Students Explore Alma College's 125-year History
How unique is Alma College’s 125-year history? Students in a new course will find out while spending the semester in the library’s archives.
Kristin Olbertson, assistant professor of history, says "Histories of Alma College" will introduce students to historical content as well as methods of historical research, analysis and composition. She also hopes it will have a more personal effect on them.
“I hope they gain confidence in their ability to conduct research in primary sources, analyze what they find and present their analysis,” she says. “I also hope they are proud of what they end up publishing.”
The course was inspired by Olbertson’s work with a student who was researching his fraternity for an independent study.
He unearthed a huge quantity of historical records in his fraternity house, and she encouraged him to continue his research in the library. What he found there surprised her.
“When he reported back that the most recent history of the College was written 25 years ago, it occurred to me that an updated history needed to be written,” she says. “Unlike previous histories, I felt that this one should be written by students.”
Olbertson thought a student-written history of the College would work best if structured like an online historical encyclopedia, consisting of relatively short entries focused on different topics.
“I thought publishing the history online, rather than in printed form, would make it available to a wider audience, including prospective students, alumni and members of the community,” she says. “It also makes it possible to easily augment it in the future.”
With such a great course idea in mind, Olbertson only had one problem: time. Already scheduled to teach three courses this winter semester, she didn’t have the space in her schedule to teach another course. Luckily, Jamie Smith, assistant professor of history, did.
“When I mentioned my idea to Jamie and asked if she’d be interested in teaching such a course, she was immediately enthusiastic about it,” she says. “I’m so glad she was able and willing to teach it because she’s such a dynamic and innovative teacher.”
Jamie Smith, sitting on steps, teaches a class outside.
By encouraging students’ input, Smith plans to grow the course organically. While exploring what has been written and what stories have been told, she hopes students will figure out what they want to know about the College.
“I want them to be able to shape this experience,” she says. “Kristin and I both hope this will be a real adventure in history.”
Because Alma is celebrating its 125th anniversary, Smith says this course couldn’t be offered at a better time. But that’s not all that makes the course unique.
“As far as students having the opportunity to write and publish their college’s history, I’m not aware of any examples besides Alma,” says Olbertson. “I hope this course will be offered on a regular basis.”
Posted: Wed, January 26th, 2011 at 12:42PM