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Unfolding stories

Archive Essentials course aims to demystify archives for students

special feature: Welcome Week 2018

Part of a special back to school featuring student voices, student success and important resources available to Memorial University students.


By Janet Harron

Memorial’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences is home to a number of archival spaces that contain unique collections reflecting the history, language, oral culture, folkways and popular culture of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Maritime History Archive is in the Henrietta Harvey building on the St. John’s campus.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

These archives are, in a sense, a physical representation of Memorial University’s “special obligation to the citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Maritime History Archive (MHA), housed in the basement of the Henrietta Harvey/Math building, collects documents relating to the history of maritime activities in Newfoundland and Labrador and the North Atlantic. It is the largest collection of its kind in the world and everything in it is one-of-a-kind.

“Unlike libraries, archives are a bit of a mystery,” said archivist Heather Wareham, who has worked in the MHA for 40 years. “Many people don’t understand how they work, who gets to use them and why, and how to use them.”

Watch the video below to hear from Memorial students and faculty talk about what archives mean to them.

Archives Essentials

In response to this issue, the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences has launched a project with funding from Memorial’s Teaching and Learning Framework that aims to increase interest in, and use of, its archives on campus.

Archives Essentials is a modern, flexible, non-credit course on Brightspace hosted by the Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning that provides standardized quality archival training.

Students acquire skills in archival research methods, the care and handling of archival documents, and research communication.

“After completing Archive Essentials, students will understand what an archive is, why archives are important and how to use them,” said Dr. Karen Stanbridge, the academic lead on the project.

You can explore the Maritime History Archive’s website at www.mun.ca/mha.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Students will also learn what causes archival items to deteriorate and how this deterioration can be halted or limited.

The site includes videos, quizzes, and a tour of the MHA. Students can navigate Archives Essentials on their own in approximately three hours or can ask professors to incorporate it into their current courses.

Positive student reaction

Archive Essentials was piloted in Dr. Linda Cohen’s sociology 2230 class during the spring 2018 semester. Student reaction was enthusiastic.

“I truly believe that this online program should be a requirement for students taking any course in the social sciences,” wrote one student in a follow-up survey.

In additional videos on the site, Memorial faculty members Dr. Sonja Boon and Dr. Stephen Crocker, graduate students Erin Mick and Emma Lang, and researcher and writer Jenny Higgins are featured explaining how they have used the archives in their own research.

Have a look at the three different videos below.

“In a library the puzzle is put together for you,” Dr. Boon said in one of the videos. “An archive is more of a puzzle that you have to put together.”

A true team effort, Archives Essentials involved Ms. Wareham, Dr. Stanbridge, staff from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences’ dean’s office and graduate student Mandy Rowsell, who all deftly managed the project from inception to launch. The committee extends a special thank you to CITL for their in-kind contribution and to director Adrian Collins for his dedicated efforts.

More information about the project can be found online here.

The course can be accessed directly here.


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