Sponsored by the Reference, Access, and Outreach (RAO) Section of SAA, this open-ended series of case studies is designed to illustrate the application of the Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy.

To learn more about contributing a case study, visit the SAA Case Studies on Teaching With Primary Sources webpage.

CASE 1 Collaborating for Impact in Teaching with Primary Sources
by Samantha Crisp

This case study discusses a collaboration between a special collections librarian, research and instruction librarian, and a history faculty member at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, in support of an introductory undergraduate historical research methods course. Utilizing two collaborative library instruction sessions, the instructors’ primary objective was to encourage students to become more comfortable with the process of utilizing primary sources, contextualizing them with secondary scholarship, and synthesizing this information in their own unique research. The sessions revealed that undergraduate students excelled at the more rudimentary elements of primary source analysis, such as finding and interpreting sources, but could benefit from more targeted guidance in the practice of iterative research and synthesizing a variety of sources to craft a cohesive argument.

Case 2 Teaching Citations as a Multi-functional Approach to Archives Instruction
by Helen McManus and Leah Richardson

Viewing proper archival citation as an opportunity to (a) reinforce core archival literacy skills and (b) cultivate best practices in note-taking and academic integrity, this case study from librarians at George Mason University and The George Washington University, presents a lesson plan for teaching students how to properly cite archival materials. The lesson plan includes a handout created by the authors, utilizing The Chicago Manual of Style’s notes and bibliography, a standard citation style for historical research. Students presented a completed citation at the end of class as an “exit ticket” and assessment, while a follow-up annotated primary source gallery assignment provided further evidence of student learning.

Case 3 Fostering Historical Empathy in Unusual Times: A Case Study of the Course “OSU, Women and Oral History: An Exploration of 150 Years”
by Chris Petersen and Tiah Edmunson-Morton

The Special Collections and Archives Research Center (SCARC) at Oregon State University Libraries is home to very active and well-regarded programs in instruction and oral history. Both of these components of SCARC’s mission were brought to bear through a colloquium class taught in Winter 2018 by two SCARC faculty members and housed within the University Honors College at OSU. The class was titled “OSU, Women and Oral History: An Exploration of 150 Years.” This case study tells the story of the class, with particular emphasis on the Society of American Archivists’ Primary Source Literacy Objective 4F “Demonstrate historical empathy, curiosity about the past, and appreciation for historical sources and historical actors.” By using a wide array of primary sources documenting themes in women’s history at OSU, the class built students’ historical empathy, prompted their curiosity about the past, and fostered their appreciation for historical sources and historical actors, some of whom the students ultimately met as a component of their coursework. Over the course of the term, the instructors learned more about the efficacy of different approaches to generating discussion and developing ideas that informed the retailoring of the class, which was offered again in 2019 and 2020.

CASE 4 Crafting a Research Question: Differentiated Teaching for Instruction With Primary Sources Across Diverse Learning Levels
by Jen Hoyer, Kaitlin Holt, and Julia Pelaez

This case study illustrates methods for drawing on primary sources to instructstudents on how to generate and refine research questions (Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy,learning objective 1C) and to recognize that research questions may change (Guidelines for PrimarySource Literacy, learning objective 1D). The authors are educators with the Brooklyn Connections program,  the school outreach arm of Brooklyn Public Library’s archive and rarebook division. Given the diversity of the students served by this program, this case study focuses on adapting a lesson to three examples of lesson implementation, one each in elementary,middle, and high school, varyingly composed of honors, English language learners, and special educationstudents.  By looking at varied settings we can reflect on howinstructional approaches and materials can be scaffolded for different classrooms, and how different learninggoals around the same objectives can be achieved with different and diverse types of students.

CASE 5 Exploring Ephemerality, Biases, and Silences in Archives
by Erin Dix

Seeking to deepen students’ primary source literacy skills beyond what can be gained in one-shot instruction sessions, this case study explores the course “Archival Discovery,” taught by University Archivist at Lawrence University in 2017, with particular emphasis on the themes of ephemerality, biases, and silences in the archives. The class included discussions of assigned readings, and hands-on exercises with materials from the Archives’ collections. The case study calls particular attention to two themed days during the course, “What do archivists do?” and “Archival silences.” Using qualitative assessments, including student feedback during discussions, and daily written reflections, the University Archivist was able to gauge student learning. As a result of this course, the author notes the importance of teaching these primary source learning objectives, even tangentially, in other primary source instruction sessions.

CASE 6 The Archives as Classroom: A Primary Source Mini-Course
by Kayla Harris, Stephanie Shreffler, and Heidi Gauder

Through a one-credit mini course at the University of Dayton taught by a group of librarians and archivists, undergraduate students were introduced to the themes of historical empathy, visual literacy, privacy, and silences in the archives. This case study explores the pilot iteration of the mini-course, which was designed 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.

