Undergraduates in the Archives – Powell 5
Timothy B. Powell
5How do you integrate archival work, logistically and practically, into your curriculum?
Timothy B. Powell
Director, Native American Projects – American Philosophical Society
Senior Lecturer, Department of Religious Studies – University of PennsylvaniaEditor, Gibagadinamaagoom: An Ojibwe Digital Archive
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 I have only recently begun experimenting with using archival materials in the classroom, so I am still learning how to achieve the best results. Initially, I began by limiting student involvement to two or three weeks of the semester. I found that, practically, the students did much better when they worked in groups, in part because of the potential for some students to be more engaged than others, and in part because the students enjoyed being part of a team. Penn, of course, is home to the Wharton School of Business, and I often have a few Wharton students in class. These students helpfully pointed out that many Wharton classes assign students to a team in order to better prepare them for the private sector. This also allows the students to divide up the work according to each individual’s skill set. I have found the team-oriented approach—with all of the teams working together as one larger group devoted to producing a quality product for Native American clients—to work very well in the highly professionalized culture of Penn. However, this culture is double edged, for it also makes it difficult to attract pre-professional students to courses on Native American studies, which is not a program or a department at Penn.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 As I became more comfortable and was able to prepare more quickly for the semester, I found that I could make more materials available to the students. I try to balance the students’ exposure to the originals by providing them with digital surrogates and by visiting the Penn Museum and the APS. This can be challenging because the APS is not set up for student visits; it is only because of my position as Director of Native American projects that I am able to arrange for a classroom to view original documents. The Penn Museum, on the other hand, actively encourages professors to bring their classes and provides access to the storage facilities. This planning paid off when, to my surprise, the students asked to have more time to work on their projects. Last semester, one student suggested that the entire semester should be devoted to creating the exhibits for the class project. When we talked about this together, the students expressed that they felt their work with archival materials would be more meaningful if they learned more about their historical and cultural background. The best students had done this research on their own, but I realized that the early part of the course could be structured to teach the students a great deal more about the cultural context of the archival materials, which would result in them understanding the materials better and doing a better job designing the exhibits. So this spring I am devoting an entire semester of a graduate seminar to researching archival materials and creating a digital exhibit based on student research. The APS recently acquired more than 500 hours of audio recordings related to Ojibwe culture in northern Canada (the acquisition was an outcome of the Pimachiowin Aki collaboration). The first five weeks of the class will be devoted to teaching the students the religious background necessary to understand the Ojibwe ceremonies being discussed; the ethics of working with religious materials in terms of what can or cannot be placed on the web; and basic archival skills so that the students can create a database and tags to make this new material more accessible to scholars and the Ojibwe communities where the material originated. All of the students’ work will be donated to those communities and the database will be housed at the APS.