Matthew E. Saunders
History Lab: Combining Service Learning, Research Methods, and Digital Archives
Student Commentary by Matthew E. Saunders
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 I was one of the first students to take the History Laboratory class at Cleveland State Community College (CSCC). My previous experience during an extra-credit activity in a traditional history course initially sparked my interest. During an American history survey course, Mr. Reed, the CSCC instructor who founded the Southeast Tennessee Digital Archive (SETDA), offered students a chance to digitize historical photographs. He demonstrated how to research a photograph’s history, starting with the limited information written on the back and clues within the picture itself. I was eager to enroll in a course that was dedicated to digitizing historical photographs.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Few history majors would turn down the opportunity to go beyond lecture courses and work directly with historical documents, but I never expected a two-year college to offer me this opportunity. The History Laboratory allowed me to gain hands-on experience preserving important records of local history. Moreover, the History Lab transformed how I research. I had to learn to use a library because the most relevant research material was not accessible online. It took a while to get into the groove of picking up a book and reading through the text as opposed to using a search engine to gather information. Using physical books to research is an invaluable experience that I will take with me throughout my future courses and career.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Another new experience was the archiving section of the class, in which we digitized photographs and organized the research in a way that would be coherent on the SETDA website. As students, we are accustomed to elaborating and expanding upon our research to produce an essay. The archiving section of the course, instead, forced me to condense my findings into a few concise sentences. The term “metadata” was foreign to me before this class, so working my research into that format was not the easiest task. Entering metadata into ContentDM was a challenge. Nevertheless, this exercise has helped me to convey my thoughts more clearly in other classes.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Overall, the History Laboratory was a great experience. I had wanted to add some constructive criticism, but after reflecting on my experience I cannot think of any suggestions. The instructors were terrific and the course of study was refreshing. I would recommend this course to history students or any student who is searching for an experience that goes beyond a classroom lecture.