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Posted on: Tuesday, November 25, 2014 - 7:55am

The instruction plan for Western Libraries Heritage Resources articulates the goal of ensuring that Western students “are able to find, understand, and interpret a wide variety of research sources in various contexts throughout their lives.” With that in mind, Heritage Resources staff work closely with instructors to meet specific course needs and learning objectives by providing access to a wealth of materials that can enhance, enrich, and enliven research in nearly any subject area.

For example, this past August, a new cohort of Environmental Education graduate students visited Western’s campus and spent time working with archival and primary source materials at the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies (CPNWS).  As part of the M.Ed Residency program partnership between the North Cascades Institute (NCI) and Western’s Huxley College of the Environment, these students live at the Environmental Learning Center located in the North Cascades National Park for one year, during which time they are able to immerse themselves in place-based pedagogy.

At the heart of place-based education is the recognition that experiential community-based learning enhances a student’s educational experience by treating the local community as one of the primary sources for teaching and learning. The mission of the CPNWS is to “enhance public and scholarly understanding of the region’s past and present,” and this natural programmatic alignment led Huxley faculty and Heritage Resources staff to recognize an opportunity for collaboration.

In preparation for the on-site visit, Heritage Resources staff arranged a selection of original and archival materials representative of various perspectives of place - including environmental, economic, recreational, and indigenous views - for students to review and analyze. In the Archives Building Research Room, students divided into groups and reviewed the maps, photographs, pamphlets, letters, and other materials. Together they considered issues related to the construction of cultural and regional identity, the evolution of policy, perceptions of concepts such as “conservation” and “wilderness,” and the significance of place names in determining cultural values. Course instructor and NCI Graduate Program Coordinator Joshua Porter posed several challenging questions, which led to lively and interactive class discussions.

Different resources on each table give you insight in terms of both the media and the policy – How does the creation of information determine the ‘value’ of whatever is being discussed? What is the leverage you have if you are creating these maps? What is your leverage in terms of conveying to the world what matters, what has value, what has meaning?” asked Porter.

Several students questioned what could be the implications for the cultural heritage of a place when traditional native names were removed and replaced with new names. Others pointed out how some of the maps were defined in terms of resource extraction rather than conservation. When looking at the photographs, some students observed how having access to archival materials like these gave them a glimpse into the lives of people from the past, bringing them closer despite the passage of time and changes in cultural contexts. Often these glimpses inspired unexpected insights and additional questions.

“Although there was a lack of reciprocity in terms of resource extraction, it’s also impossible to miss the level of intimacy between the people and the land in these photographs, even if the conservation policy was lacking at that time. It would be so interesting to talk to these people. The photographs capture historical moments as opposed to all of the moments of everyday life. Another mode of inquiry would also be interesting to pursue,said student Liz Blackman.

After this observation, Roz Koester, Assistant Archivist for Outreach and Instruction for Heritage Resources, was quick to mention the oral histories that are also contained at the CPNWS, and invited Blackman to return if she would like to further explore those personal narratives. Koester explained that oral histories offer an opportunity to hear from the people we are interested in first-hand and in their own words. She also mentioned that sometimes people will begin their research with certain expectations about what they are going to find, but often their perspectives will alter as a result of the information they encounter.

“Exploring these types of complexities is part of the beauty of working with primary sources. You can come to these materials with a bias and that is where you start your inquiry, but the records that are here can present an opportunity to challenge that bias. Original, archival, primary source research offers us insight that can make us challenge our own assumptions, our own points of view. You might be led in a completely different direction than what you originally intended. As archivists, it’s the critical analysis piece that we really want people to get out of this experience,” explained Koester.

The class concluded with Porter leading a discussion about how students and educators can benefit in utilizing the materials offered by Heritage Resources to explore the relationship between how meaning is constructed, how cultural values are expressed, the impact this can have on policy and information creation, and how this in turn affects our own assumptions about both people and place. Porter also pointed out that as environmental educators, the students should remember that no matter where they go once they have completed graduate school, they can use archival and primary source materials to benefit their future teaching and learning practices.

“Moving forward, I really encourage all of us to continue to do research here, but also to keep in mind what resources there are in every community that we enter into in the future, how to sleuth out those resources and how, as educators, we can uses these sources,” stated Porter.

Heritage Resources is a division of Western Libraries which includes the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies, Special Collections, and the University Archives & Records Management. Together the three programs provide for responsible stewardship of unique and archival materials in support of teaching, learning, and research. If you’d like to learn more about the Heritage Resources Instruction Program, or are interested in discussing how Heritage Resources can support your teaching and learning needs, please contact Heritage.Resources@wwu.edu or phone (360) 650-6621.