CASE 7 “What Is Your Title Today?” The Challenges and Rewards of Implementing an Internship/Independent Study Hybrid Course at the Valparaiso University Archives and Special Collections
by Rebecca Ostoyich and Kevin Ostoyich

The case study describes a hybrid internship/independent study course that has been administered jointly by the Valparaiso University Archives and Special Collections (VUASC) and the Department of History since 2017. Students perform internships under the direction of the archivists of the VUASC and conduct an independent study under the direction of historian, Prof. Kevin Ostoyich. The course actively engages students in the inner workings of the VUASC and trains them in the handling of primary documents and material objects. During their internship, students receive instruction on various archival tasks, including digitization, metadata creation, finding-aid composition, etc. Students perform these tasks on various items in the VUASC holdings. Concurrently, students conduct an independent study using at least one of the collections housed in the VUASC. This research culminates in a written work and a public presentation. Given the course is intended to prepare students to work in a professional environment, students are assessed on their ability to communicate the skill-set they acquired in the internship and the main points and sources of their independent study project in a mock job interview at the end of the semester. For an example of student work from the course, see the Alfred Brosnan, Brosnan Brothers, and the Business of Survival website.

CASE 8 Success in the Long Term: Learning Objectives in a Semester-Long Research Course
by Cinda Nofziger and Emily Swenson

This case study focuses on a collaboration between archivists, a faculty member, and students which aimed to provide students in an upper-level, research-intensive course with a deeper understanding of the interconnected nature of archival collections. The collaboration focused on teaching students to “articulate what might serve as primary sources for a specific research project within the framework of an academic discipline or area of study” (objective 1.B.) through an introduction to the Bentley Historical Society and its collections. The archivists and faculty member encouraged students to “critically evaluate the perspective of the creator(s) of a primary source, including tone, subjectivity, and biases, and consider how these relate to the original purpose(s) and audience(s) of the source” (objective 4.B.) and highlighted the need for students to “understand that research is an iterative process and that as primary sources are found and analyzed the research question(s) may change” (objective 1.D.). The ultimate goal for the course was to create a website through which students could share what they learned with a wider audience; the final execution of this project speaks to student accomplishment of stated objectives. Challenges identified in this case study include a need for smaller group work in the initial process of learning to read, understand, and evaluate a source; and a need for better systems to manage archival data for classwork.

CASE 9 Seeing Through Risk in the Special Collections Classroom: A Case for Flexibility
by Marc Brodsky

This case study involves a collaboration that took place between Virginia Tech’s Special Collections and University Archives and a first-year experience (FYE) class in the History department. A transcription exercise was requested for this class of just over fifty students, along with a standard introduction to Special Collections. The resulting series of two, and then, three sessions provided archivists with the opportunity to examine their own expectations for such a large class of students inexperienced in working with primary sources. As the course instructor shifted her syllabus for the remainder of the semester to focus on multiple dimensions of the collection being transcribed, a need for flexibility on the part of all involved became both welcome and necessary. In the end, the archivists were reminded to never underestimate the power of primary sources, to always be aware of their duty to excite the imaginations of their students, and to recall the compelling nature of narrative as a tool of instruction.

CASE 10 Utilizing University Archives to Teach Students the Complexities of Neutrality
by Ashleigh D. Coren and Erin Durham

This case study examines the development of materials to support a course focused on theoretical and empirical work in comparative politics. Instructors created a lesson plan and active learning activities, curated a teaching collection, and developed assessment plans. They delivered this as a fifteen-minute lecture, two twenty-minute activities, and a twenty-minute debriefing for discussion and questions. Desired outcomes were to help students understand that archival research is iterative, and that archival materials are not objective or neutral. Assessment through critical reflection indicated the need to include an even greater emphasis on the iterative and ambiguous nature of historical research, as well of the benefits of modeling primary source analysis before asking students to complete their own analysis.

CASE 11 Constructing History: A Student-Created Public History Exhibit Using Omeka
by Colleen Hoelscher

This case study examines a semester-long project where students used Omeka, an open-source web publishing platform, to create a digital exhibit using archival materials. Students were responsible for all aspects of curating the exhibit, including selecting materials, creating metadata for digital objects, writing the didactic text, and creating the final website. Through this project the students gained a deeper understanding of the mediating role historians and archivists play in presenting archival materials to the general public, while providing the library with an enduring resource.

