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Special Collections and University Archives Teach Students in Myriad Ways

As an increasing number faculty at UNCG see it, those treasures stored in the Special Collections and University Archives are tools for helping UNCG students learn, express themselves, and develop their skills.  Making available and engaging students, faculty and researchers in the active use of primary sources is a major goal of the Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) Department, headed by Dr. Keith Gorman, himself a historian.

During 2014, the Department worked with or made presentations to 84 classes and presentations involving more than 1400 students, and the engagement is growing each year.   Given our collections and the nature of the subjects, one might expect classes with students in History, English, or Art, but other departments and classes represented include African American Studies; Women and Gender Studies; Photography; Kinesiology; Music; Education; Interior Architecture; Consumer Apparel and Retail; Food; and Latin.

This growing use of special collections and archival collections does not happen haphazardly.  Gorman notes that teams of archivists and librarians each semester examine class offerings and consider how specific collections might be incorporated into those classes. Kathelene Smith, an archivist in the department, then reaches out to faculty to gauge their interest.  She also pairs interested faculty with the appropriate subject specialist.   Members of the SCUA department, several of whom have additional academic degrees and experience as teachers and deep knowledge of collections, are able to customize the experience for the specific class being offered.  Some classes involve a single class visit to the department, some use digital resources, and some instructors give assignments that bring a student back to the department multiple times in a semester to conduct research.

UNCG’s faculty members seem to appreciate this kind of professional interaction, which usually involves more than just a cursory review of collections.  Feedback indicates that they find the department knowledgeable, supportive, and approachable, and more than a few have found the specific ideas introduce them to ways of incorporating primary source materials into their teaching that they hadn’t thought of and that students find to be fun and exciting ways to learn.  If you want to excite a student about a topic, Gorman says, showing them primary source materials can do that in a way nothing else can.

Few professors at UNCG know how to incorporate the department and its resources into their teaching better than Dr. Lisa Tolbert of the UNCG History Department, who for the past four years has worked with the Libraries to teach students preparing to become social studies teachers.  Her historical methods class (HIS 430: Historical Methods for Social Studies) has students working with one-of-a-kind materials in the UNCG Archives and more recently with our collection of scrapbooks. For several years, current  students were assigned to research a particular student from the University’s past.  Some got so attached to their assigned past student that they even researched their lives after graduation.  In recent years, the digitization of the large collection of scrapbooks provided a springboard to learning about the study of cultural history and education, the use of photographs, and the relationship of the scrapbooks to other collections of archival resources.

Whatever the class and whatever the student, the Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives may have resources that can make learning come alive for the current generation of UNCG students.  Contact Kathelene Smith at or Keith Gorman at for more information.