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archives, digital exhibits, archival literacy, pedagogy


Archival literacy has become a popular mode of literacy in the last ten years, given that archival research is not the exclusive purview of historians. Given the amount of open collections and exhibits, the possibility of teaching archival literacy skills is more accessible than ever. Importantly, archival literacy asks us to critically read against the common narrative that archival objects are pure evidence and archivists are neutral agents. Our presentation describes the importance of digital archival literacy and provides examples of implementation in classes, ad hoc workshops, and community engagement. We emphasize that all knowledge is a synthesis of various sources and information, and thus all archival collections and exhibits should be understand as curated.

In particular, we provide an example from a Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies class that used the digital exhibit Underpinnings and Equal Terms: How the Suffrage Movement Changed American Women and American Women Changed the Nation to critically examine curation and research methodologies. By analyzing the narrative focus of an exhibit, then working backwards to unpack the research process, students were asked to examine the differences between narrative content and what is interpreted as concrete evidence found in digital repositories. The focus on intersections between circuses and the suffrage movement provided a starting point for students to assess the exhibit, then find and analyze a variety of objects, using a critical eye to review the context and content of the repository sources, including their completeness.


This presentation was delivered at the 8th Annual Digital Pedagogy Institute, August 9-10, 2022, University of Waterloo (held online).



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