By Jill E. Anderson, Humanities Instruction Librarian
and Kevin Fleming, Popular Music & Culture Archivist
Georgia State University Library
This case study focuses on how Kevin Fleming, Popular Music and Culture Archivist, and Jill Anderson, Humanities Instruction Librarian, have developed a series of “Teaching with Primary Sources” library workshops at Georgia State University, an R1 public university. We designed these workshops to introduce faculty and graduate-student instructors to creative strategies for incorporating primary sources into their instruction. Drawing on historical comic books in the archivist’s collections, the active-learning exercises we devised for these workshops are meant to encourage attendees to consider and share their own ideas about instruction with archival and other primary source types. Rather than presenting ourselves as all-knowing “experts,” we aim to make ourselves available as possible partners for this kind of instruction. With these workshops, we hope to foster attendees’ own imaginative ideas about teaching with primary sources, while at the same time encouraging instructors to consider including us as partners in their classrooms. We received a 2019 Georgia Historical Records Advisory Council (GHRAC) Award for Excellence in the Educational Use of Historical Records for these workshops. In this article, we will describe our collaborative processes in the context of the evolution of our workshops. We will begin by discussing our initial collaboration in support of the librarian’s Honors freshman seminar, describe the evolution of our instructor workshops, and close with a discussion of our embedment in a College of Education and Human Development graduate course on Children’s and Adolescent Literature as a direct result of these workshops.
Our structuring analogy for our work comes from a passing comment the archivist made, when he noted that our collaborative work reminded him of playing jazz – in how we play off each other in our planning, instructional design, and in-class teaching, and how in both our preparation and our classroom work we have naturally fallen into “trading eights.” This term refers to jazz musicians taking turns at improvising for eight bars: each soloist bases their melodic lines or phrases on whatever the previous soloist did in their eight bars. Both of us have backgrounds in music and in teaching. Though our experiences differ in each of these areas, the shared experiences of instruction and musical training have led to creative and productive conversations based on a shared understanding of our work as a kind of collective improvisation. Although the archivist suggested this analogy well into our collaboration, we have both recognized its value as a characterization of our collaborative processes.
Over the past three years, we have crafted exercises and sessions which blend archival sources with materials held in the library general collection, as well as primary sources available to faculty and students through the library’s subscription databases and sources freely available online. This has allowed us to develop an egalitarian partnership, where we draw equally on both of our collection areas while also providing workshop attendees a broader awareness of primary-source access and availability. We have modeled these workshops on the 2011 ACRL / Pennsylvania Library Association preconference attended by the librarian, “Not Just History Anymore: Using Special Collections and Primary Sources to Teach Critical Thinking” offered by Peter Carini and Doris Malkmus. In this day-long session, attendees were Carini’s and Malkmus’ “students” for two active-learning exercises drawing on Carini’s archival holdings at Dartmouth, followed by extensive full-group discussions of each exercise and possibilities for adapting these to attendees’ institutions (Carini 2009). Our sessions have drawn faculty and graduate instructors from Anthropology, African-American Studies, Communication, Education, English, History, and World Languages and Cultures as well as other instruction librarians. Overall, these workshops have been unique opportunities for us to reach out to instructors across the campus, while also sharpening our own instructional and collaborative skills.
The librarian’s interest in primary source-based instruction grew out of her work supporting a History department, which involved considerable emphasis on teaching primary-source searching skills and discussions of primary-source interpretive work. In 2015 she began to teach an Honors freshman seminar, teaching these skills by focusing on a broad topic easily supported by many different primary source types. The archivist’s involvement with primary source-based instruction is based on an ongoing curriculum development program that he created in conjunction with a professor from Georgia State’s School of Music. The program is designed to have music education graduate students create and teach curriculum units for local elementary and middle schools that utilize primary sources from the Special Collections and Archives. Like the librarian’s instruction, this program involves teaching primary-source searching and interpretive skills. The music education students also learn how to incorporate these materials into lesson plans while being taught about the curriculum development process.
