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University history course sharpens research skills, shapes perspectives

Imagine what it was like in the 1940s on the Georgia College campus. WAVES filled the dorms training for deployment and there was universal concern about the future of the world.  

First-year students enrolled in the new section, titled From Brown and Gold to Green and Blue: the History of Georgia College, get to conduct research to help uncover the history of the university.

Sponsored by the Russell Library as part of a first-year experience seminar through GC Journeys, the course is led by digital archivist and assistant professor of library science Holly Croft. 

The library currently offers the GC1Y course, Research in the Age of Google, but this is the inaugural semester of the GC-specific history course. The library intends to offer the course next spring, as well. 

“I thought it would be really interesting to focus a GC1Y on the strength of our collections, which is the history of Georgia College,” said Croft. 


Students tour the Special Collections galleries, located in the Heritage Hall

For many of the students enrolled in the course, this is their first experience conducting research in an archive or special collections.

“In our first instruction session, I did our normal introduction to archives instruction with them,” she said. “That was fantastic to hear them say about the objects, ‘Can we touch these?’ and of course we said, ‘Yes, please touch the objects, use them, and tell me what you learn about them.’”  

 


A display case dedicated to WAVESHistory major Ashley Johnson, who is interested in pursuing museum studies, says the hands-on experience is important. 

 

“I think it makes it easier to understand what we are learning in class and how things actually were,” said Johnson. “Instead of just hearing about it, you’re able to see this is exactly what someone wore, what their WAVES uniforms looked like, and I can even touch it.”

 

The course is research-heavy, and Croft has taken a creative approach to introducing the students to research methods. In the first assignment, students were asked to choose an object from Special Collections and write a research analysis of the object. From there, their research is published to the Special Collections blog, Dispatches from Penitentiary Square. 

 

“They’re walking away from the project having learned how to do primary source research in a special collections, but they also now have a written piece that is published on a professional blog,” Croft explained. 

 

The major assignment for the course is a letters project in which students create a persona relating to a specific time period at Georgia College, and write ten to twelve separate letters as the persona. 

“They’re really a neat group of students in the first place, but it was really great to see what they wanted to learn because I told them, ‘You’re going to intensively learn about this period of Georgia College because you’re going to write these letters.’” 


Holly Croft speaks to students about the gallery exhibits

The letters must also be accurate in what was going on in the world of their chosen persona because that affects the persona, too, particularly during important historical events, like World War II and Vietnam. 

For marketing major Jackson Wayland, the course has shed light on historical aspects of various time periods, but he was particularly struck by the happenings on campus in the late 1800s. 

 

“I knew that it was a women’s college, but I didn’t know where it transitioned or when,” he said. “It was very restricting because of the time period and the rights women had at the time.”

 

Accounting major Owen Perrine chose to research what Georgia College would have been like through the eyes of a female student in the 1980s. “I wanted to pick a time in which something interesting occurred with the school, so when I found that an educational exchange happened with China in 1987, I thought it was a perfect time to use.”

All three students agreed the course has fostered a sense of connection to Georgia College. 

“I think knowing about the history is most important for connecting the student to the school,” said Perrine. 

Johnson agrees. “You think about the history, and it shapes your perspective of what’s going on now. I think it better connects you to the school because you’re not just going to class here, you’re living here and you’re a part of it.”

 

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