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Teaching Visual Arts in Special Collections

This guide collects materials related to visual design in Special Collections, particularly poster art, fine printing and comic books.

Class Formats

A visit to Special Collections tends to take one of two forms: tours and workshops.  Each format has its own advantages and disadvantages, which must be weighed against course objectives and student learning styles.

In a tour, the librarian guides students through a thematic collection of items, providing a brief lecture on each one. This allows students to encounter a wide variety of materials without sacrificing a close focus on each individual item. During a tour, the librarian and instructor can draw students' attention to points of interest about each item and answer questions about the relationship between them. Tours are particularly well-suited to students without a background in the history of the book and when the instructor is interested in giving students an overview of materials pertaining to their class topic. The tour format allows students to see the more fragile items in Special Collections without undue risk to the materials, as the librarian is the person handling the items. The disadvantage of tours is that students are comparatively passive during the class session as their direct interaction with the materials is limited.

In a workshop, students are given a brief overview or lecture and are then assigned a set of materials. This allows students to experience the materials first-hand and to study them in greater detail. During a workshop, the librarian and instructor can offer clarifications and advice to students' questions about the items with which they are working. Workshops are particularly well-suited to students with a grounding in either the history of the book or the subject of the materials in question and when instructors are interested in giving students a chance to examine materials in detail. The disadvantage of workshops is that students only rarely interact with the entire range of materials prepared for them, meaning that their focus is overly narrow.

The following are class sessions and activities created by librarians for specific collections and materials at the University of Missouri. Please feel free to use and adapt them for your own classes.

Course Modules

Special Collections librarians and staff have developed a number of stand-alone class modules that can be adapted for different courses. In addition to a course module designed specifically for posters, Special Collections has also developed worksheets and handouts on typography, poster design, and visual rhetoric.

N.B.: The materials lists included in each module only scratch the surface of what is available in Special Collections. Consult with a Special Collections librarian whether other materials might be substituted for the materials listed at the end of each module: doing so will help tailor the module to your class's needs as well as helping to preserve individual items from over-use.

Remote Instruction

Special Collections instruction works best in person: materiality is hard to convey without having the artifacts on hand.  However, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Special Collections has prepared some remote instruction sessions, drawing on digitized versions of collection materials and on digital surrogates provided by other institutions.  The modules can be converted to in-person sessions on request.