CASE 12 Scaffolding Primary Source Research and Analysis in an Undergraduate History Research Methods Course
by Kara Flynn

This case study describes a 2-part archival instruction session the author taught for a History Research Methods course at Augusta University. The students in the course have one semester-long assignment, an eight- to ten-page research paper, which serves as most students’ first attempt at integrating primary sources into the research process. The primary goals of the two instruction sessions were to build students’ confidence in being able to identify, find, and analyze primary sources, both online and in person (objectives 2.C. and 3.B.), and ensure that students would be able to use the background information about time period and cultural context that they were learning in class to “situate a primary source in context” (objective 4.C.). While in-class assessment shows that she sessions were successful in teaching most students the foundational skills outlined by objectives 2.C., 3.B., and 4.C., some students still struggled to translate what they learned into their research papers. The final section of the case study outlines future modifications that could be made to help address this gap in student learning.

CASE 13 Bingo! Engaging History of Science Students with Primary Sources
by Leigh Rupinsky

In this case study, the author examines how to engage history of science students with primary sources. Students learned about material culture analysis and then applied sensory and intellectual engagement skills to answer Bingo card clues about rare scientific and medical texts. Using a game format encouraged non-history majors to engage with historical sources in a fun and engaging way. In future iterations, scaling down the Bingo cards to build in more time for group reflection would help reinforce the learning objectives.

CASE 14 Co-curricular Innovation: Teaching about Patents as Primary Sources
by Bridget Garnai and Heidi Gauder

With the rich history of airplane and automotive invention in Dayton, Ohio, and the value of patents as primary sources in mind, librarians Bridget Garnai and Heidi Gauder designed and taught two interactive, co-curricular workshops at University of Dayton’s Roesch Library. Their goals were to introduce students to patents as primary sources that influence daily life and expand students’ ideas of what kinds of research can be supported by patents. The two workshops focused on patent basics and the importance of patents in the growth and development of Dayton, Ohio; these lessons were enhanced through hands-on activities and a collaborative digital humanities project.

CASE 15 Teaching with Primary Sources Remotely
by Kaitlin Springmier

This case study details one library’s solution to teaching primary source literacy online in response to campus decisions for fully remote instruction in response to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Prior to the virtual transition, the library encouraged faculty to bring their classes to our Special Collections, because our goal was to provide a hands-on experience for students, customized to their course content. However, given the need for a rapid transition in a global pandemic, we were unable to create the same personalized, face-to-face experience. This case study details how we developed virtual lessons and learning activities for primary source literacy engaging learning objectives 1b, 3b, 4f, and 5a for a constellation of humanities courses exploring topics in pursuit of new understandings and interpretations of history and historical events. Originally, the virtual lessons were intended to be a direct translation of planned face-to-face instruction, however, when the instruction was implemented, we learned that the online environment provided new opportunities for students to practice and demonstrate identified learning objectives. Within the case study, readers will find information on how to create remote teaching materials for primary source literacy: from developing lesson plans and learning activities, to selecting a digital teaching collection, as well as methods for supporting students’ discovery and use of primary source materials for a culminating project.

CASE 16 Engaging History Majors in Intensive Archival Research: Assessing Scaffolded Curricula for Teaching Undergraduates Primary Source Literacy Skills
by Claire Strom and Rachel Walton

This case study, from a small liberal arts college in Florida, examines to what extent thoughtful integration of different archival experiences at various stages in undergraduate learning equips history majors with a range of critical primary source literacy skills. The instructors/authors scaffolded a set of archival research assignments that progressed through a 200 and 400-level history course and then assessed five different primary source literacy learning objectives across both courses based on student work products. They also surveyed students to gather insights about the students’ archival research experiences. Their assessment demonstrated that the archives-classroom integrations and the scaffolding of archives-based research assignments across courses, provided students the opportunity to develop a diverse and useful toolkit of primary source literacy skills. In addition, students expressed an unprecedented enthusiasm for their research projects in these courses, an unexpected but invaluable benefit.

CASE 17 Personalizing the History of Mathematics through Institution-Specific Archival Materials
by Christine Latulippe

This case study describes ways in which the Norwich University Archives expanded their user base into a history of mathematics class, through partnership with a mathematics faculty member. The collaboration involved physically hosting a history of mathematics course in the Archives for an entire semester and incorporating Norwich-specific archival materials into the existing structure of a survey course on the history of mathematics. Teaching the history of mathematics is one way to engage students with mathematics as a human endeavor and help them make connections among the courses and content they have studied throughout school. Pedagogical design strategies and innovative uses of archival materials are outlined here, highlighting ways that the purposeful inclusion of archival materials directly from the history of Norwich University brought concepts from the history of mathematics to an even more personal and engaging level for students.

