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Archives & Primary Sources

Learn about the Emerson College Archives & Special Collections as well as other archives that may be of use when researching your topic. Also learn about primary sources and where to find them online.

Why Use Archival Materials?

Archival materials can be used in all disciplines from performing arts to communication sciences and disorders.  Using Primary resources allows students to view first hand accounts of the subjects being discussed and to delve extensively into topics that interest them.  Furthermore, a substantial amount of research regarding the use of primary sources in the classroom has shown that they help students to become more well-rounded and engaged in their education.

Using primary sources teaches students to use critical thinking skills, which is important in today's world where the internet has provided many different sources for information.  Students need to be able to make their own judgments about events and not just assume that someone else's interpretation is correct.  They should be asking:  Is the author biased?  Where did he/she get their information?  Is their source reliable?  

Using sources that aren't available online also challenges students to expand their knowledge of various types of evidence and how they can be used to further their knowledge and career goals.

Using Archives in Your Online Class

Hallmarks of Successful Primary Source Use in Online Learning

Archival and special collections can be used in many different ways when you are teaching online classes.  However, there are some hallmarks of a successful archives-related lesson or project that will make it more likely that you and your students will get the most out of their use.

  • Choose your primary resources carefully.  Take stock of your learning objectives, current session topics and assignments, and previous class experiences to determine what will meet your needs best.
  • Many students are unaware of archives and special collections and they may be unclear about primary vs. secondary resources.  A quick overview of these topics may be necessary.
  • Inform the students about your use of primary resources and how they have benefited you in your career.
  • Make sure that there is dedicated time for students to use and discuss primary resources together, whether it is in a text chat, during a video conference, or on discussion boards.
  • Provide students with a purpose for using the primary sources in the course, including having them answer questions about the sources reviewed or including a primary source citation in a research paper.

Sample Projects Using Archival Materials

There are many different ways to incorporate archival and primary materials into your classroom, but we are providing a few sample projects here to help you get started.

  • Show and Tell:  An archives staff member joins a zoom call with students during class (other options include recordings, chats, or board conversations) to allow students to view archival materials related to the course subject.  They also discuss primary resources and how to use archival and special collections.‚Äč
  • Research Assignment:  An archives staff member can work with faculty members to locate digital resources for students to use and cite in an academic paper or presentation.  The archives staff member can also participate in class sessions, chats, or board discussions to discuss how to look through the primary resources for information as well as how to cite the sources in research papers.
  • Performance and Production:  Students can use audiovisual materials and transcripts available online to help them with the creation of their own scripts and performances, or to recreate performances as part of an assignment.  They can also view other resources, including photographs, from different genres to help them determine what costumes, scenery, etc. will be needed.

Although the ideas above include active participation by archives staff, we are also available to simply help you find the resources you need.  Please contact us at 617-824-8301 or