We have drawn inspiration from several key publications on archival primary-source literacy, including Mitchell et al., Past or Portal?: Enhancing Undergraduate Learning Through Special Collections and Archives (2012) and especially Bahde et al.’s Using Primary Sources: Hands-on Instruction Exercises (2014). We have also explored the connections between our conversations about archival and primary-source instruction and the ACRL RBMS-SAA Joint Task Force’s Guidelines to Primary Source Literacy (2018), which was in draft form when we began to work together. The majority of the literature published to date on primary-source instruction has been written by archivists. Totleben and Birrell’s Collaborating for Impact, a 2016 collection of articles on collaborations between archivists and liaison librarians, includes only two articles explicitly focused on instruction which include a liaison librarian as co-author. Sarah Horowitz’ literature review, in the same volume, notes that comparatively little writing has been done on instructional collaborations between archivists and librarians; Horowitz notes that Using Primary Sources includes only one subject librarian as author. Shan Sutton and Lorrie Knight (2006) had previously suggested that the instruction librarian’s expertise is rooted in secondary-source searching. More recently, Hensley et al. (2014) argue that, due to calls for “high impact learning experiences” and increasingly digitized archival material, instruction librarians and archivists should seek out more active collaborations, but identify the contribution of the instruction librarian as rooted in abstract expertise in teaching competencies and learning outcomes; Tomberlin and Turi (2012) make a similar argument. Primary sources are integral to general instruction in many humanities fields, however, and primary-source literacy is arguably a “threshold concept” (to use the language of the ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education ) in the field of History, which relies heavily on primary sources for research and instruction. By framing our collaborative work as emphasizing the creative incorporation of both archival and general primary source materials into instruction, we have managed to bypass the siloing that can occur between library departments. While each of us has played to our own strengths and domain knowledge, the differences between our specific roles in these workshops has boiled down to differences in primary-source location and organization, since we have done very little with secondary-source searching or interpretation. Our shared backgrounds have allowed us to work together on the creation and execution of these workshops—to “trade eights,” as it were, both in our instructional design process and in the classroom itself.
Our collaboration began in Fall 2016 when we co-taught a session of the librarian’s second version of her Honors freshman seminar. This course (which the librarian continues to offer) is a hybrid History, Women’s Studies, and library-instruction course on the history of dating, emphasizing primary-source searching and interpretation skills. The course, taught with a feminist slant, raises key issues of how gender presentation, race, class, sexual orientation, and consent shape our understandings of dating and its history, and how these issues are reflected in and embodied by primary-source materials. Class sessions include interpretive discussion of assigned primary-source readings, with several full sessions devoted to hands-on searching exercises and activities. The course is also meant to familiarize students with resources available to them as Georgia State students and to introduce them to basic archival research through sessions co-taught with several local archivists (Anderson 2017).
For the 2016 session, students evaluated romance genre comic books from the Special Collections and Archives’ Popular Culture Literature Collection, an underutilized collection containing serial publications reflecting the popular reading taste of American children and adults. This collection includes early twentieth century pulp magazines, dime novels, and comic books. Students read selected comic books and discussed their findings within the context of course themes, including gender and sexual normativity, class issues, and intended audiences. Some of the questions posed to the students included: whether they could determine the time period represented, which related to the time period covered by the specific course; what themes or narratives they saw in the issue; and whether there were particular stereotypes reflected in the stories. We also asked them to consider other aspects of the romance comics they were looking at, in particular the advertisements and any other texts or graphics. Since the course strongly emphasizes tensions between prescriptive and descriptive primary sources, we especially wanted the students to notice that the romance comics also included dating advice columns, and we deliberately selected comics with this feature for this exercise (see also Weiner 2010, Duffy 2010, McGurk 2016). Students filled out worksheets with leading questions, which we then used to facilitate classroom discussion. The students were highly engaged with the comic books, and we had a productive discussion about the advice columns in particular, with students commenting on how younger readers might be more open to the “advice” given in a comic book; we also discussed disjunctures between the advertisements (which seems geared towards older audiences) and the younger readers who might have accepted the narratives at face value.
Popular Culture and Pulp Workshop
Based on the high level of student engagement in the HON 1000 session, and to further utilize the comic books in the Popular Culture Literature Collection, we created our first “train the trainer” workshop for faculty and graduate-student instructors, “Teaching with Primary Sources: Popular Culture and Pulp.” While the materials used in this workshop fell within the scope of the archivist’s subject knowledge, all of our planning stages—from materials selection to exercise design to classroom management—involved both of us equally. For this workshop we wanted a broader range of topics or genres to be represented. However, we deliberately did not use comics of well-known characters such as Superman, Batman, and Spider-man because we wanted the imagery and stories to be unfamiliar and somewhat ambiguous so the attendees would have to think more carefully about what was really going on in the comic book. We spent a fair amount of time exploring the comic book collection in greater depth together, finally selecting science fiction, western, more obscure superhero, romance, and Christian comic books. We were careful to choose panels with striking but equivocal visuals in order to allow space for imaginative interpretive leaps. This ambiguity also meant that these panels could be used to teach for a variety of disciplines on campus.
