The use of archive sources is central to education. Yet it is surprisingly common for primary and secondary students to graduate without any experience of using archives. They do not learn the skills of archival research although, as defined in the Dictionary of Archival Terminology, “the basic archival function is making available and promoting the wider use of archives”.
The primary value of archives is their role as part of cultural heritage, the contribution they can make to a better understanding of the past, of the historical roots of human environment, of national identities and of international interdependence. With this in mind it must be in the best interests of archivists to intervene with education at the moment when human ideas and convictions are formed, which means at the stage of primary or secondary education.
Yet, there are too many different kind of cultural archives in each country with different types of archives and archival documents that there is not a “universal” method of using those archives in education.
One possible solution could be the use of “problem based education” which is a student-centered pedagogy in which students learn about a subject through the experience of solving an open-ended problem found in trigger material.
So, what are the potential tasks in the field for national or local archives that we can use in Cultural Education?
In theory all types of archival documents may be used for teaching purposes. Using problem-based education can give some guidelines for institutions, archivists, and teachers:
a) Every national, regional or local archival institution could offer introductory visits to schools to demonstrate archival work and the different types of archival holdings. After the demonstration teams of students will be called to solve a problem using those same archives used during the demonstration challenge (e.g., to identify original documents versus copies or facsimiles).
b) Archivists in archival institutions can focus on key documents that they come across them in the course of their work. They may want to establish special lists or guides for educational purposes, grouped by subjects or types of documents, possibly with a differentiation for the various age groups of student users.
c) Teachers can use the documents provided by archivists in classroom, probably an individual document or perhaps a short sequence of related documents and give the students a challenge on local history or culture.
The development of modern and relatively cheap copying techniques and internet technology can make it possible to extend “teaching with archives” to the large majority of schools which have no archives repository in their immediate vicinity just by using copies provided by the archivists or online documents provided by the archival institutions.
But this kind of work needs synergy between Archival Institutions, Archivists and Schools that are currently not on the same track.
Questions? Contact the Archive To Alive team, we’ll be happy to help you out!