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Uncommon Sense

By oieahc · January 09, 2019

Teaching Colonial Translations Through Archives

digital projects 3 min read

Today’s post is courtesy of Allison Bigelow (University of Virginia), 2012-2014 OI-NEH Postdoctoral Fellow. It appears in issue 14 of the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy. The post is based in part on work Professor Bigelow did while completing her fellowship at the Omohundro Institute and teaching at William & Mary.

From “Teaching Colonial Translations Through Archives: From Ink and Quill to XML (Or Not)” by Allison Bigelow


There is a rich body of work on colonial archives, but little consensus about how to use them in the classroom. What is the right level of complexity to introduce? What is a manageable assignment structure in an undergraduate course? In this essay, I present four experiments in teaching an upper-division seminar in which students translate colonial-era materials from Special Collections for publication on the Early Americas Digital Archive (EADA). I have taught the class in different institutional contexts, twice at small liberal arts college (listed in three departments) and twice at large research university (listed in one department). In one semester, we translated a text together. In other semesters, students selected portions of rare books or manuscripts that they thought would enhance the scholarly mission of EADA. This essay explains the course structure and assignment structure of the seminar as I have changed it over time. I conclude by assessing where the class has succeeded, where it has failed, and what I can do differently as I teach students to think critically about the nature of information, present and past.

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