“Unmediated Archives: Creating an Immersive Experience for Undergraduate Students Across the Disciplines”
Peggy Keeran, Arts and Humanities Librarian, University of Denver
Nominated by: Jack Maness, Associate Dean for Scholarly Communication & Collections Services, University of Denver
A team of librarians and archivists at the University of Denver used vision and creativity to develop a new teaching model stressing the value of primary sources in research for first-year seminars and upper division courses. Unmediated Archives: Creating an Immersive Experience for Undergraduate Students across the Disciplines combines digital and physical primary resources to engage and inspire students. This project is the recipient of the 2018 Primary Source Award for teaching.
A cross-discipline approach to courses in history, sociology, writing, and literature incorporated unique primary source materials such as jazz age clothing, immigrant diaries, and photographs, in addition to digital texts. Students in a “History of World War I” course were able to view an original photograph of soldiers training on the university’s campus. Two other history courses, “Immigrant Voices in America” and “Europe during WWII,” met together to explore local, regional, ethnic, and national US newspaper articles published during the German invasion of Poland in 1939, allowing students to assess Americans’ widely varied responses to the events leading to war. A class in sociology research methods consulted details of tuberculosis patient records from Denver’s unique Jewish Consumptives Relief Society sanatorium, modeling research questions about individuals’ lives as well as broader social conditions at the beginning of the twentieth century.
In addition to Arts & Humanities Librarian Peggy Keeran, the project team included Jeanne Abrams, Curator of Beck Archives; Jennifer Bowers, Social Sciences Librarian; and Katherine Crowe, Curator of Archives & Special Collections. They report that the project changed faculty perceptions of library instruction, enhancing the quality of student research. Some students chose to work with library staff curating exhibits using the archived materials. The most significant outcome was the students’ realization of the need to be more critical of secondary sources. A history professor reported, "Once students found primary sources of their own, they began to question some of the assumptions and arguments found in secondary sources." A freshman seminar student described the experience as “eye-opening.”
The project developed a systemic approach to cross-disciplinary library instruction. The effort was collaborative and intensive: in some cases an instruction librarian would teach with two curators and the faculty member of record, combining visits to the special collections and archives collections with classroom instruction.
This endeavor has not gone unnoticed by donors: five courses received funding from a program supporting information on literacy efforts. Additionally, a donor is interested in funding an award for projects in areas not typically conducting primary source research, particularly in business and engineering.