I have my classes spend a lot of time with primary sources. Readers of the blog are probably already aware of this. Sometimes my students and I chuckle at things we find. Students in my American Christianities classes also write 2 faux primary sources over the course of the semester. Both my American Christianities class and my African American Religions class have a primary source reader that we read from a lot during the semester.
This post is a sort of sequel to my post last month about the faux primary source assignments. Earlier this month my American Christianities class spent a week with the archives of the Jesuits of the Oregon Province (which covers the Pacific Northwest and Inland Northwest). Gonzaga is lucky to be the host of these archives, and so having class is the archive is easy. (That, and the collection has the coolest archivist around!) The assignment was not a full research project, but there are still valuable lessons that undergraduates can learn in a couple of days in the archives. Recently in The American Scholar, Anthony Grafton and James Grossman wrote about how archival research is good for undergraduates. "When students do research, they learn to think through problems, weigh evidence, construct arguments, and then criticize those arguments and strip them down and make them better—and finally to write them up in cogent, forceful prose, using the evidence deftly and economically to make their arguments and push them home.The best defense for research, however, is that it’s in the archive where one forms a scholarly self." Granted, my students did not have a lot of time to form their scholarly selves. But I hope that process began.
|Crow Indians with priests, image from Foley Library|
|Rev. Joseph M. Cataldo, S.J., from Foley Library|
The best part of this assignment was watching students come alive in the archives. I teach classes that fulfill core curriculum requirements, which means I don't teach many Religious Studies majors. So one of my goals in the classroom is to cultivate intellectual curiosity. I want students to look at the materials (and the world) critically and thoughtfully. I want them to make connections beyond what's on the page. While watching them in the archive, I saw sparks of this.