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Teaching with Special Collections


Image of looking down at a large table with people studying.

Faculty are encouraged to bring their classes to Special Collections. Class sessions can be customized and may include:

  • An introduction to using archival or primary sources for research.
  • Instruction on how to locate archival and other primary sources at SSU and beyond.
  • Overviews of subject specific collections and related resources.
  • Explorations of an array of unique materials within our collections.

Ideally, visiting classes will have time to spend with collection materials. Though handling is limited with fragile materials, our goal is to provide a hands-on experience for students. Assignments that make use of Special Collections materials support critical analysis and engage students in the interpretation of history. Potential student outcomes include:

  • Students learn to identify and evaluate primary sources.
  • Students engage in critical and analytical thinking with regards to primary sources.
  • Students intellectually connect primary and secondary sources.

To make an appointment to bring a group to view any of our Special Collections, contact us at specialcollections@sonoma.edu / 707-664-4152, or use our online request form.

Examples of Teaching with Special Collections Materials

How do students and faculty use our Special Collections? How might you incorporate them into teaching your unique subjects?  We are happy to discuss your specific project with you at any time.

Among the SSU Library’s many Special Collections:

  • The Lynn Woolsey Congressional Papers have been used by History and Political Science students and faculty to analyze environmental issues and the history of social welfare advocacy.
  • The Gaye LeBaron Collection, perhaps the mostly widely used collection, has drawn Environmental Studies and History students, in particular.
  • The Dust Bowl Migration Archive has been used by scholars across the United States and around the world.
  • Rare books and manuscripts, including first editions by Charles Dickens and Jack London, books by prestigious publishers such as Black Sparrow Press and the Book Club of California, original letters by Ernest Hemingway, and original photographs from the 1906 Earthquake.

Here are a few examples of the lively exchanges between campus students and faculty who have delved into the Library’s Special Collections materials:

Black and white image of several girls looking out a window.

Photograph by John LeBaron for the Press Democrat newspaper, 1953.

Course:  WGS 325 (Youth: Gender Perspectives)

Don Romesburg, Professor of Women's and Gender Studies, stumbled upon a passing mention to a multi-day riot in 1953 at the Los Guilucos School for Girls (a juvenile justice facility at the edge of Santa Rosa), and an initial report indicated the riot was related to interracial and sexual issues between the girls. This event became a national media sensation, led to the resignation of the detention center’s director, prompted an official report, and provoked the reassignment of numerous girls to other institutions. It has never been the topic of a significant historical study. Students in the Youth: Gender Perspectives course sought out materials related to the riots from archives and special collections in several Northern California locations, including our own Gaye LeBaron Collection and the Press Democrat newspaper. An ideal class project--an investigative mystery involving gender, race, class, sexuality, and age.
Two research guides, one specifically for the class and one on archival research, were created to facilitate students' work, and the class will publish the results of their research to OutHistory.org in 2015.

Image of a painting of a man and woman walking, they both have backpacks.

Course: ENG 101 (Jack London's Valley of the Moon and its time)

A semester-long study of Jack London’s Valley of the Moon led Professor Iris Dunkle’s English 101 students on a journey of discovery. They studied not just the novel but its time and place, California’s North Bay in 1913. The class was introduced to the Library’s Jack London Collection, which includes first editions of London’s novels and stories in serial form, and to the idea of archival research. Student readings and class discussions, ads in magazines housed in the collection, and historical research on topics as diverse as boxing and the role of women in early 20th century California all led to final papers worth a good portion of the course grade.

Image of a painting of a man showing a drawer full of eggs.

Course: ENG 101 (Timeline Research Project)

The Library’s Timeline project became the focus of a creative research and writing assignment for students in Professor Angie Evins’ English 101 course. The result was the expansion of a fledgling interactive geolocation project. Students were given a research topic on a person, place, or event of historical importance in the North Bay. After an introduction to the Library’s Special Collections and appointments as needed with a Special Collections librarian, each student created a brief topical essay using available resources, after which all entries were vetted, edited, and added to the Timeline along with a relevant image. With this project, in addition to receiving a byline on the Timeline itself, students practiced researching and writing for the public, as well as learning to work with an editorial supervisor at the Library.