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Teaching Spotlight, May 2014: Nicole Johnston

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Nicole Johnston is our guest for this month's Teaching Spotlight. We have looked forward to working with her Textile and Apparel Management students for the last few years, and we're excited to share her thoughts on object-based teaching.

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your interests.

I am Collection Manager of the Missouri Historic Costume and Textile Collection in the Department of Textile and Apparel Management (TAM) and also teach a large Writing Intensive lecture class for TAM titled “Survey of the History of Western Dress.” I have completed two degrees from the University of Missouri, during which time I learned that history, material culture and art are three of my favorite interests. I very much enjoy the hands-on, object-based aspect of material culture and working with the costume collection and in TAM enables me to combine all three of my passions. Teaching, in turn, lets me explore and research these fields in further detail and pass on this knowledge and excitement to my students. Dress, after all, incorporates almost every discipline on the University campus in one way or another, and it’s great to see students make these connections and, in turn, broaden their horizons and stretch their minds.

How do you use Special Collections in your teaching?

1980486As manager of an historic costume collection, I’m a big believer in object-based teaching and learning, and I try to take advantage of as many visual learning opportunities as I can. There is so much more one can learn about an object and its history through seeing and possibly touching the object up close. The object itself, the process of creating the object, it’s use and meaning, all become so much more real through this process, more personal. That’s why my class visits Special Collections every year. This year, in the process of learning about the development of book making and printing technologies, and their impact on dress, we took a closer look at the Collection’s illuminated manuscripts and incunabula. Last year, we looked at the Collection’s primary sources from the 18th century, such as books, journals and fashion magazines, while researching Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, and her social and political uses of dress.

What outcomes resulted from your class visits? What were the effects on your students?

While looking at illuminated manuscripts and incunabula, it was important for students to discover not only how these objects illustrated and reflected dress of multiple periods, but also for students to reflect on the development of these processes and their role in our own modern development. As students become more dependent on the use of technology (and their thumbs) to communicate, and become more anti-social in the process, the value and benefits of the written word – the book – are diminishing. By exposing them to these early methods of communication and their effects on societal development through the dissemination of knowledge and ideas, students develop a deeper appreciation for and understanding of how far we’ve advanced beyond and because of these earlier methods. And, hopefully, even went out and bought a book…

What advice would you give to faculty or instructors interested in using Special Collections in their courses?

Students’ learning experiences are broadened and amplified through the use of objects. Stretching young minds in this manner is a tremendous opportunity that shouldn’t be missed. In the process of discovering and researching history’s rich resources, students learn more about themselves, where they came from and where they’re going, than they ever could without them. The staff at Special Collections will assist in any way they can to create a quality, object-based learning experience for any and all faculty who are interested in incorporating this type of teaching tool into their classroom experience.

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Teaching Spotlight, April 2014: Mark Langeneckert

For the next installment in our Teaching Spotlight feature, we're featuring Mark Langeneckert.  Mark and his students visit our reading room each semester to work with our bookplate collection.  His use of the collections in teaching is a model for those looking to historical collections for creative inspiration.

PhotoI’m an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Art Department. Drawing is my passion and the focus of my teaching. I’m responsible for coordinating the drawing area and leading the study abroad in art to the Netherlands (on even years) and Italy (on odd years).

One of the drawing courses I teach is Illustration. This course requires students to create an original work for a specific visual problem. One assignment is to create a bookplate design that incorporates the students name and the text, Ex Libris, into their work. The assignment is introduced by a visit to Special Collections to view their extensive assortment of historical bookplates. In many cases, this is their first visit to Special Collections.

The impact of this first-hand experience for students has resulted in some of their best work.

In the fall of 2014, I will be teaching a Drawing III course with an emphasis on the Graphic Novel. I look forward to accessing Special Collections resources in developing this new course.

The staff at Special Collections are extremely helpful with gathering materials, offering support and promoting their collection. I would encourage all faculty to consider using this resource in their classroom.

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Teaching Spotlight: Ruth Knezevich

knezevichOur popular teaching spotlight series returns this semester with a fresh look at innovative teaching in Special Collections.  This month's featured educator is Ruth Knezevich, an instructor in the English department at Mizzou.

