Assignment Ideas: Primary Evidence

“Permeating and informing serious inquiry across the curriculum, a QEP centered on primary evidence enables us to ground our intellectual processes and imbue our creative exchange across disciplines with a shared sense of purpose that will strengthen the coherence of an Emory education, enliven our academic community, and empower Emory students as independent scholars and collaborative thinkers” (“Proposal for a QEP Plan Centered on Primary Evidence and Original Thought”).

“If we view the Web itself as ‘the most important archive ever created’ (Miller and Bowdon 594) or ‘the largest document ever written; stored in a digital archive’ (Gitelman 128), we and our students daily serve as archivists and archival researchers” (James Purdy, “Three Gifts of Digital Archives,” 27).

Collecting, collating, preserving, synthesizing, analyzing, and producing primary evidence is central to all academic disciplines, the lynchpin of critical thinking, and the first plank of the Emory College of Arts and Science Scholarly Mission. The Quality Enhancement Plan also emphasizes primary evidence because it is the “inherent basis of all intellectual life at Emory.”

To enrich coursework and learning outcomes students must gain the skills necessary to discriminate among primary and secondary sources; craft arguments, grant proposals, or lab reports from primary evidence; and make original contributions to their areas of study.

Because emphasizing primary evidence is often synonymous with emphasizing the local, the QEP suggests Emory students immerse themselves in campus archives such as the MARBLE, Carlos Museum, Pitts Theology Library, Woodruff Health Sciences Center Library, Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, and Carter Center.

New forms of digital technology help to situate students as user-creators of archival material and primary evidence. That is to say that now more than ever before students can contribute genuinely to knowledge by collecting, editing, translating, transcribing, witnessing, and intervening in studies and discourses encoded in archival material. Tactical media projects in the multimodal classroom are uniquely suited to the style of archival activism in which Emory has a long history of participation.

“In Possession of Community: Toward a More Sustainable Local. Shannon Carter and James H. Conrad think through the obligations and responsibilities scholars take-on when collecting and archiving primary evidence historically underrepresented communities. The authors treat archival work as a “rhetorical practice” to ensure they remain mindful that “archivists actually co-create and shape knowledge in records and thus help form society's memory” (Nesmith 27 qtd Carter, et. al. 87). While “co-creation” acts as a warning to would be archivists, the collaborative dimension of primary source collection is also a occasion for novice researchers to think crucially about the ways their intervention shapes discourse.

“(Per)Forming Archival Research Methodologies”Lynee Gaillet surveys the state of archival research and the collection, collation, and synthesis of primary source evidence in the classroom and the field of composition studies after the digital turn. Gaillet discusses a range of sources useful to archival work and multimodal pedagogy such ways researchers shape primary evidence; expanding range of primary evidence; making “knowledge rather than simply adding to what’s already known;” and the benefits and drawbacks to tech. She discusses the following useful sources: “Drama in the Archives: Rereading Methods, Rewriting History;” Local Histories: Reading the Archives of Composition; and Beyond the Archives: Research as a Lived Process; Working in the Archives: Practical Research Methods in Rhetoric and Composition

Multimodal Research Project. This semester long multimodal research assignment sequence from Hobart and William Smith Colleges emphasizes collaboration, critical thinking, and integration of tactile and digital primary and secondary source material.