Xtreme Endnotes With An Archival Twist

Brown boxes on white background

Earlier this term I adapted Rozanne Panchasi’s “Xtreme Endnotes” activity for my introduction to archival studies class.  I used this activity as part of a discussion about the intersection of historical work, archival research, and the ways in which archives influence historical production.  This activity was also paired with readings and a lecture about how archives inform concepts of memory and how the work of historians and archivists intersects and differs.

The basics of Panchasi’s activity look like this:

  • Students are divided into groups with endnotes from a ‘hidden’ historical monographs
  • Without knowing the title, author, or having access to anything other than the notes students are asked to build an outline of the text and figure out what they can discover about the text, author, and topic
  • Each group then presents a profile of its hidden book to the class and open their package (drum rolls optional) to reveal the hidden book they examined. 
  • This exercise can be used as one way to teach about citation and the politics of citation practice.

What I changed:

  • I really wanted students to examine what type of primary sources the author used.
  • What archives did they visit? How are they citing archival materials?
  • What did the range of archival sources reveal about research practices, scope of research, and historical method?

This activity allowed for students to see some of the practical implications of archival access and allowed for a closer examination of how archives can be used to support historical research.  My archival studies class contains a number of students from outside of history, so I particularly wanted to draw attention to historical analysis as a way to talk about archives can shape historical knowledge.

There was a surprising amount of excitement and friendly competition around this activity, with groups vying to present the most detailed and accurate representation of their hidden book.  I didn’t even have to prompt the drum rolls, they just happened naturally.  When doing this activity one of the participating groups got the time period of their book right but based on the endnotes didn’t realize that the book was focused solely on experiences of women.  This allowed us to talk about reading against the grain of archival sources and ways that archivists and historians can work to illuminate historical voices that have been marginalized in archival records.

Overall, I think this exercise was a helpful way to get students thinking about how archives and historical practice intersect.  It also contributed to an interesting discussion of citation and research practices, and how one might even begin to narrow down what archival material to look at.  Plus, who doesn’t love drum rolls?

Photo: Leone Venter on Unsplash

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