Every quarter staff in Special Collections and Archives look forward to welcoming faculty and students to our library classroom to engage with our primary sources and analyze the physical characteristics of rare books, maps, and archival documents. While this physical interaction with collections and each other was not possible during spring quarter because of the COVID-19 closures, our staff continued to design and deliver custom instruction sessions creatively adapted for the online learning environment.
Rare Books Librarian Nora Gabor used the opportunity of teaching online to build an activity that explored medieval book history for Lucia Marchi’s LSP 112 class, Mystery of the Middle Ages. During this course, students do an in depth study of Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose. Nora created a Google Form that included digitized medieval manuscripts, videos, articles and images that related to aspects of book culture mentioned or described in the novel. After students completed the activity on their own, the group came together on Zoom to discuss the activity and what they had learned.
Nora also partnered with Valentina Tikoff to create an asynchronous activity for her HST 238: Witchcraft in the Western World class. The activity allowed students to analyze excerpts about witchcraft from rare books within our collections. Students were asked to think about what kind of documents these were, who the intended audiences were, and their experiences reading works from the 17th and 18th centuries.
To support a completely asynchronous class taught by Joyana Dvorak (CTH 247/REL 283: Transformative Models of Vincentian Leadership), Morgen MacIntosh Hodgetts, Coordinator for Special Collections and Archives Engagement, recorded a presentation highlighting the importance of using primary sources to research the life and times of St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marrillac. The students engaged with digital scans and photographs of items from our Vincentian Collections, including handwritten letters, first editions, and illustrations using a Google Form activity Morgen created. Although students were unable to visit our collections in person and handle the materials to analyze the physical evidence presented in the primary sources, their responses to the prompt questions indicated that they engaged with the items and thought critically about them. Reflecting on the St. Louise de Marillac handwritten letter, a holy card of her reading a letter, and a quote about women’s education in the 17th century, one student wrote: “Louise De Marillac truly was a revolutionary leader in her time. She worked to cultivate a skill set that would aid her in her service, regardless of the social pressures from her environment to conform to a traditional idea of what women of her status could and could not do.”
University Archivist Brittan Nannenga collaborated with Cheryl Bachand to support her HAA 397 course, Managing Museum Collections. Brittan created an asynchronous presentation to share concepts and principles for collecting and enhancing access to archival collections and doing archival research. She paired this with an online “Treasure Hunt” activity designed to get students more familiar with archival description and the research process. Brittan then met with the class via Zoom to reflect on the activity and discuss research questions.
These are just a few examples of the ways that SPCA librarians and archivists were able to offer both synchronous and asynchronous online instructions sessions that utilized materials from our collections and focused on active learning. While these examples of virtual sessions with digital surrogates can never completely replace interacting with physical collections and each other in-person, online access to digitized primary sources will likely continue to grow in importance to special collections and archives, libraries, and higher education. Redesigning our instruction to adapt during these challenging times has and will help us all become better students and instructors.
As Special Collections and Archives looks forward to the rest of summer, as well Chicago and autumn quarters, we encourage faculty interested in partnering to develop custom instruction sessions using materials from our collections to get in touch early by filling out our Instruction Session Request Form.