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Case Studies on Teaching With Primary Sources


Archival and Primary Source Research (UDI 204) is a one-credit course at the University of Dayton designed to introduce students to the themes of historical empathy, visual literacy, privacy, and silences in the archives. This case study explores the pilot iteration of this mini-course, taught collaboratively with a team of six librarians and archivists. With the intention of furthering the goals of the University Libraries’ strategic plan, the course was developed to move beyond what can be accomplished during a one-shot instructional session in regard to primary source literacy. In addition to discussing the inherent challenges of developing and teaching a new course, the case study addresses challenges and opportunities for team teaching, the development of learning objectives based on the Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy, and the culminating project for the course. Special collections are uniquely positioned in the organizational structure at the University of Dayton. A private, Catholic, and Marianist institution, the University of Dayton is a medium-sized research university, with approximately 8,330 enrolled undergraduates, and 50 employees in the University Libraries.

There are three distinct special collection units within the library. The University Archives and Special Collections contains records documenting the history of the university, a rare book collection, and other archival special collections. The department has one faculty archivist and one staff member. The U.S. Catholic Special Collection preserves records of the Catholic Church and Catholic life in the United States and has one faculty archivist/librarian. The Marian Library, a department of four faculty librarians and archivists, and one staff member, is a special library with the mission to make the Blessed Virgin Mary better known, loved, and served. The Marian Library collection includes circulating books, periodicals, rare books, and archival and special collection material. Although the special collections librarians and archivists often collaborate on shared initiatives, the physical and organizational separation can be an additional barrier to getting students into the archives and understanding the different scope of each area. Similar barriers likewise exist between the special collections units and the library’s instruction team, a group of eight faculty librarians. The instruction librarians work regularly with courses that make use of primary sources, often in a one-shot instruction session. One of the implicit goals with this course was to strengthen the relationship between the special collections and instruction teams.

In the spring of 2017, the four archivists, the instruction coordinator, and the director of the Marian Library began planning the mini-course. A major goal of the mini-course was to help students navigate the separate locations of the special collections areas by introducing them to all three of the archives and special collections departments, while also exposing them to specific archival concepts. Several learning objectives from the Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy informed the course goals and the methods chosen to carry them out.

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Society of American Archivists


archives, primary sources, library instruction