On October 19, 2017, four panelists offered their reflections on teaching with the archive, emphasizing its rich and generative possibilities. The panel described new ways of teaching disciplinary ways of thinking, and as well as their limits, new methods for allowing students to contribute to emerging scholarship, and new and creative ideas for assessing student learning. Several of the panelists described the potential for students create archives: personal archives of their own learning, or public archives that community members and future students will access.
Andrew Hamilton, Lecturer on Art and Architecture, described his efforts to teach his students the skills of his discipline: among them, careful observation, analysis, and hypothesis-generation. In one course, at the start of the semester, he asks his students to respond to a set of questions about three objects placed in front of them; he then asks them to respond to that very same set of questions about the very same set of objects – which they have not studied directly — at the end of the semester. As he has observed, the students’ responses deepen; their end-of-term observations are more complex and nuanced, offering rich interpretations of the objects. Through this exercise, he is able to observe what knowledge and skills his students have learned. In another course, he asks his students to view the same object and record their observations each week, creating a record of what was visible or evident to them at a particular week in the semester – and what became newly visible or evident to them in subsequent weeks. In this way, they create an “archive” of their very learning.
Professor of History and Co-Director of the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities, Alison Isenberg noted that she uses archival sources to alert her students to historical puzzles. For the urban studies seminar that she and filmmaker Purcell Carson teach, she highlights an article published in the Trenton Evening Times the day after a Harlan Joseph, a black college student, was killed by a white police officer in 1968. How is it that the article, published the very day after his death, also includes a professional photograph of the young man taken when alive? This puzzle allows her students entry into the intertwined histories of Princeton University and the city of Trenton, a history that they are also telling. Isenberg’s students spend time in Trenton engaging in fieldwork and other forms of community-based research. Critical to note: the archive of materials that Isenberg’s class collects (oral histories, for instance) will be used by her subsequent classes, giving their work even greater power.
Katherine Hill Reischl, Assistant Professor in Slavic Languages and Literatures, spoke about teaching her students to recognize that Soviet cultural texts are not only ideology or propaganda. She encourages the close reading of text and image — and their interrelationship — by asking students to contribute to an interactive database of Soviet children’s books, which allows them to carefully annotate the books’ illustrations, attending to scale and perspective, color and line, genre and form. Reischl also seeks to guard against the potential to generalize about Soviet culture by teaching her students about the limits of the archive. How do we know if an archive is representative? What does it include and exclude? One way Reischl invites these reflections is by foregrounding the history of an archive; how did a collection of Soviet children’s books come to be housed in Princeton’s children’s library, for instance? Another is to foreground, as Reischl does, the very publication process; in one of her courses, she asks students to review Soviet novels using the template of a Soviet publishing house and from the perspective of a Soviet citizen.
Ben Johnston, Senior Educational Technologist at the McGraw Center, emphasized McGraw’s commitment to helping faculty deepen and enhance student engagement with archival materials. The McGraw Center develops online platforms that allow students to collect, organize, and annotate digitized materials, and also provides technological tools and a flexible lab space for faculty and students to work with digital media. The digital platforms that McGraw has built encourage the critical analysis of objects in the Art Museum, allow students to annotate and tag graphically-rich materials from the Cotsen Children’s Library, and transcribe and translate manuscripts from Princeton Rare Books and Special Collections. As Johnston points out, new technologies and frameworks (like the International Image Interoperability Framework) that facilitate the sharing and manipulation of digital images are opening up new opportunities for digital interactions with the University’s archives and collections.