You’ve brought your students to the archives. You and staff members at the institution have introduced students to archival research, and you’ve helped them decipher the rich but difficult primary sources in front of them. You’ve got only a few minutes left until it’s time to leave. How to end this great experience on a high note?
Instructors should fight the urge to abandon a wrap up in favor of a few more minutes with the primary sources. A thoughtful and well-organized wrap up is an essential part of an effective archives visit. It pushes students to reflect on their experience, to practice summarization skills (this exercise is a great example of this), to hear about and comment on each others’ experiences, and to begin formulating analytical conclusions. Wrap ups allow teachers to tie the experience in the archives back to the course’s thesis and objectives.
Don’t forget to consider logistics when planning a wrap up. If your students are spread around the reading room in small groups, you will most likely want to reconvene everyone. You might instead allot more time to rotate, as a class, among the various stations together. Decide whether you want your students to sit or stand. Make sure they are facing each other – and talking to each other, not just to you, their teacher.
Connect the insights students make the archives back to the larger course themes or objectives. For example, one professor shaped his Early American history course around the statement “History is an argument.” After his students spent over an hour poring over handwritten documents about subjects including slavery, urban development, and agriculture, the professor tied together the students’ different findings (and their plans for how they would use their research) back to that essential question.
At the end of a successful visit to the archives, many instructors are so thrilled with the experience that they forget to keep challenging students.
A wrap up is the time to ask students difficult questions. Pose thought-provoking statements to students and ask them to agree or disagree. Push students to articulate their findings in a more nuanced way when they give only a cursory or simplified responses. Draw parallels between students’ experiences and findings and encourage them to dialogue with each other about key course themes.
Finally, remember that the in-archives wrap up is the first – but not the only – opportunity to connect the archives visit back to the course writ large. Consider using the beginning of your next class period to discuss the visit and the primary sources examined. Even a single, short visit to the archives can have an enormous impact on students with the help of a participatory, thought-provoking wrap up.
Julie Golia and Robin M. Katz, “How to Plan an Effective Wrap Up,” TeachArchives.org, accessed [insert date here], http://wwww.teacharchives.org/articles/wrap-up/.