Undergraduates in the Archives – Werner 1
1How have you worked with undergraduates in archives and/or special collections?
Undergraduate Program Director – Folger Shakespeare Library
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 I am the director of the Undergraduate Program at the Folger Shakespeare Library, a program I created five years ago. It consists of two semester-long seminars in which students from universities in the D.C. area come to the Library to study book history and early modern culture. The goal of the seminars is for students to expand their knowledge of the period and their research skills by working directly with rare materials in the context of book history. The course is divided into three thematic concerns: books as physical objects (descriptive bibliography), the relationship between books and cultural forces (print culture), and books as vehicles for text (editorial theory and practice). By moving from how books are made to the economics of authorship and readers’ uses of books to how their manifestation in print affects books’ meanings, the course models different approaches to studying the histories of books and strives to explore how each approach is related to others. The class as a whole reads secondary sources (Darnton, McKenzie, McLeod, Sherman, Lesser), and class discussions make frequent use of rare materials brought into the classroom. (The current syllabus for the course can be found here.) When we discuss how books are printed, for instance, I will bring books into class that illustrate moments where the printing went askew—a misfoliated book, perhaps—in order to learn what the evidence of these mistakes can teach us about the process of making a book. Or we will devote a session to looking at bibles from the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries in order to see how their physical appearance changes, to explore how physical characteristics suggest different ways to read and use the bibles, and to examine what they might reveal about cultural and religious battles.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 While the class works together on these discussions, each student is studying one book that they have chosen to focus on. With their own book, they research its makers (authors, translators, and compilers as well as printers, publishers, and booksellers), its intended audience, and its later users and collectors. At the end of the semester, each student produces a biography of their book using their primary research and the book’s physical characteristics to tell its life story, from its inception to its afterlife as both text and object.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 In both of these ways, working with rare materials is integral to the course and to the students’ learning experiences. Students in the class are Readers at the Library on the same terms that any other scholar given a Reader’s Card is: they can use any of the modern and rare materials in our collections that are not normally restricted. They come to the Library weekly for the seminar and return to the Library regularly to conduct their research for the class. Their Reader’s Cards are good for twelve months, so students can return to the Library after the seminar is done to carry on their own research. In other words, through the Undergraduate Seminar, students learn not only to use rare materials in their studies, but to be citizens of rare materials libraries.
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