Primary Sources in Teaching: Collaborations Between Libraries and Faculty

Sponsored by Adam Matthew
Recorded on 04/24/2018

Posted in Primary Sources and Special Collections

Higher education courses in the arts, humanities and social sciences are increasingly encouraging students to work with original documents. Teachers and instructors are setting their students primary material – including manuscripts, audio-visual records, and data – to work on. The availability of such material in online collections is helping to boost this initiative.

In this session we look at how collaboration between libraries, teaching faculty and students can create an environment in which teaching with digital primary sources can inspire a new generation of thinkers, while encouraging valuable analytical and critical thinking skills.


Dr. George Oberle

History Librarian and Affiliate Faculty
George Mason University

George D. Oberle III received his Ph.D. in History from George Mason University. His dissertation titled “Institutionalizing the Information Revolution: Debates over knowledge institutions in the early American republic” studies the impact of the “information revolution” in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for the development of the early republic in the United States. This revolution centered around questions of how to provide access to useful knowledge to the nation’s citizenry while also assuring that this knowledge was authentic and promoted the public good. He currently serves as the History Librarian at George Mason University and has held several librarian faculty appointments sine 2004. In this role he has helped faculty members integrate online primary sources into their teaching, most notably helping to build a new program for history majors that focuses on research skills and using primary source material.

Dr. Michael Žmolek 

University of Iowa

Michael Andrew Žmolek teaches World History, International Studies and Development Studies at the University of Iowa. He teaches on a variety of courses, including HIST:1010 History Matters: The Russian Revolution of 1917. As part of this class, he encouraged his students to use digitised film content from the Soviet Union and other communist countries, alongside other primary material. He will discuss student reactions to this material, and his thoughts on teaching through encouraging students to explore their own primary research.

His book Rethinking the Industrial Revolution (Brill 2013; Haymarket 2014) explores five centuries of English/British history and is part of a broader effort to understand the nature and origins of capitalism. He is currently part of a team writing a world history textbook for Cognella Publishers. Mike received a BA in Linguistics and a Certificate of African studies at Iowa before going on to complete his PhD in Political Science at York University in Toronto, where he served as an executive of the Graduate Students’ Association for four years. As a legislative assistant in Congress, his work focused on addressing the plight of Gulf Coast survivors of Hurricane Katrina and on drafting articles of impeachment against President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for representatives Cynthia McKinney (GA) and Dennis Kucinich (OH). As an activist he has worked on the campaign to abolish apartheid in South Africa; opposing tuition hikes for students in Canada; and opposing the bombing, sanctions and military occupation of Iraq.

Kelsey Waters 

California State University, Fullerton

Kelsey Waters is a senior at California State University, Fullerton. She is in her final semester of undergraduate studies and is taking a pilot course at Fullerton that extends the senior capstone research project from one semester into two semesters. This extension allows for greater depth to the project, and a better understanding of the historiography and methodology that underpins it. Her research focuses on nursing and the role of women in medicine and the military during the revolutionary period.

Kelsey has taken multiple colonial and revolutionary era classes and has been using digitised primary source material from the period in all of them. Her tutor for these courses has been Dr Jessica Stern, who has encouraged extensive use of source materials often considered difficult for undergraduate students – in particular, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century manuscripts. Kelsey will discuss her own research with these collections, and the experience of her and her peers in working with such material.