SC: Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a doctoral candidate and graduate instructor in the English department. My research focuses largely on in late 18th- and early 19th-century British literature with interests in ballad collections, Scottish Romanticism, and the emergence of “folk” literatures. My dissertation in-progress is on footnotes within ethnographic poetry and novels of this timeframe. When I’m not reading, writing, or teaching, I enjoy spending time outdoors and traveling, especially in and around my native northern Minnesota.

At MU, I’ve taught a handful of literature-based courses, including English 1000H (Honors Exposition), English 1210 (Introduction to British Literature), English 2100 (Writing About Literature), English 2159 (Introduction to World Literature), and English 3200 (Survey of British Literature, Beginnings through 1784).

In each of these courses – in addition to teaching critical thinking and reading skills – I like to show students that there are more ways to read a book than breaking down the words on the page, and that there is more to literature than just reading a book and looking at the arrangement of words on a page – each book holds a story of the world around it and the readers who have picked it up, read it, and written in it.

SC: How have you incorporated Special Collections into your teaching?

Each semester, I ensure that I bring my classes to visit Special Collections and spend time learning about various aspects of printing history, reading a book as more than just literature, and letting students get their hands on the materials. And frankly, Rare Books and Special Collections adds variety to times in the semester where we’re all feeling a little bogged down and need a new and exciting way to approach the text.

One semester, I brought my students in Survey of British Literature to Special Collections as a way to break up the monotony of our class discussion on Renaissance poetry. Alla and Kelli brought out a variety of publications and objects featuring the same poems and authors we were reading in class; students were encouraged to dive into reading the primary materials in their original context, outside of the anthology we were using in class. Suddenly, Ben Jonson and Amelia Lanyer came to life for students as they struggled through the centuries-old typography.

I have also asked my honors composition students to actively read selected from Special Collections as objects, carefully analyzing and writing about their thoughts and findings. Students were asked to choose one of the manuscripts or objects that were displayed during our class’s visit to Rare Books and Special Collections, and to spend time with it again outside of class, asking questions of the object, analyzing it, and drawing inferences from their observations of details they might otherwise overlook and then inferring how the book would have been used and who might have used it.

SC: What materials or collections did your students work with?

The various classes I have brought to Special Collections have worked with a wide array of materials and collections, including 19th-century travel writing, publications of Renaissance-era poetry, 18th-century editions of Homer, different antique versions of the Bible, and 16th-century documents addressing the politics of magic and religion.

SC: What outcomes resulted from your class visits?  What were the effects on your students?

In addition to submitting some rich essays from the students detailing their findings from their assignments based on Special Collections, students consistently walk away from their visit in awe, inspired to discover what else is held in Special Collections.

One specific moment that will remain with me is when tears began welling up in one student’s eyes as she held an 800-year-old book. “I’m a part of this book’s history now,” she whispered to a classmate standing next to her. Another student, a college senior, said that the days spent in Rare Books and Special Collections were the highlights of her time in college, and that it was a shame that she was just learning about one of MU’s most exciting resources right as she was about to graduate.

SC: What advice would you give to colleagues interested in using Special Collections in their courses?

When I set aside a day for my class in Special Collections, I often don’t yet know exactly what I want my students to explore. The librarians have consistently helped me figure out the aims and goals of the day’s visit, suggested specific materials, provided samples for follow-up assignments, and offered to lead lectures for the class on topics related to the course.

For instance, I recently taught a unit on Christopher Marlowe’s play, Doctor Faustus, and I had asked the librarians to pull some resources that could be relevant and helpful in exploring the politics of magic and religion expressed in the play. Little did I know that Alla is actually an expert in Renaissance magic! My students were able to get so much more out of the library session than they ever imagined, and more than I could ever offer.

So, the biggest piece of advice that I would give to colleagues interested in using Special Collections in their courses is to use it! The staff in Special Collections is immensely helpful in putting together a productive and exciting day with demonstrations of the materials and offering suggestions for follow-up assignments.

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Posted in Rare Book Collection, Special Collections, Spotlight
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