We also incorporated a creative exercise, developed by the archivist, in which the text from the word balloons of select comic book panels were erased. The attendees were asked to pair up and fill in the blanks as a team, based solely on the illustrations. The purpose of this exercise was two-fold: first, to serve as an ice-breaker and get the attendees comfortable and engaged in the workshop, and second, to demonstrate the degree of interpretation that is sometimes involved when working with primary source materials. For example, we explained that this is akin to having only one document in an exchange of correspondence in which the researcher would need to make an educated assumption based solely on the limited facts presented. At the same time, this exercise successfully encouraged imaginative engagement with the non-textual aspects of comic books. Without textual clues, attendees spent more time considering image details, panel placement, and other graphics content in order to construct narratives. Some groups wrote parodies, while others wrote more serious responses. After the attendees completed the fill-in-the-blank exercise we had them compare their text with the text from the original panels, not to see who got their interpretation “right” or “wrong,” but to encourage attendees to reflect on and share their thought processes and their particular readings of visual cues.
We then distributed a document analysis worksheet that the librarian had originally created with Georgia State’s Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Archivist, Morna Gerrard. We had modified this into a worksheet that would align with the activities using the wider range of genres in the comic book collection. Because the original questions had been tied to a specific course’s needs, we shortened the list of questions in order to allow for a more broadly ranging conversation (see Appendix A). This session was well attended by faculty and graduate students from a range of departments and also included several instruction librarians. All attendees participated enthusiastically in the exercise and discussion, bringing insights from their own disciplines to their readings of these comic books. The genre differences also led to spirited conversations, touching on race, gender, and age differences, among others. (For example, one group had a comic book about Christian missionaries, where the Christians were blonde, blue-eyed, and pale-skinned and the “savages” being converted had dark hair and more darkly-colored skin, which led to a discussion about representation and persuasion). We realized that in future workshops we needed to project each blanked-out panel onto the classroom screen for this part of the workshop, so that we could all see the panels being discussed, to enrich the discussions. We had a longer list of questions in mind for use if we needed more prompts, but attendees were so deeply engaged in discussion that we were able to let the conversation flow. Several attendees stayed afterwards and talked with us further about the materials and possible instruction opportunities.
In the preparation and lesson planning stage of the workshops, we began to stray from the more structured detailed oriented lesson plan to a more general outline that would allow us more freedom and flexibility to take the session slightly off the path if the attendees dictated it through questions and discussion. To refer back to our jazz music analogy, the detailed lesson plan and general outline could be compared to full big band arrangements and Tune-Dex card lead sheets (both of which we have in our music collections). The big band arrangements contain the complete specific parts for a full ensemble, while Tune-Dex cards consist only of the essential elements of a song — main melody, chord symbols and lyrics all on a 3”x 5” index card. These lead sheets are the starting point or foundation for jazz musicians when learning a new song that they haven’t played before. Like our lesson plans, the vagueness of the lead sheets provides an open-ended framework and allow for different interpretations based on the other members involved (in this case the other instructors and the attendees, as well). Additionally, over time, we have expanded the length of the workshops, to allow for attendees to talk about ideas, interpretations, strategies, and anything else that came up in the course of the session.
Comic Books and Context Workshop
Due to the high attendance and eager participation of attendees in the “Teaching with Primary Sources: Popular Culture and Pulp” workshop, we offered another workshop the following semester titled “Teaching with Primary Sources: Comic Books and Context.” For this workshop we decided to focus on the establishment and implementation of the Code created by the Comics Code Authority (see Appendix B and Figure 1). Since the Code is a social commentary in itself and is a product of its time period, we chose to use it—along with other non-archival primary sources—to help contextualize the historical comic books in the Popular Culture Literature collection.
