RBMS 2016 Blog


Thirteen Activities for the Special Collections Classroom

This is the third and final post summarizing the RBMS 2016 Participatory Session Mixing Hands-On and Do-Not- Touch: Workshop Session on Teaching with Special Collections. There’s lots of great advice in the previous two posts from this session, and we encourage you to read them. But if you’re here looking for ideas that you can implement tomorrow, then here are thirteen activities mentioned in the last two posts that you can try:

  1. Worksheet: Have students write answers to a series of questions. What do you see in the document? How is the document different from one you would see today? What surprises you the most? What do you wish you could ask the person who created this?
  2. Have students find material in the catalogue, request the material, and look at it when retrieved.
  3. Have students organize the materials into an imaginary exhibit and justify the arrangement.
  4. Have students hypothetically organize an archival collection and explain why.
  5. Organize students in small groups by topic. Each group has to make notes on an item/items and then report out to the large group.
  6. Ask students to pick one item that interests, excites, surprises, delights them, and explain why.
  7. Get students to investigate the items with very little explanation—they can try to figure out what the items are, or they can just explain what they notice about the item.
  8. Building a narrative from the pieces of an archive: each student gets one document and must report out about that document. Students realize that their documents fit together into a larger narrative.
  9. Compare digital surrogates to the individual objects to show surprising differences in size/format.
  10. Consider using Think-Pair- Share to engage students individually and push students to engage with materials.
  11. Ask students which one item they would save from a fire, and why.
  12. Put some of the burden of engagement back on students. Have them prepare in advance: for example, ask students to submit three questions before the session addressing what they want to get out of it.
  13. Throw in a paleography lesson: make enlarged photocopies so each participant can have a copy.

— Melissa Barton, Yale University and Molly Schwartzburg, University of Virginia