While much of my work in Archives & Special Collections focuses on preservation of unique research material, I believe the work that I do should not only be for preservation’s sake: Canadian archivist Hugh A. Taylor once wrote “Fragile paper has the capacity for generating an explosive experience, [...] exposing [those who encounter it] to all kinds of dangerous enchantment and unorthodox reactions.” I believe that encounters with primary research materials can lead to transformative experiences, and that I can extend the impact of my work as keeper of these materials by collaborating with faculty and students to use these materials in the classroom and for class projects. With this in mind, my teaching philosophy centers on three principles.
Principle 1: Learn by Doing.
This principle builds on constructivist educational theories that advocate for the creation of learning spaces equipped with materials, tools, and other resources that encourage both individual and group learning. In this scenario the students, their instructor, and I become collaborators. This provides opportunities for students to become active learners, pursuing the questions that are interesting to them, and better enables them to learn how to learn as they are learning.
Principle 2: Live the Questions.
This principle draws on Rainer Maria Rilke's admonishment to a young poet to live the questions. Students who engage with primary sources often encounter questions that lead to more questions or which do not have ready answers. When they can persist, and learn to love the process of questioning as much as or more than the arrival at an answer, I believe they become better equipped to confidently grapple with uncertainty, think critically and strategically, and develop analytical skills that can benefit all areas of their lives.
Principle 3: Look At and Look Along.
This principle centers on the act of looking at and looking along, a conceptual framework for considering differing points of view described in C. S. Lewis’ essay “Meditation in a Toolshed.” Looking at a thing or series of things entails considering various abstract, objective, and external details, comparing and contrasting them or considering the individuals or organizations and their motivations for creating them. Looking along entails inhabiting or experiencing for one’s self the context or circumstances within which the individuals or organizations created them. Both ways of looking are equally valid and enhance learning when an individual can comfortably move between the two.