As we began to plan this workshop, we discussed the outline of an active-learning searching activity, suggested by the librarian, involving small groups assigned to various primary-source types relating to the Comics Code. One group might work with a print copy of Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent (1954) from the general collection; another group might search in the subscription government-documents database HeinOnline for Wertham’s Congressional testimony (which would also yield the Code itself); a third group might search in the ProQuest Historical New York Times database for reporting on Wertham’s testimony. However, this proved to be impractical for a number of reasons: the library’s edition of Seduction of the Innocent was not indexed and the table of contents was unhelpful, and the layout of the Special Collections and Archives classroom, not being a computer classroom, was not conducive to online searching. This initial idea, however, led us to incorporate the Code into the “ice-breaker” exercise that we introduced in the previous workshop. This allowed us to introduce the concept of using different primary source types to contextualize each other from the very beginning of the session.
For the modified fill-in-the-blank-panels exercise, we selected panels which could be interpreted either within the 1954 Code or which could lend themselves to Code violations (see Figures 2-4 for examples) (Gill et al. 1978, Gill et al. 1966, Kim 1978). However, in this instance we had one group of attendees complete the text in the word balloons by adhering to the restrictions of the 1954 Code while the other group of attendees was able to complete the text based on their own judgement. After the attendees shared what they came up with, we asked them to compare the different directions that their creations took—again, some were serious while others were more tongue-in-cheek. Then the discussion turned to what is perceived as being morally acceptable by today’s standards. For example, we referred to the similarities of the rating systems for movies, television, and video games intended to protect younger audiences, as well as how the depiction of women in comic books has not changed significantly over the years. The group assigned to adhere to the Code asked if they could redo the exercise without the Code restrictions. We have since incorporated this aspect of the exercise into our instruction, since it allows attendees to experience the different creative processes involved in, on the one hand, being required to stay within the restrictions of an external code and, on the other, using their own unrestricted imaginations.
After we incorporated the Code into the first exercise, we designed a second exercise using the print Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature, which tracked links between the Comics Code and moral panic in relation to children’s literature and comic books. This exercise was modeled on a related exercise the librarian taught in her Honors course, adapted in turn from an original Readers’ Guide exercise fashioned by Georgia State’s Sociology Librarian Mandy Swygart-Hobaugh. For this workshop, we gave attendees selected volumes of the Readers’ Guide, taken from the library’s general reference collection (the volumes have since been incorporated into the general collection), and a worksheet which asked them to look up “Comic Books” in their assigned volume and record their assessments of the titles of articles listed there. The magazine titles themselves were also indicators of the context the articles appeared in: Wertham’s article on the dangers of comic books in a 1953 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal reads differently from an article in Publisher’s Weekly about New York officials calling for a code, yet both are listed in the Readers’ Guide (Wertham 1953, “New York Officials” 1949). We also asked them to identify other categories by checking for a “See also” section or related categories nearby.
As we selected which volumes of the Readers’ Guide to assign, we realized that the print volumes also suggested other contextual information which could also be useful for instruction. For example, the volumes showed gaps in coverage which raised interesting questions about censorship and changes in distribution patterns. We found fairly robust reporting on a comics-based moral panic in the years following World War II and leading up to Wertham’s 1954 book and testimony, with the highest concentration of “moral panic” articles appearing in 1953-1955. However, in spite of the Code’s revision in 1971 in partial response to a Spider-man comic book focusing on drug issues, we found almost no articles about the Code’s revision listed in the early 1970s volumes (Nyberg n.d., Reader’s Guide 1943-1957, 1969-1973). Additionally, because the Readers’ Guide’s main category for comic books was actually a larger category, “Comics (Books, strips, etc.)”, entries under this category mixed articles on comic books with articles on comic strips, meaning that fun feature articles on less-alarming comic images (Dennis the Menace, Dagwood and Blondie, and the Shmoo, for example) were also included, offsetting the “panic” rhetoric somewhat. Representations and accounts of these lighter characters could also be useful points of entry for placing the darker comics into the broader context of the circulation of comics and comic-strip imagery from the postwar era to the present (“Ketcham’s” 1953, Alexander 1948, “U.S. Becomes” 1948).
Teaching with the Code (not just about the Code) allowed us to engage attendees with the history of a particular moral panic rooted in youth culture as well as with the history of comic-book production and distribution. We also discussed how the production and distribution changes both supported and then later challenged a particular instance of censorship, since the publishers’ actions were pre-emptive and meant to deter the government from creating and enforcing a code. But, although the Code was self-imposed, the negative attention to comic books due to the Senate hearings and Wertham’s writings contributed to what can be seen as a form of censorship. At the same time, we were also able to use the Code to draw attendees’ attention to continuities as well as differences, comparing the Code as a document created in 1954 to less monolithic contemporary standards.
