Holding History: A Pedagogical Approach to Archival Outreach

Laura Schmidt


My poster focuses on student and community engagement in special collections and archives. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, there is an organization called Holding History in which undergraduate and graduate “curators” study 1-4 books located in the special collections department and present their research to groups of community members and high school students. I propose that this form of presentation is much more effective in terms of engagement and community outreach than traditional pedagogical and outreach approaches to archives. By having students pick and present materials from a specific collection and following an overarching theme, students receive hands-on experience researching within an archive. In 2016, Holding History focused on Shakespeare in tandem with an exhibition of the First Folio and many Shakespeare events statewide. The students pulled materials that ranged from 17th century scientific texts to contemporary interpretations of his work and presented it to interested community members. Students not only gain confidence in their research and public speaking skills, but they also engage with the archive in a personalized and guided way. The Holding History format pushes against the traditional classroom archival assignment, because the students must engage with the materials well enough to present to people who would not typically patronize an archive or special collections. In some cases, these presentations are the first time community members have interacted with rare materials and for many it may be their first time in such an institution. By having students present the materials instead of the librarians, the program provides a context simultaneously accessible and personal. My poster will examine past Holding History events and propose ways in which it can adapt to other contexts and institutions.


Laura Schmidt graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s iSchool with an MA in May of 2017. Her research interests include archival pedagogy and outreach, with a focus on rare books and manuscripts. She is particularly interested in Artists’ Books, material culture, and how working with objects can enhance research. She currently works at Wisconsin’s Special Collections and she plans on applying to PhD programs in the fall.