Treating the Digital Disease: The Role of Digital and Physical Primary Sources in Undergraduate Teaching

Melissa Grafe


In early 2019, a Yale University research team composed of librarians and staff from the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning engaged in an Ithaka S+R study investigating the teaching needs of instructors using primary sources at the undergraduate level in the humanities and social sciences. After interviewing instructors and analyzing the results, the Yale team issued a report describing motivations for teaching with primary sources, how such sources are incorporated into classroom pedagogy, and challenges identified by the interviewees. In this article, I examine the particular meanings assigned to physical and digital primary sources by the instructors interviewed, and why physical primary sources continue to resonate with faculty in an overwhelmingly digital world. The COVID-19 pandemic has radically altered the primary source landscape, unsurprisingly accelerating the use of digital primary sources while leaving the role of physical collections in teaching in an uncertain territory.

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