Attendees at the second workshop were eager to talk about how the perceived audiences for comic books have shifted, with the earlier comic books being identified with child readers/purchasers. The panic spread by figures like Wertham and represented by the Code specifically focused on fears about children’s minds being warped by comic books. More recently, comics as a genre have come to overlap with graphic novels, which are not necessarily identified with children. This line of inquiry—initiated by the attendees—led to another set of analytic questions focusing on how the interpretation of comic book text and images change if we consider a range of audiences: how does thinking in terms of different audiences affect our readings of these comic books? In this case, attendees considered children vs. adults as distinct audiences, but the question could be applied to any differentiated groups of readers.
To assess the modifications that we had made to this workshop, we had the attendees complete a brief three question evaluation at the conclusion. The questions included: What did you learn that you hadn’t known before?, What would you like to learn more about?, and What ideas or primary sources might you use in your own instruction? The attendees noted that they had not previously known about the history of comic book censorship and the Comics Code, as well as how comic books could be used as a primary source in a variety of ways to address a particular time period or subject matter within a classroom setting. Overall, attendees also indicated that they would like to learn more about Special Collections and Archives holdings and to investigate how other materials might be incorporated into their teaching. All of the attendees remarked that they hoped to utilize the fill-in-the-blank-panels exercise in their own instruction. The main points that we took from the evaluations were, first, to spend more time on the broad scope of primary sources within the library, and second, to use different materials and activities in future workshops to illustrate the wide variety or resources and teaching possibilities using primary sources.
Children’s and Adolescent Literature Course
As a result of our Teaching with Primary Sources workshops, Ewa McGrail, an Associate Professor from Georgia State’s College of Education and Human Development (COEHD) specializing in Middle and Secondary Education, requested that we co-teach three sessions of her graduate-level language arts course on Children’s and Adolescent Literature. McGrail had been an enthusiastic participant in both of our workshops, and was excited about the opportunity to have her students work with archival primary sources; after we had completed our work with her, she persuaded her College to post an article about our collaboration in the college’s online newsletter (“Graduate Students,” 2018).
Since this was an interdisciplinary collaborative project in which the archivist and librarians would be embedded in an Education course, it was essential to meet with McGrail and Georgia State’s Education Librarian, Denise Dimsdale, before the semester began. In the planning stages we needed to clarify McGrail’s desired learning outcomes, and how we could achieve these results. The first step was to identify the primary learning objectives for the students: how to develop and apply primary source interpretive skills in order to enhance critical thinking and better understand the historical and cultural events of the literature’s time period, thus making a connection from the present to the past. Then in turn we needed to consider creative possibilities for using these skills in their own K-12 school classrooms. These initial meetings also served to educate the professor about what was feasible in relation to the scope of materials housed in the library’s Special Collections and Archives. Most importantly, we needed to ensure that the professor selected an appropriate time period and broad topic for the historical fiction readings that were the basis for the second and third session, as we needed to be sure that we would be able to provide relevant archival and general primary sources to support the students in their creation of lesson plans.
The week prior to our first session in the course, the students had been assigned to review the layout, language and rhetorical structure in several different contemporary graphic novels. So as a logical progression of their course work, for the first session we modified and presented the “Teaching with Primary Sources: Comic Books and Context” workshop that focused on the establishment and implementation of the Code formulated by the Comics Code Authority. We included the modified fill-in-the-blank-panels exercise that had one group of students complete the text in the word balloons adhering to the restrictions of the 1954 Code while the other group of students completed the text based on their own judgement. Interestingly, at the beginning of this exercise the students (who were all already teaching professionally or about to begin student teaching) asked who the audience would be—the general public or the classroom? We allowed them to decide, and their choices were reflected in terms of language used and topics covered. After this session some of the students asked for our lesson plans and materials so they could replicate this instruction for their middle or high school students.
