How To Get Started

How To Get Started

Steps to a Successful Trip

1) To get some background, please visit the Previous Topics section to see how other professors have included the use of primary sources in their undergraduate classes.

2) Next, make sure to schedule an appointment early in the semester (even the semester before!) with an HSP staff member to discuss your course and possible primary source topics.

Before you contact us, think about:

  • Whether it would be best to use visuals for the topic, manuscripts, or a combination of items.
  • Select some possible primary sources by utilizing our online resource collections such as Discover and the Digital Library. If you find something you would like to use, please write down the call numbers.
  • Have a clear idea of how many students there will be and how many stations would be appropriate so it will be easier to decide on how many and what sources will work best. Generally the fewer stations the better, but no more than 5 students per station allows for the best experience.

3) Structure is very important when incorporating an archival visit; therefore it is important that the documents chosen are well examined prior to student use. Make sure the students have sufficient background knowledge as well as an understanding of their goals in attending the archival visit. Providing the students with readings on the topic as well as online primary sources similar to those that will be viewed at HSP can lessen students surprise to details such as difficulty reading handwriting or insufficient background knowledge. Remember to communicate class goals and themes to HSP staff so they can help the students as they move through the stations.

4) Once the structure is complete, plan your trip(s). Three trips are ideal for a full understanding of archives and resources. The first trip is an opportunity for students to learn about the archives, the second trip is a chance to view the documents selected in advance, and the third is for individual student research. The first and third trips have the options of the students attending on their own time apart from class time if necessary or the first and second trips can be combined if time allows.

5) Upon structuring your class, plan out a detailed schedule of events. (To see an example, please visit the Centennial project located in the Previous Projects section.) Providing students and HSP staff with a detailed structure allows both groups to get the most out of their time in the archives.  Past professors have found use of a question worksheet provides the structure needed for looking at primary sources.

6) Once the structure of the class is determined, allow for sufficient time management to accomplish goals. Coordinate travel schedules with students, if necessary, and a plan on how to get to HSP and back in a timely manner.

7) When students arrive at HSP, they will be divided into small groups that rotate from station to station. Each group will receive the same amount of time with each set of documents. When the students arrive at the station, they will consult the documents and answer brief questions. These questions should enhance student understanding and knowledge of class themes. For example, the class on the Centennial was structured around topics such as industrialization and imperialism. Therefore, one station examined foreign buildings and the students were asked how they thought visitors would have reacted to the uncommon structures as well as the new industries.

8) Lastly, allow the students extra time to explore the documents and encourage them to come back and visit in order to research for any final projects or assignments. Many students can get caught up attempting to meticulously read a document while forgetting to enjoy the context and historical quality. Reminding students to use their background knowledge and to look at context rather than content can help alleviate these issues.