Friday, 8 November 2013

Asking the right questions

This week, Project Archivist Louise has been finding out how we can reach a new generation of researchers...

Outreach is one of our key goals at LHSA – from a strong presence on social media to seminars for students, archive tours, advising family history and academic researchers and taking the archive ‘out’ in talks to community groups in Edinburgh and beyond. However, we’d like to extend our current work to reach a younger audience, particularly for primary and secondary schools. To this end, our Archive Intern, Sharon, and I went to the Mitchell Library in Glasgow yesterday to take part in a workshop on using enquiry-based learning with archives to reach groups of all ages.

I have to admit that before I attended the workshop (run by the Scottish Council on Archives), I was unsure about what enquiry-based learning was. When I think of an enquiry now, it’s usually in terms of the growing numbers of queries we get from academic and genealogical researchers each month based on the records that we hold. However, enquiry-based learning centres on asking open questions to allow students to get as much as possible out of their learning materials (which for us means archival records).

As someone with little experience of working with children and young adults, I found the day both accessible and extremely rewarding. At the beginning of the day, we put ourselves in the place of students and were faced with a short oral history transcript. Through asking the right questions (that didn’t encourage one word answers or the regurgitation of a list of facts) our workshop leader Douglas drew an enormous amount out of us based on both the feelings inspired by the text and how the single incident described could tell us so much more about the wider realities of the First World War for families at home. The rest of the day was spent choosing our own archive materials to base learning workshops around, and (more importantly) putting together our own questions. This was not as easy as it sounds: for example, instead of asking for the facts of what a newspaper article from the archive is reporting, it’s better to ask ‘How would you feel if you opened the paper one morning and read that?’ , which can lead to a lot more questioning and discussion.

Since the workshop was based on First World War sources, Sharon and I took along digital images of an autograph book held by LHSA, which was created by Craigleith Military Hospital nurse Ethel Miller. They were picked out for us by Kirstin, our Research Intern, who is working on creating educational resources from the varied archives that we hold from the First World War. The soldiers under Ethel Miller’s care wrote epigrams and (often adoring!) poems, as well as drawing cartoons based on their own attitudes and experiences of warfare. Although undoubtedly fascinating on first sight, after attending the workshop we’ll be able to use Ethel’s memories in so many more ways and bring nursing history alive for new audiences.

A page from Ethel Miller's autograph book

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