For the second session, we conducted a more traditional information literacy class that focused on finding primary sources. This session was divided into two parts, with the librarian teaching the first section and the archivist teaching the second section. In the first portion of the class, the librarian focused on how to discover primary source materials in the library’s general collection, digital subscription databases, and freely available open source resources. The librarian selected a keyword or phrase relevant to each of the three assigned books that were set during World War II, and identified one subscription database and one freely-available digital collection relevant to each of the three texts assigned for the class. Prior to this session, the professor had divided the class into three groups, with each group assigned to one of the assigned historical-fiction texts—two young-adult novels and one picture book. Each group tried searching using their assigned keywords or phrases first in the subscription database and then in the selected freely-available digital collection. Afterwards, the librarian led a discussion with each group reporting on which database/collection pairing was used and what results they found. This exercise gave them basic searching experience in both types of digital collections, while familiarizing them with subscription databases available to them as students, as well as with strategies for locating freely-available digital content. The latter was crucial since Georgia State’s library does not make its subscription databases available to alumni following graduation.
For the second portion, the archivist provided an introduction to the library’s Special Collections and Archives and to archival literacy in order to familiarize the students with the scope of the collections, the types of materials, and how to navigate the available tools to search and retrieve the sources (e.g. finding aids, databases, and digital collections). As in the librarian’s first portion, the archivist used selected keywords or phrases relevant to the World War II historical-fiction texts to make the demonstration more applicable for the students. Examples of different types of materials housed within the Special Collections and Archive’s curatorial areas were displayed to allow the students an opportunity to examine the materials more closely. The materials ranged from manuscript collections, sheet music and sound recordings, photographs and oral history interviews, to artifacts like a large inactive artillery shell; we were even able to use a set of paper dolls from Special Collections’ Women, Gender, and Sexuality collections to demonstrate shifting gender roles in the wartime workplace. Even though we taught these sections of the second session separately, we attended each other’s sections in order to synchronize keywords and to make spontaneous connections and contributions to each other’s instruction as the full session unfolded. This can be seen as a very basic, but crucial, collaborative technique. Even though we each led an individual section, having the other present and chiming in at relevant moments helped to ensure continuity between our individual presentations so that the full session wouldn’t seem disjointed or repetitive for the students.
The first two sessions set the stage for the third and final session of the course. The students were tasked with constructing brief historical-contextualization K-12 lesson plans, related to their assigned historical-fiction texts from sources provided by the archivist and librarians. Since the majority of the students were nearing graduation, we opened this session with Denise Dimsdale, Georgia State’s Education Librarian, giving an overview of open-source resources and GALILEO (a free online library portal in the State of Georgia intended for educators). Dimsdale’s presentation underscored our general emphasis on students’ continuing ability to access and use primary sources for teaching post-graduation. In preparation for the second part of the session, we reviewed the assigned historical fiction books and set up several stations containing primary sources ranging from photographs, scrapbooks, music, propaganda materials, publications, and other artifacts from the time period which offered context for the World War II historical fiction. The students then examined these materials to determine what would be appropriate to utilize in the design of a unique and engaging lesson plan for a younger demographic. The students in turn gave short presentations on how they might teach with these materials in their own classrooms. To emphasize the continued use of primary sources in their teaching after receiving their degrees, we then provided instruction on how to access the materials each group had selected post-graduation. As with our workshops, the purpose was to provide creative methods of incorporating library and archival content into their own teaching, and to highlight the possibilities of co-teaching with archival and library staff. In this scenario, all four instructors—McGrail, the archivist, and the two librarians—played crucial roles and brought different strengths to the session to make the collaboration engaging and effective.
Our collaboration has evolved over the course of our development of these workshops. As we have progressed from one workshop to the next, we have adapted and modified our instruction to better suit the objectives of the faculty, graduate students, and librarians who attended the sessions. As we have continued to collaborate, the planning stages for the workshops (as well as the workshops themselves) have become more streamlined. We have come to rely less on formal lesson plans in favor of simpler “lead sheet” outlines open enough to allow for a more fluid presentation, where both of us contribute as needed; these outlines also allow us to engage more flexibly with our attendees. We have found that introducing attendees to primary sources more broadly defined, from throughout the library, has allowed us to avoid departmental siloing. Collaborating closely during all of the planning stages, including material selection and exercise design, has allowed us to blend our knowledge domains in creative ways which we are then able to integrate into our classroom instruction. We have also learned to incorporate other players into our “trading eights” collaborative model. Our goal is not only for our attendees to learn about strategies for incorporating primary sources into instruction, but also to recognize that there are countless ways to use primary sources to enhance their classroom instruction.
