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Hayden, Wendy. Archival Research as Teaching Methodology. CE, Nov. 2017. Posted 01/11/2018.

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Hayden, Wendy. “AND GLADLY TEACH: The Archival Turn’s Pedagogical Turn.” College English 80.2 (2017): 133-54. Print.

Wendy Hayden proposes archival research as a pedagogical method to help undergraduates develop a nuanced understanding of academic research. She writes in response to accounts of student research from both students and faculty that depict the usual research process as one of collecting information from sources and reproducing it with attention to mechanics of documentation and organization but with little input or engagement from the student writer (133). Hayden cites scholarship advocating assignments that foreground primary research as a way to address this problem. In her view, archival research is an important form of such primary research (134).

Hayden anchors her discussion in a course she taught for upper-level majors in English, education, and political science. The specific topic of the course was “the archival turn in rhetoric and composition studies” (140). Hayden discusses the challenges of covering all aspects of archival research in a single semester, arguing that even including such research in a single unit provides many benefits. In her own case, she was able to supply an “immersion” experience by focusing on archives throughout a semester (140). She reports that she decided to “survey the field’s archival turn and then throw everything I could into the course to see what happened” (141). Students explored both physical and digital archives, met with guest speakers, visited repositories, and created final projects that followed up on some aspect of their research experiences (141).

According to Hayden, a major benefit of archival research is that it casts education as an “inquiry-based” activity (135). This inquiry, she contends, allows students to enhance their close-reading skills and to develop projects that move beyond “rehash[ing] existing scholarship” (135). Archivists and faculty incorporating this methodology report “increased student engagement” as students find themselves able to contribute to knowledge in a field (135).

Hayden stresses that archival pedagogies inculcate feminist values of collaboration, cooperation, and invitation (135-36) as well as activism (140). Citing a number of practitioners who have published about archival methodologies in the classroom and including many examples of assignments, Hayden proposes three components of this research: recovery, rereading, and creation of new archives (136).

Students exploring archival material to recover forgotten voices and missing histories can be encouraged to see research as an “ongoing endeavor rather than a set number of citations” (Tom Keegan and Kelly McElroy, qtd. in Hayden 136). Hayden argues that experiences in digital archives foreground the collaborative nature of such research, especially when students can annotate or contribute to the materials (137). Digital archives, which can be defined either narrowly or broadly, can be connected to local issues that enhance student engagement (137). Recovery assignments include opportunities for students to share their findings with larger publics, building their confidence in the value of their own voices (137).

“(Re)reading the archive” (138) encourages student attention to the constructed, partial nature of the materials as they begin to question why some things are included and others left out (138). Hayden writes that such questioning leads to an understanding of “public memory as a process” that, in the words of Jane Greer and Laurie Grobman, reveals “the fluidity of our shared memories” (qtd. in Hayden 138). According to Hayden, this understanding of the rhetoricity of archives inspires what Jessica Enoch and Pamela VanHaitsma call an “archival literacy” (138) that points to the archivist’s responsibility in assembling the components of memory (140).

Creating their own archives, as in the assignments Hayden reports, further emphasizes for students the complex decisions and ethical challenges of joining an archival conversation (139). Students’ agency in collecting and organizing materials of interest to them permits increased connections between history and the students’ own lives while also providing opportunities for the feminist value of activism (140). Hayden cites Tarez Graban and Shirley K. Rose to propose a “networked archive” in which the feminist practices of collaboration and invitation are paramount (140).

Discussing her own class, Hayden finds that “the central question and focus that emerged . . . was the nature of academic study as a personalized inquiry and how undergraduate scholars are central to that inquiry” (141). She recounts extensive collaboration with a librarian, with guest speakers, with archivists throughout the city, and even with authors of texts on archival research (141-42). In the process, all participants, including the students, cooperated as “agents” in exploring, documenting, and building archives (142).

Hayden’s students read archives she made available, pursued questions of individual interest that arose from this exploration, and completed a final project of their choosing, reflecting on each step in blog posts that themselves became a class archive (143). Hayden found that students were more comfortable in physical archives than digital ones, which students reported finding “overwhelming” (142). The author notes students’ discovery that acquiring information was less challenging than selecting and organizing the voluminous material available (142).

Throughout her discussion, Hayden provides examples of student projects, many of which, she argues, deepened students’ awareness of the rhetorical and activist nature of archives and the work involved in exploring and creating them. One student, for example, collected voices of women who had returned to college and “advocat[ed] for resources based on what these women need to succeed” (145).

Hayden writes that uncertainty inherent in archival research encouraged students to be open to “shifts” in the direction of their discoveries as they found some searches to be “dead-end question[s]” (145). These experiences further led students to often see their course research as a component of a larger, ongoing project, deflecting the purpose of research from a finished product to a process and therefore permitting them to take more risks (146). In turn, this experience, in Hayden’s view, engaged students in a more authentic scholarly conversation than that often depicted in textbooks, which might rely on sources like newspaper op-eds rather than actual academic exchanges (147).

An additional value Hayden cites is the way that archival research defines scholarly research as “about people” (147). Thinking about their obligations to their subjects personalized the process for students; among the results was an increased tendency to develop their own ideas and values through their work, as well as to accord more interest and respect to the contributions of peers (148). Students became excited about publishing their work, in the process moving beyond the “more traditional scholarly paper” (148).

Hayden closes with the voice of student Julie Sorokurs, who writes, “I marveled at how easily and effectively an academic pursuit could become a project of love and genuine curiosity” (qtd. in Hayden 149).

Author: vanderso

I'm a recently retired associate professor of English in Southern Indiana. I've been teaching writing for twenty-five years, but I feel I have much to learn about how people really learn to write. In this blog, I'll be sharing research and thoughts and hopefully gathering information from others about the process of learning to write.

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