Encouraging Students to Discover the Past at the Bentley Historical Library

A new Third Century Initiative project is offering students a deep dive into historical archives through courses taught by teams of faculty and library archivists. Engaging the Archives is developing pedagogical practices and providing learning experiences for U-M undergraduates in using primary historical sources, while fostering engaged collaborations between faculty and archivists and developing new learning objectives, tools and analytics to be available for use and reuse by faculty and students for the long term.

Project Description

Over five years, the Engaging the Archives project plans to establish collaborations involving a total of 25 Bentley faculty fellows, an Engaging the Archives academic archivist, the Bentley Historical Library’s director and associate director, four additional Bentley archivists, and 1,500 U-M undergraduate students who will be directly impacted by its course development and delivery.

It will begin with the appointment of the academic archivist and a cohort of five Bentley faculty fellows, selected from U-M tenure track faculty, in fall 2015. The academic archivist will develop annual workshops and ongoing Bentley Faculty Fellows Seminars in which fellows will collaborate with Bentley archivists on the development of course syllabi, the selection of primary sources as learning materials for inclusion as digital objects in curated course tools sites, and the design and review of action-based learning activities using primary sources at the Bentley Historical Library. Courses, starting in fall 2016, will be structured so that relevant data can be collected for later analysis using assessment protocols and learning analytics.

There are also plans to develop a “digital toolkit” that allows students to organize their learning resources. Students will learn to systematically organize digital tools as “research instruments” for managing their engagements with primary sources. Archivists will serve as collaborators in the classroom and in the reading room for personalized consultations throughout the learning experience. The goal is to encourage students to experience and learn about the university’s vast primary historical sources on U-M and the State of Michigan in new ways.

Transformative Impact

A total of 1,500 undergraduate students is expected to be directly impacted by the Engaging the Archives courses taught by Bentley faculty fellows. Given the multidisciplinary appeal of primary sources at the Bentley Historical Library, students will have the opportunity to benefit from Engaging the Archives through courses offered in several different departments. In addition to promoting student discovery of the archives, these experiences are expected to improve historical thinking skills, increase understanding of difference and tolerance, and promote active citizenship.

Engaging the archives will also foster and increase engaged collaborations among U-M faculty and Bentley archivists, as they work to develop new learning objectives, tools and analytics for use by students and faculty.

“We currently have many classes that come to the Bentley for orientation to the Library.  But with the help of this grant we will be able to ask faculty to work with us on actually planning their courses to maximize the benefit they receive from our expertise and their students receive from their encounter with the sources here,” explains Terrence McDonald, director of the Bentley Historical Library and Arthur F. Thurnau professor of history.

Project Team
Nancy Bartlett, Bentley Historical Library
Terrence McDonald, Bentley Historical Library and the College of Literature, Science and the Arts