Science and Technology Studies Seminar: Introduction to Engineering Archives

Submitted by Lindsay Anderberg

1.) To discuss the differences between primary and secondary sources through hands-on experience with archival materials.

2.) To understand how primary and secondary sources contribute to knowledge production in scientific fields.

3.) To think about different types of formats and the means of their creation.  When, how, for what purpose/for whom, where were these documents created.

4.) To gain a preliminary understanding of the types of items archives collect and how they can be used for research.

Class outline:

1.) Ask the students to pick a collection of materials from the Poly Archives to explore (4 groups of 6). The students will be asked to explore the pre-curated sets of materials and will be given a set of questions to prompt their thinking about the creation of the materials and connections between materials. Students will answer Question Set 1 (30 minutes).

2.) The groups will re-mix and present their findings to each other in small groups.  The groups will have a new set of question to answer. These questions will focus on primary/secondary sources, archival research/archival silences. Students will answer Question Set 2 (30 minutes)

3.) After each group has discussed, we will have a full class discussion about how these objects tie into knowledge production in the sciences and broader course themes. Discussion is co-led by the seminar professor and the archivist (40 minutes).

Archivist note: I have found these sessions to be an engaging introduction for undergraduates.  The hands-on activity allows the students to practice close reading of a variety of primary source formats, while also considering things like tone, audience, and context.  Students really enjoy getting to touch things! (as they tell us in class and in evaluations). Challenges include classroom space, understanding context, and grappling with archival silences.  It is best to have a room with large tables for this activity.  Although some students will make greater strides than others in terms of understanding how primary sources are situated in knowledge production and how to relate the activity back to the context of their course, all of the students are exposed to the basic idea of primary source research and proper handling of archival materials.

Question Set 1

Question Set 2

Downloadable Activity Sheet


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