Best Practices

Best Practices for a Rewarding Visit

  • Determine in advance the specific goals and themes from the classroom structure which would best be incorporated into the archival visit. This will make the primary sources more applicable to student understanding of the topic and allow for better analysis of future class discussions.
  • Classroom prep is essential for a smooth archival visit. Providing students with similar digitized primary sources and background knowledge before the visit will help them to focus more on context rather than getting stuck on meticulously reading the content for understanding.
  • Students respond best to a combination of visuals and personal written accounts. Often handwriting can be difficult to read, so providing visuals to accompany a written account or supplementing written accounts with extra background information can help to avoid any issues.
  • Provide a controlled environment when examining the documents. Dividing students into groups and creating stations allows for a more controlled experience rather than allowing students to shuffle through documents of their choice which can lead to confusion for the student and risk to the documents.
  • If you need documents digitized for classroom use, please let the HSP staff know prior to any visits so staff has time to place the document in our Digital Library.  If you find anything you would like to use for your class visit that is already on the Digital Library, please write down the call number so that we can pull that source for you.
  • Instructors need to advise students on how to handle primary sources and how an archive operates. Given that these are old documents, proper care and caution is needed. If a primary visit is possible to allow students to tour the archives before researching, care for the documents will be discussed at this point. If the primary visit is not possible, this should be something discussed in class prior to any student arrival. Make sure students are aware that they will need to keep any extra belongings in the lockers provided and to please bring pencils.  Our pre-visit video can be helpful.
  • Three trips are ideal: One to learn about the archives, a second to see the stations, and a third for individual research and study.
  • There will be challenges when working with students who are unfamiliar with primary sources, yet remember to take the challenges as a learning experience for both the students and yourself. Ask students what the greatest challenge was for them when attempting to understand the primary sources and ask for ways which they could overcome those obstacles in their next visit.
  • Remember to make the sources and topics relevant both to the class and to students. Using visuals of familiar settings or diaries of people the students can relate to will make the topic more interesting and will further develop student analysis.
  • Create questions which involve higher level critical thinking. Asking specific questions will not be as meaningful as asking questions which provoke discussion.