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Diary of an Archivist: Teaching with the Good Stuff

Posted by Emily Chicorli
11 February 2015 - 1:39pm


Back in November a conference entitled “Teaching with the Good Stuff: Educational Strategies for Archives, Libraries, and Museums” took place at the University of Pennsylvania.


The focus was on managing student programs and projects using archives, rare books, museum collections, and other special collections materials. The conference combined presentations on practical approaches for K-12 and college/grad students, lightning-round case studies, and attendee-driven conservations in order to bring together a whole variety of people.



Below are some of the main discussion points from the conference from the point of view of archivists, librarians and museum professionals. Teachers might like to keep these suggestions in mind when working with primary source materials:

  • Students need more than a “show and tell” of artifacts and documents – rather they need to understand how to learn to use, read, and understand a document/artifact
  • When working with handwritten documents, students need to understanding meaning, not just the transcription
  • “How does it connect to me?” is a crucial teaching moment for students in K-12
  • “Real things” aspect of working with physical documents has significant effect for students
  • Students also like working with online materials since they cannot “hurt” the materials
  • The “real life” aspect with working with physical documents that contain individuals in history expressing their feelings connect with students who had similar life experiences (for example, a letter dealing with a death works with students who have experienced death, or immigration, moving to a new place, etc)
  • The “real people” aspect of working with physical documents allows students to see how they fit into history

How do you use primary sources in your classrooms? Can you incorporate any of these points in your teaching?

For further information and resources available from the conference, click here.


Photo credit: Emily Chicorli