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Library Instructional Services: Teaching the Archives

Archives Resources and Research Strategies

Examples of Archives Sessions

Contact Fred Burwell <burwellf@beloit.edu>, College Archivist, and Stacey Erdman <erdmansn@beloit.edu>, Digital Archivist, to arrange sessions like these or to discuss other options.

Introduction to the Beloit College Archives and Beloit College History.  We provide orientations to the Beloit College Archives and tours of our reading room and storage vault. A very popular orientation activity for classes is a tabletop display or "show and tell" that features a variety of archival materials – photographs, memorabilia, documents and publications.  These items speak to changing times, cultural history, sense of place and more.  This provides a good starting point to introduce the Archives, talk about what we are, what we do and about doing archival research here.  Then, for the bulk of the session, students have a hands-on experience, looking over the displays and picking one item that particularly intrigues.  Each student presents it to the class, talking about what sparked his or her interest and what questions arise.  Archivists can help put the item in context and discuss possibilities for further research.  These sessions have proven to be wonderful ice-breakers where students have a lot of fun.  They also serve to provide awareness of the college’s heritage while also introducing students to a place where they may pursue original research.

Introductions to Archives.  In addition to orientations to our own collections, we can also provide basic overviews on general archival research, the archival profession, and specific topics within the field, such as working with digitized primary sources, or conducting oral history. 

Campus Historical Tour We provide narrated tours tailored to your needs and audience. The academic side of campus can be completed in around an hour. Extended tours also featuring the residential side can be done. One possible activity for involving classes in tours is to have students perform archival research on campus buildings, and allow them to take turns giving the tour. Fred can fill in background, details, and context as needed. 

Topical Packets.  Pre-selected "Packets" consisting of assorted primary and secondary source materials on various topics are a wonderful way to introduce students to the basics of conducting archival research. For past classes, packets on topics such as the Civil Rights Movement, African-Americans at Beloit, the World’s Columbian Exposition and the early years of the campus museums, early curriculum and education, and campus buildings have been assembled. More general packets based on time periods within Beloit College campus history have also been utilized successfully. Some classes use the packets as a jumping off point for writing short papers, and others use them for developing group projects. One approach in this area that has worked previously involved assembling groups of 2-4 students who work through the packets together, putting them into some sort of logical order. They then create a basic chronology, list important themes, facts, and questions that arise. They present their findings to the class and then we talk about how to continue the research both in the Beloit College Archives and beyond. This sort of project works best over two or three sessions.  We are happy to work with faculty on creating different types of targeted packets for your classes. 

Transcribing Historical Documents Students work with handwritten letters or diaries, often by Beloit College students of the past.  For instance, we have a set of post-Civil War letters that provide a wonderful glimpse into 19th century campus life.  Another set, from the turn of the 20th century, offers a glimpse into the daily life of a woman student only a few years after Beloit College became coeducational.  This can work as a quick exercise, if sticking with transcribing or, if we include research and annotation, it works best over two or more sessions.  When annotating letters or diary entries, students research archaic words and slang, identify people, places, events, customs and more. They learn hands-on research using a great variety of Beloit’s archival sources as well as learning how to navigate useful online and genealogical websites.