Using Archives to Enhance Teaching & Learning
How can media history inform our understanding of our current moment? What is the role of media in the construction of identity, social hierarchies, and our understanding of power? Recognizing that archival and primary source materials provide evidence that can help answer these kinds of questions, Professor Helen Morgan Parmett decided to experiment by integrating an upper-class research and writing assignment with resources at the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies (CPNWS), a division of Western Libraries Heritage Resources.
Last quarter students from Professor Morgan Parmett’s Communications Studies 416 class, “Cultural History of Media and Identity,” spent several hours at the CPNWS to review a variety of primary source archival materials in their consideration of the intersections between cultural history, media, and identity formation.
This was the first time many of these students had ever worked directly with archival materials, and CPNWS staff sought to provide contrasting examples of locally-produced media by also including materials that spoke to the experiences, interests, and voices of traditionally under-represented individuals and groups. For example, in addition to exploring historic issues of more mainstream publications such as the Bellingham Herald, students also examined the Northwest Passage, an alternative newspaper produced from 1969-1986, as well as a range of newsletters and educational materials produced by women’s organizations and LGBTA+ advocacy groups.
Heritage Resources Assistant Archivist for Outreach and Instruction Roz Koester helped facilitate the inquiry process by asking students to consider not just the materials in front of them, but to also think about what was not kept.
"Since we so often rely on written documentation to provide evidence of our shared cultural heritage, it's important to be aware that there are stories and experiences that remain untold,” explained Koester. “A lot of records don't get preserved, so, as researchers, you need to not only be thinking about the information that's available in the resources you're using, but also what might be missing. And we should all be thinking about how we can engage those hidden voices in order to preserve a more complete picture of our history."
As a required component of their research and writing assignment, students were expected to contribute to the scholarship of media history and identity found in secondary literature by constructing an original argument based on archival evidence of media influence on the construction Pacific Northwest identities.
Professor Morgan Parmett hopes that through this assignment, her students will develop a greater understanding not only of media history, but also of where we are now and how we are currently using media. She emphasized how we can learn much about today by considering the media histories of the past:
“For one, they disillusion us from the idea that things have always been a certain way by demonstrating the conflicts, debates, and struggles out of which our current moment emerged,” explained Professor Morgan Parmett. “These histories illuminate the fact that many of the debates we currently have about media and its societal effects are, in fact, not new. Seeing how these debates were resolved in earlier periods may provide insights for how we might move forward into our media futures in more socially just ways.”
Heritage Resources is a division of Western Libraries which includes Special Collections, the University Archives & Records Management, and the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies. Together these units provide for the responsible stewardship of unique and archival materials in support of teaching, learning, and research. For more information about how Heritage Resources supports the research needs of students and educators, contact Heritage.Resources@wwu.edu.