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The book, “More Than a Memory: Exploring Purdue University’s History Through Objects," was printed in Spring 2017 and was recognized with a Purdue Honors College-sponsored book launch event in late April.

The book, “More Than a Memory: Exploring Purdue University’s History Through Objects,” was printed in Spring 2017 and was recognized with a Purdue Honors College-sponsored book launch event in late April.

The research paper is a fact of life in college. If you have completed a college-level class, it’s almost guaranteed you have received a syllabus that instructed you to format a paper according to a particular academic style and directed you to turn in a double-digit-page composition citing at least three-to-five (or more) sources. While many college students get hung up on the number of pages required, it’s likely there are just as many who lament how many sources—and about their type: primary or secondary—they will have to read and consult to meet the minimum source-number requirements for the assignment.

But for students in the Spring 2016 Purdue University Honors College course “Interdisciplinary Approaches to Writing” 199 (section 03), co-taught by Kristina Bross, associate professor in the English dept., and Neal Harmeyer, an archivist in Purdue Archives and Special Collections (ASC), the oft-dreaded assignment resulted in getting their work published by the Purdue University Press—an unexpected perk for the inevitable undergrad research paper assignment. According to Harmeyer, the book, “More Than a Memory: Exploring Purdue University’s History Through Objects” (which is also available as an e-book via e-Pubs, Purdue Libraries’ open access repository) was printed this spring and was recognized with a Purdue Honors College-sponsored book launch event in late April.

In the 2016 course, the students, through honing their writing, sought to understand the history of Purdue University and to recover the student experience at the turn of the 20th century. Harmeyer added the course also provided students with a way to learn about primary-source research and gain hands-on experience working with the collections and artifacts stored in the ASC.


Students in the Spring 2016 Purdue University Honors College course “Interdisciplinary Approaches to Writing” 199 (section 03), co-taught by Kristina Bross, associate professor in the English dept., and Neal Harmeyer, an archivist in the Purdue Archives and Special Collections, a division of Purdue University Libraries.

Students in the Spring 2016 Purdue University Honors College course “Interdisciplinary Approaches to Writing” 199 (section 03), co-taught by Kristina Bross (far right, seated), associate professor in the English dept., and Neal Harmeyer (left, next to Bross in foreground of photo), an archivist in the Purdue Archives and Special Collections, a division of Purdue University Libraries.


Neal Harmeyer, Purdue Archives and Special Collections

Neal Harmeyer, Purdue Archives and Special Collections

“Over the course of the semester, we asked the students to go through the collections, pick an object—a photo, a personal memento of some sort, or a document, perhaps—and then ask and answer three questions: 1. What is in front of you? 2. What do you think about what you’re seeing? and 3. What could this mean? We used this approach as a scaffolded step of deliberation and archival research methodology to help inform their writing,” Harmeyer explained. “From the class, 10 of the 13 students agreed to have their works published. The book, ‘More Than a Memory,’ provides a snapshot of the sources they found and the final outcomes of their individual research.”

Each student who agreed to have their work published received a few copies of the book to keep and to share. Their individual compositions included the image (a scan or photo) of the object they each chose, a little bit of background about themselves, and about 900 words or so about their research, their insights, and the object itself.

Extending Student Writing and Research

According to Bross, when she was first approached about teaching the class, she knew she wanted to have students research issues/topics that would matter to them, that would feel “real.”

“Having students dive into special collections is a sure way to give them that experience,” Bross said. “I’ve asked students to do archival searches for years, so I know they respond well to such assignments, and I think it’s especially important for students to know something about the history of Purdue,” she added.

Kristina Bross, associate professor of English at Purdue University and director of the Purdue College of Liberal Arts Honors program.

Kristina Bross, associate professor of English at Purdue University and director of the Purdue College of Liberal Arts Honors program.

The collaboration between Bross and Harmeyer that went into the spring 2016 course “Interdisciplinary Approaches to Writing” 199 and the book, “More Than a Memory,” was not the first time they worked together to instruct students in this particular Honors course. In 2013, they co-taught the course with the same title, and through their students’ research, they published “Little Else Than a Memory: Purdue Students Search for the Class of 1904,” also printed by Purdue University Press.

“I had been somewhat involved in the course in 2013, but when one of our archivists took a position at another institution about halfway through the semester, I took over her role as co-instructor,” Harmeyer said. “While students in that class implemented a similar project, for the 2016 version of the course, Professor Bross and I planned to focus more on teaching students about archival research and primary-source research. One of our objectives was to get them more accustomed and familiar with the various research avenues they may need to undertake, for whatever their disciplines were, as we had majors enrolled from across the various disciplines in the 2016 version,” he added.

Bross noted the ASC provided a fruitful learning laboratory to accomplish the goals of the course.

For Purdue University students who were enrolled in the Spring 2016 Purdue University Honors College course “Interdisciplinary Approaches to Writing” 199, he oft-dreaded research paper assignment resulted in getting their work published by the Purdue University Press—an unexpected perk.

For Purdue University students who were enrolled in the Spring 2016 Purdue University Honors College course “Interdisciplinary Approaches to Writing” 199, he oft-dreaded research paper assignment resulted in getting their work published by the Purdue University Press—an unexpected perk.

“The Purdue Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections Division is ideal for undergraduate research, not only because it’s local, but also because its faculty and staff are so knowledgeable about Purdue’s history and our collections. In addition, they know how to introduce archival research to undergrads and help them understand the stakes involved in the work they are doing. Having a co-teacher from the ASC makes this course possible—and Neal is simply terrific in that role,” Bross said.

“The interdisciplinary part of the course title is represented by the Archives and the primary sources, and the writing part is Professor Bross helping the students hone their writing,” Harmeyer added. “Over the course, she assigned the students primary sources, dating back centuries, such as diaries and first-person accounts, along with secondary source materials, and she asked them to write about and respond to those. So the two things met in the middle—our idea was they would learn about writing along the way, they would learn about research along the way, and at the end, they would have a research paper.”

As part of the research and writing process, the students also contributed to a blog (see http://ascblogs.lib.purdue.edu/spring2016-honors19903/), “a site devoted to the sharing of undergraduate archival research and scholarship.” The blog was a fundamental component of the course; during the semester, the students composed three responses to their findings, which in turn were posted on the site, Harmeyer said.

“This blog allowed us to see their work in progress. Through it, too—because we encouraged comments on the site—they were able to communicate with one another and experience feedback from the larger community, as well. This site also enabled students to get their research out and think more critically as they were writing,” Harmeyer explained.

“The blog posts were just as—perhaps more important than—their final publications,” Bross added. “Neal was absolutely central to making the website excellent. It was interesting asking them to write about their individual processes, as well as to represent their findings. If we get the chance to teach this class or another like it, I want to think some more about the best way to use in-process digital media to publish their work.”

According to Harmeyer, ASC personnel are committed to keeping the blog site available for future research purposes.

“Not only do the final essays showcase the students’ work, but the research they compiled and shared on in their papers and through their blog posts, also serve as secondary sources. Later, students may be able to build and use their research.”

Harmeyer noted he thinks the course will be offered again, with the Purdue Archives and Special Collections again serving as a laboratory for Purdue students who enroll in it.

“For many of them, it was only their second semester in college, and I could see the light-bulb moments expressed in their faces and in their words: ‘Wow, this is hard… but interesting.’ Overall, I think most of them had that feeling and were extremely rewarded by it.”

Download the full text of “More Than a Memory” at http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/sps_ebooks/9/