Critical Perspectives and Pathways

Undergraduates in the Archives

History Lab: Combining Service Learning, Research Methods, and Digital Archives

Cleveland State Community College

Matthew Saunders worked on the image below. His work on it is now part of the Southeast Tennessee Digital Archive (SETDA). You can find the whole archive here, and the items Saunders contributed here.

Image of James A. Bible (c. 1860) from the Ramsey Family Papers (MS 81).Image of James A. Bible (c. 1860) from the Ramsey Family Papers (MS 81). Used by permission of Cleveland Public Library.

Project Syllabus

CSCC – Project Syllabus

Spring 2011
1 semester-hour credit
Independent Study/Service-Learning Experience


Sarah Copeland, Records Catalog Coordinator
Bryan Reed, Associate Professor of History


This course allows students to be involved in a service learning experience at an area museum, archive, historical society, or other historical collection. The course is designed to expose students to the practice of researching, digitizing, and preserving historical artifacts. Students will complete 20 hours of service during the semester. (Co-requisite: HIST 2010, 2020, or 2030)


  1. demonstrate appropriate handling of unique historical materials
  2. describe the public role of institutions charged with preserving historical materials
  3. create digital versions of historical documents using best practices
  4. describe digitized documents using the Dublin Core metadata scheme
  5. publish newly digitized materials to the Southeast Tennessee Digital Archive (SETDA) using CONTENTdm, a tool for managing digital collections and publishing them on the world wide web
  6. demonstrate critical thinking and reasoning


  1. Digital Imaging Tutorial,” Cornell University Library
  2. Digital Preservation Management Tutorial,” Cornell University and the National Endowment for the Humanities
  3. Digital Best Practices,” Washington State Library


There are four tasks that you will undertake in this course: (1) scanning documents, (2) researching the background of those documents, (3) turning your research into “description,” and (4) uploading your documents and description to the CONTENTdm database. Tasks 1 and 2 will count toward your 20 service learning hours. Tasks 3 and 4 are your homework.


Learning outcomes will be assessed through the following tools:
Student’s notebook (journal/log) = 100 points
Instructor’s evaluation of research = 100 points
On-site supervisor’s evaluation = 100 points
Digital submissions to SETDA = 100 points

There are 400 points possible in this course based upon the assessment tools. The grading scale is
A = 360-400 points
B = 320-359 points
C = 280-319 points
D = 240-279 points
F = below 240 points


Students are required to maintain a notebook where they will log their scanning and research sessions and reflect on their service-learning experience. The notebook should also be used to keep research notes. Notebooks must be brought to every service learning session; entries must be recorded for the session attended. Each entry should include the date and time of both arrival and departure, followed by a thoughtful reflection of your experience. The following questions can help guide your journaling:

  • How does what you are doing compare to your prior expectations?
  • What is the historical significance of the artifacts processed? How are they useful in our understanding of the past?
  • How does your work contribute to the institution where you are completing your service-learning hours? How does your work impact the community?

Notebooks will be collected for examination periodically during the semester. Students may elect to produce a blog with approval of the instructor at the beginning of the course.


Your supervisor at the institution where you complete your service learning hours will submit an evaluation at the end of the semester. This evaluation will measure your performance in the following areas: professional conduct, quality of work, and contributive effort.


Students will submit digitized images and descriptive metadata for publication in the Southeast Tennessee Digital Archive. These will be evaluated by the instructors before publication online, and students will receive feedback throughout the course as they contribute digital items. Students will identify the five digital submissions that represent their best work. Ms. Copeland will assess these five submissions according to the archival standards and preservation procedures covered in this class. (The same 5 submissions will be reviewed by Professor Reed for the quality of background research, as described below.) Each digital submission is worth 20 points and will be evaluated for digitization quality, descriptive accuracy, correct application of the tools in CONTENTdm, spelling, and grammar.


Professor Reed will evaluate the quality of your research at the end of the semester. This evaluation will be based on the five digital submissions that represent your best work. (The same 5 submissions will be reviewed by Ms. Copeland, as described above.) Each digital submission is worth 20 points and will be evaluated for quality and integration of source material, historical interpretation, descriptive accuracy, and spelling/grammar.


Each student is expected to attend and be on time for each training and service learning session. Because of the nature of this course, attendance is critical for preparing for and executing the service learning. More than one unexcused absence from a scheduled training of a service learning session will have a significant adverse effect on your evaluation. Failure to complete the obligations of your service learning assignment in a timely and professional manner will cause substantial deductions from your overall grade. If you cannot meet a scheduled session you must notify the institution and instructor(s) in advance. You are also responsible for rescheduling your missed session in consultation with your on-site supervisor.

Matthew E. Saunders
Student Commentary

Matthew E. Saunders

Associate of Applied Science, Class of 2011 – Cleveland State Community College
BA in History/Secondary Education, Class of 2013 – University of Tennessee-Chattanooga

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Sarah Shippy Copeland
Instructor Commentary

Sarah Shippy Copeland

Library Director – Cleveland State Community College

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Barbara Fagen
Project Partner Commentary

Barbara Fagen

Manager, History Branch and Archives – Cleveland Bradley County Library

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