Manuscripts in the Flesh: Collections-Based Learning with Medieval Manuscripts at the University of Victoria

Shailoo Bedi, Heather Dean, Adrienne Williams Boyarin


Instruction with primary sources in cultural heritage institutions has shifted dramatically from show-and-tell tours of collections to hands-on learning opportunities. However, how students engage with primary sources, and the effectiveness of primary-source instruction, remains an emerging area of study. There is a growing body of professional literature and online resources supporting primary-source instruction, but there are few studies of the impact of collections-based teaching on learning, or of the sustained use of collections-based teaching across a full academic term. This article discusses experiential learning with primary sources and its remarkable impact on student learning and engagement. The authors share findings from empirical research measuring this impact through the study of a semester-long undergraduate course on medieval manuscripts. Employing a mixed-methodology approach (pre-assessment and post-assessment surveys and reflective journaling), the authors assess learner perceptions and engagement alongside the development of measurable primary-source literacy skills. They demonstrate the effectiveness of collections-based learning with rare and unique materials, particularly when implemented alongside related pedagogical approaches such as collaborative learning methods, pedagogies of care, metacognition, and active learning strategies.

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