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  • Writer's pictureMolly Brown

Teaching with Archives Online

Clipped is a post I wrote to be included in Northeastern University Library's 2021 Library Supporter's Newsletter.


The idea of attending a class based on archival materials virtually, without the ability to directly handle the materials while exploring them, would be impossible. But Reference and Outreach Archivist Molly Brown and her students learned that learning about the archives via Zoom has its benefits.

Starting in the Spring of 2020, Molly Brown, Northeastern University Library’s Reference and Outreach Archivist, moved all Teaching with Archives program instruction online. This meant all classes would be observing and discussing digitized archival documents in a Zoom classroom, or viewing archival material remotely while Molly streamed items in from a document camera in the archives.

Our first remote class was with the National Parks Service of Boston’s youth program, Historias de Boston, where youth gathered to learn how to tell a story about Boston’s history informed by archival material from community organizations and activists.

In an in-person version of this session students would navigate boxes of archival documents independently and depending on the box they explored, come away with very different information than their fellow learners. In a remote session, everyone was able to view and discuss the same document with ease, without having to huddle around a folder, and as a group were able to create a shared understanding of archival storytelling.

Other sessions allowed students in the class to view the material directly from the archives through a document camera. Pictured below is a set up for a session with Professor K.J. Rawson’s English class “Opening the Archive.” Students had the chance to remotely experience what in-person archival research can look like, and all got to share the surprise and delight of opening an archival folder with unknown contents as a class.

Remote sessions not only allowed participants to view and discuss the same archival material, but it also allowed for different ways to absorb it. While reviewing archival documents, students could listen to them be read aloud, view a copy on their own, or view the copy shared in the class call. Students were also able to record reactions and questions in the chat without interrupting anyone speaking which allowed for multiple modes of participation.

Most classes drew from the over 64,000 digitized records from the archives, stored in Northeastern University Library’s Digital Repository Service. Using these records Molly created remote classes for many departments including: Architecture, Music, English, History, and Journalism. The remote classes taught students how to: do archival research remotely, tell a rich story using archival records, and use community informed archives to support their research and project development.

In the next year the class session materials will be available as a part of the Teaching with Archives program for students, teachers, and community members alike to take and use for themselves. Check the Teaching with Archives program page for updates.

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