Letter from the Editor
Archival Literacy; Documentary Heritage; Historic Preservation and U.S. Presidential Libraries
More than 50 years have passed since Hugh Taylor’s groundbreaking "Turning Undergraduates Loose in the Archives" was introduced at the 1971 Society of American Archivists annual meeting (Taylor, 1971). Now in the 21st Century, archival and documentary heritage education have taken on exponential growth in colleges and universities across the United States of America. A plethora of innovative instructional practices has emerged using archives and special collections, along with a host of professional journals and books, teeming with pedagogical frameworks. These frameworks are utilizing planned curriculum designs such as (a) placed-based education; (b) inquiry-based learning; (c) archival literacy theory; and (d) cultural heritage education, are defining new pathways for teaching and learning. In addition, the 1998 Boyer Commission Report (BCR) advocated for undergraduate students to actively receive inquiry-based learning opportunities to foster problem-solving, discovery and critical investigation (BCR, 1998). Today, the Boyer Report has fomented a groundswell of rich and intersecting archival educational literacies that are occurring in secondary and post-secondary classrooms. In addition, disciplines such as English, Rhetoric and Composition, History, Political Science, Art History, Graphic Design, Architecture, and others, are championing the development and implementation of archival programs designed to promote and build critical thinking, research, critical information literacy, and knowledge creation skills.
Given the growing significance of archives and their capacity to promote knowledge creation, place and inquiry-based instruction are experiencing renewed interest. In a critical and sometimes significant commentary about American education, John Dewey argued that “learning is based on discovery guided by mentoring rather than on the transmission of information” (BCR, p. 15). This means students should have opportunities to be placed in environments that elicit discovery, while transmitting their insights about a diverse range of subjects. In my teaching, while working in collaboration with Ola Seif, who is the Curator for the Photographic Collection, as well as other colleagues in AUC’s Rare Books and Special Collections Library (RBSCL), I engage my students with artifacts that complement visual literacy pedagogies in Rhetoric and Composition. These teaching and learning examples have required the creation of descriptive tools and visual literacy rubrics designed to embrace the changing meaning of literacy, using both language and images. Within this context, when archives and special collections are understood and recognized as one of many innovative instructional pathways, faculty and students can foster communities of learners while consciously producing and applying new knowledge across a range of disciplines.
In this issue of Rhetoric Today, we delve into exploring: What is the significance of undergraduate research in the archives. How can archives promote individual enlightenment, and self-understanding, while cultivating human knowledge? In short, using pictorial essays, we take a critical look at protocol documents and photographs from The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum that reveal the planning and execution of the U.S. State Dinner for President and Mrs. Muḥammad Anwar al-Sadat. From the annals of historic preservation, we celebrate the Egyptian government’s cultural campaign and capital investment in The Royal Carriages Museum, in order to protect its essential character. Also, in an interview with Dr. Leon Litvack, who is the Principal Editor of The Charles Dickens Letters Project, we talked about his commitment to preserve the integrity and legacy of the Letters from those posing as genuine epistles but are later revealed as impostors. Finally, Aliaa Hamad offers a broad overview of the Department of Rhetoric and Composition’s writing minor. In doing so, she reveals how the minor focuses on creative, analytical, as well as professional writing skills.
- Boyer, E.L. (1998). The Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University, Reinventing Undergraduate Education on: A Blueprint for America’s Research Universities. Stony Brook, NY.
- Taylor, H.A. (1972). Clio in the Raw: Archival Materials and the Teaching. American Archivist. 35, 3-4: 317.