Originally posted on 2014-08-07


Reviewed by Abigail Nye, Reference and Instruction Archivist, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee [PDF Full Text]

TeachArchives.org is a digital resource for educators and information professionals. Created by the Brooklyn Historical Society, the website is the product of Students and Faculty in the Archives (SAFA), a three-year project at Brooklyn Historical Society which partnered with faculty at local colleges.[1]

The website offers sample exercises and informational articles with the goal of empowering individuals to effectively teach with primary sources. Based on the SAFA project findings, the website is designed around a specific teaching philosophy for archives-based learning. This method focuses on four strategies: “define specific learning objectives for the visit to the archives, thoughtfully select individual documents (the fewer the better), design tailored small-group activities, and model document analysis through directed, specific prompts.” [2]

Archivists unfamiliar with education-based theory and terminology will find the Articles section of this website helpful in the collaboration process between the archives and classroom environments. The articles provide reflections from educators, practical guidance on the logistics of bringing students into the archives, and clear discussions of the basic theory that surrounds primary source instruction.

The Exercises section of the website provides an extensive collection of activities to engage students with primary sources. Each exercise contains a summary, objectives, context, information about the class visits, end products, information about assessment, a list of archival resources used, and further reading. The exercise also provides information on the class in which it was used, with ideas for adaptation and links to course materials. Finally, archivists who have questions about the exercise can easily click on the exercise author’s biography and contact the author using the email provided.

There is much to praise in the TeachArchives.org site. It is free, beautifully designed, and offers rich resources. Archival graduate programs typically do not prepare archivists for classroom instruction, so the website’s detailed guidance is a boon for archivists who find themselves daunted by a classroom of students.

The website also makes an important contribution to the world of archival scholarship. The library world of scholarship boasts many articles and research studies on instruction and information literacy, but until recently the archival community has not produced much literature on primary source instruction. By moving beyond anecdotal data to conduct a three-year study, TeachArchives.org helps to fill some of the gaps in archival scholarship on this issue.

Though TeachArchives.org is a robust resource, archivists looking for resources that require no adaptation may be disappointed with the articles and exercises. The SAFA project focused on the materials at the Brooklyn Historical Society and, as such, its resources may not be universally applicable. The exercises are designed for college students, so archivists who work with K-12 students may find it easier to consult resources like the excellent Using Primary Sources: Hands-On Instructional Exercises.[3] Furthermore, archivists interested in assessing their instruction will find that the website only includes a handful of assessment rubrics to complement the exercises.

Despite these minor limitations, TeachArchives.org is an excellent resource for archivists and other information professionals teaching with primary sources. As archivists seek to move beyond the “show and tell” approach to engaging students in active learning exercises, this resource will be invaluable. It is hoped that other institutions will pilot similar projects and add as substantively to the professional conversation.

[1] “About,” accessed June 10, 2014, http://www.teacharchives.org/about/

[2] “Our Teaching Philosophy,” accessed June 10, 2014, http://www.teacharchives.org/articles/our-teaching-philosophy/

[3] Anne Bahde, Heather Smedberg, and Mattie Taormina, eds., Using Primary Sources: Hands-On Instructional Exercises, (Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited, 2014).

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