Collaborative History, by Peterson Brink, Mary Ellen Ducey, Andrew Jewell, and Douglas Seefeldt 15.   University of Oregon: Student as Historian/Student as Historical Actor: Documenting the Student Experience at the University of Oregon, by Heather Briston 16.   University of the Pacific: The Special Collections Laboratory: Integrating Archival Research into Undergraduate Courses in Psychology and Music, by Shan C. Sutton 17.   University of Vermont: Teaching Cultural Memory: Using and Producing Digitized Archival Material in an Online Course, by Robin M. Katz 18.   University of Wyoming: When Did Sacajawea Die Anyway?: Challenging Students with Primary Sources, by Richard G. Ewig
The Program 1.       Augustana College: Faculty Buy-In: Encouraging Student Use through Faculty Stipends, by Sarah Horowitz and Jamie Nelson 2.       Iowa State University: Collaboration between the Iowa State University Honors Program and the Special Collections Department (ISU Library), by Tanya Zanish-Belcher, Laurie Fiegel, and Ashley Rosener 3.       Oberlin College: Building a Book Studies Program at a Liberal Arts College, by Laura Baudot and Wendy Hyman 4.       University of California: “The Links in the Chain”: Connecting Undergraduates with Primary Source Materials at the University of California, by Sherri Berger, Ellen Meltzer, and Lynn Jones 5.       University of Wyoming, Laramie: Books IN History; Books AS History: Teaching Undergraduates in the Toppan Rare Books Library, University of Wyoming, by Anne Marie Lane 6.       Wesleyan University: Where Do We Go From Here?: Evaluating a Long-Term Program of Outreach and Making it Better, by Suzy Taraba   The Work 1.       Bryn Mawr College: Real Objects, Real Spaces, Real Expertise: An Undergraduate Seminar Curates an Exhibition on the Medieval Book of Hours, by Marianne Hansen 2.       Carleton College: Exhibiting Artists’ Books: Three Perspectives from a Curatorial Seminar, by Laurel Bradley, Kristi Wermager and Gabriel Perri Silberblatt 3.       Dickinson College: Finding Value and Meaning through Work/Study in the Archives, by James W. Gerencser 4.       Dickinson College: Social Networking Software in the Archives: Using Blogs to Engage Students with Primary Sources, by Malinda Triller 5.       Lafayette College: Waiting to Excel: Undergraduate Research Partnerships in Special Collections at Lafayette College, by Diane Windham Shaw 6.       Mississippi State University: The Swing Around the Circle, by Sarah Dauterive and Ryan P. Semmes 7.       Ramapo College of New Jersey: The American History Textbook Project: The Making of a Student-Centered Special Collection at a Public Liberal Arts College, by Christina Connor and Steven Rice 8.       Swarthmore College: The Early Novels Database and Undergraduate Research: a Case Study, by Rachel Sagner Buurma, Anna Tione Levine, Richard Li 9.       Tulane University: Amistad Research Center Case Study, by Christopher Harter 10.   University of Delaware: Learning as Doing: Undergrads Using Special Collections for Conservation and Material Culture Studies, by Deborah C. Andrews, Vicki Cassman and L. Rebecca Johnson Melvin 11.   University of Hawaii, Hilo: UH-Hilo & the Christensen Photographic Collection: Preserving a Piece of Hamākua's History, by Kerri A. Inglis and Helen Wong Smith 12.   University of Wisconsin, Madison: Science Circa 1859: On the Eve of Darwin's On the Origin of Species: A Class-Curated Exhibit, by Robin Rider

Eleanor Mitchell

Eleanor Mitchell is Director of Library Services at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA. She also co-edited the ACRL title, Past or Portal? Enhancing Undergraduate Learning through Special Collections and Archives with Peggy Anne Seiden and Suzy Taraba. Her articles have appeared in Libraries Unlimited, and ALA publications.

Peggy Anne Seiden

Peggy Anne Seiden is College Librarian at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, PA. She also co-edited the ACRL title, Past or Portal?Enhancing Undergraduate Learning through Special Collections and Archives with Suzy Taraba and Eleanor Mitchell. Her articles have appeared in Reference and User Services Quarterly, The Reference Librarian, Library Trends, and various ALA publications.

Suzy Taraba

Suzy Taraba is Director of Special Collections and Archives at Wesleyan University. She holds BA and MALS degrees from Wesleyan and the MS in Library Science from Columbia. Before returning to her alma mater in 1997, she held special collections positions at the Bakken Library of Electricity in Life (now the Bakken Museum), Columbia, Duke, and the University of Chicago. Suzy is a former chair of ACRL's Rare Books and Manuscripts Section. Fostering undergraduate excitement about special collections and archives is one of her favorite parts of her job.