Composing the Archives of SCU

“I learned how to be a more authentic researcher. I learned the importance of understanding artifacts and readings in terms of context…Such an amazing and helpful class.” -Composing the Archives student, 2016

Course Description:

The late Robert Connors famously called archival research a “directed ramble…an August mushroom hunt” where “storage meets dreams” (17). In this course, we will have the opportunity to engage this exciting and surprising research method in the archives of SCU, the digital archives of other groups across the nation, and even the archives of our own lives. We will analyze and compose digital and physical archives as a means of understanding the role of visual and textual rhetoric in composing identity, narrative, and public memory, and will contribute to the public memory of our own institution through the creation of a digital archive, curating special exhibits that highlight aspects of SCU’s history selected by individual students.

So, how is this an English class? Why is it a writing class? We are used to reading and seriously considering literary texts and academic publications, but this class will dedicate the same intensity of analysis and interpretation to everyday texts, using them to hone our reading skills, our understanding of the rhetorical situation, our understanding of the politics (and limitations) of historical interpretation and narrative, etc. We will also take seriously the act of curation as composition, which is to say you will be “writing” both through the selection and framing of historical artifacts and through more traditional academic papers.

We will begin by composing our own mini-archives that reflect our histories and identities as learners, and move into the analysis and eventual production of more public archives that present (and represent) individuals, groups, events, and places of historical and contemporary interest. Throughout, we will critically engage scholarship on archival research methods and what are called archival research “methodologies,” or the theories and assumptions that inform our research methods. That is, we will consider larger questions about composing histories, including the ethics of presenting the stories of the deceased, the difficulty posed by lack of documentation, and the strategies available for and politics of recovering silenced voices. Together we will read archival histories and view archives to analyze and understand the work of researching and representing history, and its relevance to our interests and lives today.

See our class’s digital collections and exhibits on our Omeka site here. 

Major Assignments:

  • Personal mini-archive (10%)- compose an archive of five to ten images and/or texts that represent yourself as a learner, with 3-4 page reflective essay
  • Digital archive analysis (10%)- 4-5 page analysis of the use of text and images to construct group identity and narrative
  • Research proposal (10%)- 1-2 page proposal of the group or archive you want to research and why, based on holdings in the SCU archives
  • Archival curation (15%)- Uploading, metadata tagging, generating descriptions and text content for our class SCU archive on Omeka.
  • Physical and Digital Exhibits (15%)- physical and digital mini-archive reflecting selection and framing of a SCU person, group or event, including “about” pages, individual document and collection descriptions, and an introductory video (approx. 10 items; equivalent of 15 pages)
  • Research Essays (25%)- a 5-6 page academic essay that introduces your audience to an insight or perspective gained through your archival research.