Archival Practicum Projects

adventure begins mug sitting outside on rock with leaves nearby

I recently wrapped up teaching an Archival Practicum course. Students spent the term immersed in working with two sets of community heritage organization archives. This course built on archival theory the students learned previously and was designed to provide hands on skills. We did a lot of physical processing, had quality discussions about arrangement decisions, and tackled some basic preservation concerns.

One of the most rewarding parts of this class was seeing students execute their practicum projects. Each student designed an access or outreach initiative to ‘take archival records out of the archives.’

The result was hugely wide ranging and includes: a series of posters focusing on accessibility within archival spaces, the creation of food based on archival recipes, YouTube videos about archival practice, a podcast about archival records, and a display showcasing archival materials.

In terms of evaluation, each student had to submit a project proposal. They also submitted a practicum reflection which included a section on what they learned while undertaking their practicum project. And on the last day of class students presented their finished projects to the group.

The presentation day was pretty magical in my mind – everyone was enthusiastic about their own and their classmates assignments – and the diverse range of projects meant that everyone (including me) learned something new by listening to the presentations.

The general response to the assignment was positive. However, there was some initial trepidation about this assignment being so different from anything they had done before. For students who were more writing focused I did suggest options such as creating a finding aid or a thematic guide to a set of archival records. But no one selected those options, with everyone opting to do something a bit more creative.

I think one of the things that helped the trepidation was the project proposal. It was a pass/fail assignment and was really designed to allow for students to get feedback on their projects. Likewise, I did provide a rubric for the final project – that scored things such as research, presentation, analysis, and communication of ideas. I think having clear guidelines as well as open and ongoing discussions about the project helped make this experience less scary for some students.

From my point of view I really enjoyed what came out of this assignment and it is definitely something I would try again. I would love to hear about other anything but a paper style assignments and the challenges/successes folks have had with them.

Photo credit: Fred Kearney on Unsplash

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