Primary Sources in the Electronic Age:Challenges and Opportunities in Teaching Historical Research

A program presented at the 2005 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago

How has historical research changed with the advent of the electronic age? What skills do today’s history students need to succeed? Librarians in many settings face the challenge of teaching students the historian’s craft of finding and analyzing primary sources. A historian, a museum educator, and a librarian shared their perspectives in a program that bridged the teaching of history and information literacy. The program was jointly by the RUSA History Section’s Instruction and Research Services Committee and ACRL’s Instruction Section.


  • Natural History as Narrative:
    Using Museum Exhibitions and Artifacts to Teach History

    Museum exhibitions, artifacts, and the multiple narratives they reference represent an unparalleled resource for history teachers. This presentation will discuss a pedagogical framework used at The Field Museum to teach educators how to engage students in historical research and narrative construction using museum exhibitions and artifacts.
    PowerPoint presentation
    Presenter: Elizabeth C. Babcock, The Field Museum, Chicago, IL
  • Where Will They Find History?
    The Challenges of Information Literacy Instruction and Primary Resource Research Strategies for Undergraduates of the Electronic Age.

    Has increased local access to remote collections enhanced the way undergraduate students use primary sources? This discussion will examine how student interaction with digitized primary source collections has provided librarians at California State University Northridge with an opportunity to better understand undergraduate research skills. The discussion will also highlight the library's use of collaborative, discipline-based instruction sessions with history students to increase both their use and understanding of primary resources.
    PowerPoint presentation
    Presenter: Lynn D. Lampert, California State University Northridge, Northridge, CA
  • The Past Beyond Us:
    Teaching the Practice of History Today and Tomorrow

    The effects of the digital age have crept up on the historical profession. Little of what we do as scholars and teachers remains untouched, and little of what we do has fundamentally changed. This presentation will explore the nature of that reality and what it means for teaching future undergraduate and graduate students how to "do history."
    Presenter: Janice L. Reiff, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA

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  • Elizabeth C. Babcock
    Elizabeth Babcock is the Director of Teacher and Student Programs at the Field Museum in Chicago. Prior to joining the museum, she worked for several years in the museum and environmental field as a consultant and programmer, developing communication strategies for diverse audiences and community outreach programs. Dr. Babcock is a former anthropology and music teacher with a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Indiana University and bachelors degrees in psychology and music education from Northwestern University.
  • Lynn D. Lampert
    Lynn Lampert is the Coordinator of Library Instruction and Information Literacy at California State University Northridge. She is the author of several articles related to information literacy in The Reference Librarian, Reference Services Review, and College and Research Libraries News. She received her MA in history and her MLIS degree from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1998.
  • Janice L. Reiff
    Janice Reiff is an associate professor of history at UCLA. An urban and social historian, she is also interested in historical methodologies and in the use of computers in history. Dr. Reiff is a co-editor of the recently published Encyclopedia of Chicago History (2004) and the author of Structuring the Past: The Use of Computers in History (1991). She is currently at work on two new books, provisionally titled Industrial Towns, Suburban Dreams, Industrial Realities: Pullman's Communities, 1880-1981 and Digitizing the Past: Computers, Networks, and History.

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Suggested Readings    

Barrett, Michael. "Information Competency as the Historian’s Craft." Assessing Student Learning Outcomes for Information Literacy Instruction in Academic Institutions. Ed. Elizabeth Fuseler Avery. Chicago: ALA, 2003.

Britt, M. A. and C. Aglinskas. “Improving Students’ Ability to Identify and Use Source Information.” Cognition and Instruction, 20 (2002): 485-522.

D’Aniello, Charles A. Teaching Bibliographic Skills in History: A Sourcebook for Historians and Librarians. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1993.

Darnton, Robert. “A Historian of Books, Lost and Found in Cyberspace.” Chronicle of Higher Education 12 March 1999: B4.

Darnton, Robert. “No Computer Can Hold the Past.” New York Times 12 June 1999: A15.

Delgadillo, Roberto, and Beverly P. Lynch. “Future Historians: Their Quest for Information.” College and Research Libraries 60 (1999): 245-259.

Dierking, Lynn. “The Role of Context in Children’s Learning From Objects and Experiences.” Perspectives on Object-Centered Learning in Museums. Ed. Scott G. Paris. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2002. 3-18.

Falk, J. Foreword. Perspectives on Object-Centered Learning in Museums. Ed. Scott G. Paris. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2002. ix-xiii.

Gilmore, Matthew B., and Donald O. Case. “Historians, Books, Computers, and the Library.” Library Trends 40 (1992): 667-86.

Gutmann, Myron P. “Teaching Historical Research Skills to Undergraduates: Thoughts on Microcomputers and the Classroom.” Historical Methods 21.3 (1988): 112-20.

Harvey, Charles, and Jon Press. Databases in Historical Research: Theory, Methods and Applications. New York: St. Martin’s, 1996.

Kitchens, Joel D. (2001). “Practical Help for History Instruction: Making the One-Shot Count.” Research Strategies 18 (2001): 63-73.

Matyn, Marian J. “Getting Undergraduates to Seek Primary Sources in Archives.” History Teacher 33 (2000): 349-55.

Paris, Scott G. and Susanna E. Hapgood. 2002. “Children Learning with Objects in Informal Learning Environments.” Perspectives on Object-Centered Learning in Museums. Ed. Scott G. Paris. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2002. 37-54.

Schaus, Margaret. “Hands on History.” College and Research Libraries News 51 (1990): 825-831.

Smith, Carl. “Can You Do Serious History on the Web?” Perspectives 36.2 (1998): 5-8.

Stieg, Margaret F. “The Information Needs of Historians.” College and Research Libraries 42 (1981): 549-560.

Tibbo, H. R. “Primarily History in America: How U.S. Historians Search for Primary Materials at the Dawn of the Digital Age.” American Archivist 66 (2003): 9-50.

Tucker, Melvin J., et al. “Historians and Using Tomorrow’s Research Library: Research, Teaching and Training.” History Teacher 17 (1984): 385-444.

Wynne, Ann. “History Instruction and the Internet: A Literature Review.” Journal of the Association for History and Computing, 2.1 (1999).

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About the Instruction and Research Services Committee    

The Instruction and Research Services Committee seeks to provide resources for librarians who participate in library instruction and research service in the field of history. Among the Committee’s accomplishments since its establishment in 2001 is the creation of a guide to Using Primary Sources on the Web.

“Primary Sources in the Electronic Age” was the Committee’s first program.

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