CASE 18 Stories of Power and Diversity During COVID: Building an Online Exhibition with Primary Sources
by Rachel Bohlmann and Erika Hosselkus

This case study discusses the outcomes of a one-credit, online course, “Stories of Power and Diversity: Inside Museums, Archives, and Collecting,” offered at the University of Notre Dame. This four-week Winter Session class introduced students, from first years to graduates, to themes of diversity and inclusion in cultural repositories. Readings, guest speakers, and group discussions encouraged critical  examination of issues related to collecting and exhibiting. The course culminated in a group-curated digital exhibition, Still History? Exploring Mediated Narratives. Individual work, group work, meetings with instructors, peer review, and self-reflection exercises all contributed to the final exhibition in important ways. Together, Notre Dame students created an exhibition that engages in complex ways with historical documents. It expresses historical empathy, uniformly questions the motivations of creators, and questions silences and gaps in the documentary record. 

CASE 19 Mind the Gap: Teaching Archival Silences in Digital Collections
by Colleen Hoelscher and Michael Hughes 

This engaging case study describes a library instruction session held virtually for undergraduate students in an upper-level history course on US foreign relations. Working collaboratively, the special collections librarian and instruction librarian for history presented students with strategies for finding and evaluating digital primary sources for their research papers. Students were introduced to the role the curatorial process plays in the creation of digital collections. The instructors highlighted that such collections frequently contain only a portion of the materials in a full archival collection as well as the role of curatorial bias: digital collections often reflect the prejudices and interests of the person who selected the materials to be digitized. In some cases, this can mean less material in digital collections from underrepresented groups, hence the need to “mind the gap.”

Case 20 FYRE in Special Collections: Exploring Scientific History in a First-Year Research Experience Course
by Rachel Makarowski and Ginny Boehme

Outside examinations of the history of science, special collections instruction traditionally caters to the humanities, leaving a notable gap of representation for and from STEM disciplines. This case study examines the collaboration between a special collections librarian and a science librarian for the special collections instruction session in a STEM-oriented first-year research experience course. Students in the class learned how to examine historical primary sources and how to address the challenges of working with these types of materials to fully incorporate them into current research. The study addresses the successful aspects of this initial class visit, how it will be improved and more directly tied to the course in the next iteration, and how the objectives of the session can be applied at other institutions to help expand STEM-related special collections instruction.

Case 21 Incorporating Primary Source Literacy into a Junior History Interpretation
by Scott Keefer

This case study examines a year-long collaboration between the Daughters of Charity Archives and the Seton Shrine Museum to include archives education into the Museum’s Junior History Interpreter (JHI) program.  This allowed the Archives to create active learning session to the benefit of the museum educators’ learning objectives and to expand their user base into a K-12 audience for the first time.  Since this was a year-long program with monthly sessions, it allowed the JHI students to build upon previous sessions and skills and allowed both the Archives and Museum to better understand each other’s goals and capabilities.  By the end of the year, the Museum had seen a noted improvement in the quality of the interpretation and the interest of the students who had gone through the sessions in the Archives.

Case 22 Archives to Go: Creating a Virtual Primary Source Instruction Packet
by Leigh Rupinski and Meghan Martinez

This case study examines the process of creating a virtual primary source instruction packet using the Young Lords in Lincoln Park collection. The authors hoped to create a packet of scanned primary source materials from the collection that could be taken and used by any faculty instructor, at GVSU or beyond, without additional facilitation by archivists. The packet would complement instruction and enrich students’ experiences when archival visits were not possible for a variety of reasons. The authors scanned primary source documents and created a full lesson plan including primary source literacy learning objectives. The desired outcome was a packet flexible enough to be used by instructors who did not have previous familiarity with the collection or archival background. While assessment is ongoing for this packet, future iterations might benefit from a close collaboration with interested faculty members. Within the case study, readers will find information on how decisions were made about what collection to use, how the packet was formed, as well as lessons learned.

Case 23 More Than Recipes: Enriching a Campus Common Read with Historical Cookbooks
by Kristen J. Nyitray and Christine Fena

In this case study, the authors describe a virtual event designed to enrich a campus common read with historical cookbooks. The program included an overview of the collection and a real-time activity to engage participants in virtually examining rare and unique Chinese cookbooks. A set of guiding questions emphasized primary source literacies including analyses of physical characteristics, contexts, content, and further research that can be conducted by consulting the collection. The virtual modality proved to be both a challenge and an opportunity, but the overall structure of the event – identifying a collection that relates to a larger campus initiative, presenting information about the selected collection, introducing attendees to elements related to primary source literacy, and providing an activity for attendees to interact with selected content from the collection – has potential to be adapted for multiple contexts, audiences, and disciplines. The program also afforded the opportunity for the two librarians to collaborate across library department boundaries.