Students get more out of their visit if they are required to use the resources in some way. This doesn’t mean that you have to make them write a research paper – a 15-minute activity can teach them a lot about researching and using Special Collections materials. The following are assignment ideas created by librarians for specific collections and materials at the University of Missouri. Please feel free to use and adapt them in your own classes.
Over the course of a semester, as a class, students will curate an exhibition of items in Special Collections and Rare Books on the course topic. Students will cooperatively decide on an exhibition narrative, select items for display, conduct research, and write interpretive texts.
Choose a book in Special Collections, and write its life story. You could focus on its author and the circumstances surrounding its creation, write about its production as a material object, or explain how it came to be in the library. Be as historically accurate and as detailed as possible.
Book Arts / Comic Art
After looking at examples in Special Collections for inspiration, students can produce their own graphic novels / comic books / illuminated manuscripts / propaganda posters / artists’ books… The possibilities for this one are endless, and in fact, we have examples of past student work in the collections.
The Changing City
Special Collections contains a large collection of Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, which document the layout and growth of cities from the late nineteenth century through the middle of the twentieth century. Maps produced prior to 1923 are available in the University of Missouri Digital Library, and those produced after 1923 are available in the Special Collections reading room. We will visit Special Collections as a class to receive instruction on interpreting the maps, using the digital collection, and using maps in the reading room.
You will be assigned a Missouri town or neighborhood to research. Use the Sanborn Maps, class discussions, readings, and additional resources to write a short history of your assigned neighborhood. Note at least three major changes that you can trace through maps or other documentation. What do changes in the neighborhood say about changes in the town? How do the changes you see relate to broader trends in American culture?
Meet the Class of 1918 (or 1919, or 1920...)
As entering freshmen, you are the Class of 2018. During your time at MU, you will become part of the university’s history and traditions, just as the Class of 1918 was. In 1918, the University of Missouri was 79 years old. The Academic Hall Fire that left the Columns standing on the Quad had happened only 26 years earlier. The Journalism School was 10 years old. Most of the campus buildings east of the Quad were still under construction, and Ellis Library was brand new and state-of-the-art.
Explore the student publications, yearbooks, and histories in the University of Missouri Digital Library for the years 1915-1918, and visit the University Archives and Special Collections to see publications and materials that are not yet digitized (including student newspapers such as the Maneater, the MSU Independent, and the Missouri Student).
Write a short paper comparing student life in 1918 to your own experience at MU. You may attempt to follow one student, or write about student life in general. Use the questions below as a guide.
Adapted from “Vanderbilt Visions: Meet the Class of 1912,” ARL SPEC Kit 317: Special Collections Engagement (August 2010). pp 143-144, or available online.
Food and Culture in the Nineteenth Century
Ellis Library has a large collection of nineteenth- and early-twentieth century American cookbooks, nutrition books, and home economics books. Many of these are in Special Collections, but some are in the Depository. The class will visit Special Collections at the beginning of the semester to view the cookbooks and receive an orientation and information about research strategies. Each student will choose a cookbook to investigate. Write a short paper that addresses the following questions:
Anti-War Movements in America
Using the Rare Book Collections, the World War I and II Posters, the Comic Collection, the Political Pamphlet Collection, and various related materials in Special Collections, the class will examine the general history of anti-war sentiment in the United States. The original research paper may perhaps focus on some local event of the past, or may rely on less traditional documents such as anti-war posters, artwork, popular culture, or fiction.
Adapted from “Popular Protest in Cold War America Seminar, Rutgers University,” ARL SPEC Kit 317: Special Collections Engagement (August 2010). pp 141-142, or available online.
Researching the History of American Comic Art
Using the Comic Art Collection at Special Collections, write a research paper that considers American comics in historical context. Options for framing your topic include:
Adapted from Hatfield, Charles. “Comics: Form and Meaning.” English 495CO syllabus, University of California – Northridge, fall 2001. http://www.csun.edu/~ch76854/comicssyllabus.html