Teaching

Using The Loyalist Collection in the Classroom: Integrating Professional Skills Development in History Courses

Published on: 3 Jun 2019

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In the rapidly changing employment environment, students benefit from knowing how to apply the skills they acquire in classrooms to their everyday lives and careers. Post-secondary institutions are at the frontlines, helping prepare students to meet the changing demands of the job market. While specific training is grounded within or across particular disciplines, their objectives are not discipline-specific. Although the STEM disciplines frequently receive most of the attention for providing students with relevant training and work experience, the Humanities have much to offer in ways that are equally as important and, in many ways, have greater transferability and longevity. This includes research, analytical, critical thinking, and written and oral communication skills that are transferable to other academic programs or future employment.

History as a discipline has a significant role to play here. But one of the most challenging aspects is how to effectively integrate skills-based training using primary sources into the classroom experience in ways that are relevant to students. We are identifying approaches to meet this challenge within our undergraduate History courses at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) by collaborating with UNB Libraries to offer a range of assignments and research opportunities that mine the diverse materials available. Interrogating local resources allows students to immerse themselves in contexts to which they feel connected; it enables them to relate to broader themes of the course and enhance their skills with the local material at hand.

For further discussion of pedagogical initiatives, please attend our roundtable at the annual meeting of the CHA during Congress 2019. “Primary research, story maps, blogs, and historiography: Integrating loyalist and revolutionary era history into the classroom,” is sponsored by Borealia and will be held on Wednesday 5 June 2019 from 1:30-3:00pm in BUCH D 322 at UBC.

We are incorporating skills acquisition into our upper-level lecture courses and seminars that focus on the American Revolution, loyalists, and revolutionary-era medicine by leveraging the relevance, familiarity, and proximity of UNB Libraries’ The Loyalist Collection. The largest and most comprehensive research collection of its kind in North America, it covers 1750 to 1850, focusing on the decades surrounding the American Revolution and the early years of loyalist and refugee resettlement throughout the British Atlantic world. Its diverse nature extends far beyond the label of ‘loyalists,’ representing an important entry point for the broader contours of the period. 

Recently, there has been a resurgence of scholarly interest in loyalists and loyalism. Historians are now approaching the loyalist and revolutionary periods through multiple lenses, as evidenced by Christopher Minty and the recent collection published in honour of Robert M. Calhoon. These perspectives encompass the contingent nature of loyalist identities, new approaches to the relationship between loyalism and gender, race, class, and religion, and the integration of loyalism in the Atlantic World. This evolving scholarship and its source base have generated multiple blogs on Borealia, Atlantic Loyalist Connections, The Junto, and Common-Place that have reflected on and encouraged dialogue about ways of integrating these perspectives into the classroom. 

The Loyalist Collection has much to offer in facilitating new approaches for teaching loyalist and revolutionary era history. By collaborating with UNB librarians and library staff to align course work with research agendas, we are articulating and systematizing how experiential learning requirements using primary research can be built into courses while enhancing student skills development. Some of the ways that we are encouraging the acquisition of skills within our courses is through the following instruction: locating and using The Loyalist Collection’s sources; operating microform readers and scanners; paleography; locating, analyzing, and contextualizing documents and images as historical sources; using primary digital databases; conducting primary and secondary research; writing an effective blog; understanding copyright and acquiring usage permissions for images; and generating creative commons licenses. (For examples of student blog posts, see “Information in the Information-less Era: Being a Medical Student in the Eighteenth Century” and “William Paine’s Instructions for Inoculation”.)

Huskins 1Students in HIST 3226 and HIST 4326 wrote blogs that analyzed manuscript documents chosen from The Loyalist Collection. A handful of students opted to complete a bonus assignment where they worked with Microforms staff to revise their blogs for the Atlantic Loyalist Connections. Image of the blog reproduced with permission of the Microforms Unit, UNB Libraries.

Reading and interpreting cursive writing and print sources are fast becoming lost skills, particularly in the digital era. As the nature of receiving news has changed, students benefit from learning how to understand and engage with information of previous centuries in formats with which they are increasingly unfamiliar. Amongst the ways that UNB Libraries is making historical documents more accessible is through the Atlantic Loyalist Connections blog and the New Brunswick Loyalist Journeys digital story map. The latter recreates stories of American Revolution loyalists by utilizing geographic information system (GIS) technology and archival materials. These platforms introduce users to innovative ways of engaging with historical research and methodologies.

Students currently contribute to the blog and engage in biographical research for the UNB Libraries’ story map as part of their course assignments. These digital resources are subsequently used as teaching tools in the classroom alongside the current scholarship in the field. Moreover, individual students have been hired as research assistants and GIS designers for the already-established New Brunswick Loyalist Journeys and our own two story maps-in-progress: “An Engineer’s Empire: The Life and Career of William Booth (1748-1826)” and “Revolutionary and Loyalist Era Medicine.” As Zoe Jackson, a UNB undergraduate History student, posted in a blog about the benefits of acquiring relevant skills-training through her work for New Brunswick Loyalist Journeys: “the importance of Digital Humanities came into sharp focus for me, and, with it, the realization that merging history and technology is not a future phenomenon but, rather already happening in the present.”

Huskins 2The New Brunswick Loyalist Journeys story map has provided students in HIST 3402 and HIST 3403 with opportunities to engage in biographical research on individual loyalists profiled in the story map. Image of the story map reproduced with permission of the Microforms Unit, UNB Libraries.

In teaching our upper-level History courses on the loyalist and revolutionary era, we continue to identify ways to integrate a wide range of primary sources held by UNB Libraries (including those in The Loyalist Collection, the Microforms Unit, and Archives & Special Collections) that can be used to train students in important skills while providing historical evidence and context. It is important to create and foster environments where students feel comfortable using library resources. For many students, library resources are foreign entities; however, in their post-degree lives, the library will represent one of the most important institutions for accessing materials for an assortment of needs. Developing classroom activities and assignments that use a variety of resources beyond books and journals is critical to building needed skills for a knowledge economy and civic engagement.

Huskins 3Medical content from newspaper articles and advertisements, such as this one in The Star [Saint John, New Brunswick] on 25 October 1820, have formed the basis of analytical research essays in undergraduate courses that focus on the social history of medicine (HIST 3226 and HIST 4326). Image courtesy of the Microforms Unit, UNB Libraries.
 
In the age of Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat, it is vital that the Humanities help students think about how the use of digital media for professional ends differs from its use for personal ends. Training students to use classroom materials in digital applications is one approach of doing so. We believe that the structures and processes put into place during our collaborations with UNB librarians and library staff can be applied to many other courses, disciplines, and faculties in order to foster similar skills-based learning initiatives.

Bonnie Huskins is Adjunct Professor and Loyalist Studies Coordinator in the Department of History, UNB
and
Wendy D. Churchill is Associate Professor in the Department of History, UNB.

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