Teacharchives.org a website dedicated to promoting teaching with primary sources and archives in new and innovative ways. The site was developed through a grant that enabled the Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) to partner with 18 faculty at three colleges near the archive. This initiative, Students and Faculty in the Archives (SAFA), saw over 1100 students visiting BHS from 2011-2013 to engage with archival sources.
The site documents the three year project and provides an excellent resource for both archivists and instructors looking to engage students with primary source material. After many student visits and the experience of inviting so many new visitors to the BHS the project came up with some basic guidelines for instructors wishing to integrate archives into their classroom:
- Define specific learning objects for each visit to an archives. Each visit should be centered around an objective and relate to overall course goals.
- The fewer documents the better. Archive activities for students newly exposed to archives should focus on item-level document analysis. Spend lots of time with fewer documents.
- Create opportunities for group learning. Groups of 3-4 students work well for dealing with standard documents. Group work can promote community, allow students to work through difficult sections together, and highlight the fact that document analysis can vary greatly between people.
- Use direct and tailored research questions to guide student work. Avoid show and tell sessions in the archive. Generic questions (what is this document, who created it) don’t highlight the intricate nature of archival sources and often don’t apply to all documents. A couple of great examples of creating tailored handouts can be seen here.
The site is worth exploring if you’re looking for archives instructional resources. The set of exercises on a range of common historical topics provided on the site is a great tool for those looking to develop their own instructional programs. There is also a selection of pedagogy based articles written by archivists and educators experienced with student archival instruction.
Many archives and educators struggle with effectively integrating collections into a range of courses. Archival instruction and lessons based around primary sources can be valuable outside of historical methods classes. Research, analysis, communication, and the ability to synthesize content are skills which reach across disciplines and can be reinforced by working with archival sources.