This exhibition highlights new pedagogical uses for old books, as well as periodicals, archival collections, and other primary sources. Each of its seven sections focuses on a specific assignment developed by a Wesleyan faculty member, often working with librarians in Special Collections & Archives, during the past three years. While the assignments and disciplines vary greatly, they have common interests in using rare books, manuscripts, and archival collections as teaching tools. Assignments were chosen for this exhibition to convey a range of possibilities; several other recent projects had to be left out because of limited space. (from the Exhibition’s Homepage).
In addition to conveying an impressively multidisciplinary range of assignments, the exhibition’s organizers have chosen assignments that highlight the promising collaboration that can exist between a teaching staff and a university’s special collections department. The results are really quite compelling.
Part Two of the exhibition, the first part of the exhibition that this review will consider, sets the organizational tone for all of the parts to follow. Entitled “History of Middletown,” this section opens with a statement by a faculty member or members about the assignments, accompanied by digital reproductions of the rare book and manuscript materials used and, in some cases, by student papers done for the course.
This sophomore seminar is a case example of an original way to use local history materials and imprints to clarify contemporary understandings of the past. It required students to conduct primary research on the University’s hometown, using primary source documents and books as their major research tool. According to seminar instructor Ronald Schatz, Professor of History, “In teaching history, there is nothing better a scholar can do than show students how to work with primary documents, particularly if they help define and pursue the subjects themselves. It allows students to acquire a sense of the past and to work up interpretations of their own in a way that is not possible when they are confined to secondary sources or collections of documents selected by historians.” (from Part Two, textual introduction). According to Jeffrey Makala, who apparently worked in collaboration with Professor Schatz on this assignment, “The major piece of work required was a seminar paper on one aspect of Middletown history. Students used a wide variety of documents in their work, some of which are shown here. They include: eighteenth-century Middletown newspapers; manuscripts related to individuals and businesses in the area; the work of previous student researchers on local topics; and documents from Wesleyan's own archives.” (ibid.) These statements are accompanied by thoroughly legible digital reproductions of various books and documents ranging from a 1785 diary entry to an Announcement of the collection of taxes by Joshua Stow that appeared in the Middlesex Gazette on November 6, 1790 to an 1835 paper wrappered slave narrative. All of the images are of an extremely high quality and although I would not call them thumbnails, they can be clicked on for a larger, full page version of the material in question.