Another goal of these “Teaching with Primary Sources” workshops has been instructional outreach. While we see our role as fostering creative use of primary sources, we also hope to create opportunities for us to partner with instructors in support of their classroom instruction. While the workshops have proven to be an effective method of achieving this goal, we have also decided to expand our outreach by meeting directly with department chairs, faculty members, and other instructors who have expressed interest but were unable to attend one of the workshops. These ongoing conversations allow us to discuss the range of primary sources holdings available in Special Collections and Archives and in the library more broadly as well as ways we might become involved in their classes. These meetings (in addition to our workshops) also align with liaison outreach goals: we are there as much to learn about instructors’ class and program needs as we are to brainstorm about possible primary-source-based sessions. In several of these meetings, faculty members have suggested that we attempt to become involved in departments’ pedagogical training for graduate teaching assistants—a goal our work with the COEHD graduate course has encouraged us to work towards. Pedagogical training is a key aspect of graduate education—though the level of formality of that training differs across departments and programs—and graduate students, as novice instructors, are likely to be candidates for considering new approaches to instruction. As one faculty member involved with graduate teaching assistant training put it to us, GTAs are “sponges” for creative instructional techniques.
We have deliberately framed our workshops as instructor training sessions, meant to provide a foundation or starting point for faculty and graduate student instructors, as well as for instruction librarians, who may not have had much experience with integrating primary sources into their day-to-day teaching. However, while we have never lost sight of the need to introduce faculty and students to our archival and primary source holdings as rich and important sources for research, we have striven to retain a balance in our instructional work, using it as a way of also encouraging them to think creatively about incorporating primary sources, broadly defined, into their classroom instruction. Together we have developed a cross-departmental, interdisciplinary partnership which has allowed us to promote and support innovative classroom instruction while also underscoring the availability of a broad range of primary sources for both research and teaching purposes.
Library Workshop: Teaching with Primary Sources
Popular Culture and Pulp Worksheet
- What are the themes or narratives of the issue?
- Are there any particular stereotypes that are presented in the story?
- Are there phrases or other language that especially jump out at you?
- What can you say about the advertisements in the issue? Are they appropriate for the intended audience?
- Flip through the issue. Can you identify anything prescriptive (e.g. advice column)?
Overview of the Comics Code
Coinciding with the rising popularity of comic books in the 1930s, educators, church groups and civic groups voiced their displeasure with the medium due to the “immoral content such as scantily clad women in jungle comics and the glorification of villains in crime comics.” (Nyberg, n.d., para. 4) In addition to this, after the Second World War, there was an increased concern with juvenile delinquency within society. Mental health experts began to get involved, specifically a psychiatrist named Dr. Fredric Wertham who published Seduction of the Innocent in 1954 to address the negative impact that comic books were having on the youth of the time. The same year the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency began to hold hearings to investigate the effects of the comic book industry. In fear of being regulated by the government, the comic book publishers formed the Comics Magazine Association of America and established a self-regulatory code. The wholesalers who delivered the comic books to newsstands and shops ended up serving as the enforcement arm of the Comics Code Authority by agreeing to handle only those comic books with the “Approved by the Comics Code Authority” seal on the cover. The Code consisted of four parts and 41 provisions which among other restrictions forbade the displaying of criminals in a favorable light, the depiction of excessive violence and gore, the use of improper dialogue, ridicule of any religion or race, the portrayal of characters (mainly women) in regards to nudity and dress that is not “reasonably acceptable by society,” undesirable representation marriage and sex (no “sexual abnormalities,” “sex perversion,” “seduction,” or rape), as well as the content of advertising within the publication. The Code was revised in 1971, partially due to a Spider-man comic book that dealt with drug abuse issues, as well as the overall changes to what was perceived to be acceptable by society. By the late 1970s only four publishers (Archie, Marvel, Harvey, and DC) retained the “Approved by the Comics Code Authority” seal on the cover. By the early 1980s, there were more independent publishers and more comic book specialty stores; as a result, direct market distribution began to become more common thus lessening the middlemen who served as the enforcement arm of the code. This was followed by another revision in 1989, and finally in 2011 DC and Archie dropped the Seal of Approval (Nyberg n.d., Maslon and Kantor 2013, “Code”  1955, Nyberg 1998, Hajdu 2008).
Association of College and Research Libraries. “ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education,” 2015. http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework.
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