Special Collections Instruction Support

Ways Special Collections Supports Your Teaching

  1. Customized resource guides—we will create guides to our resources tailored to specific courses or assignments. Just give us a bit of notice. See examples.
  2. Consultations on possible assignments—unsure if or how you can take advantage of Special Collections for your students?  We’ll be happy to work with you to come up with assignments to meet your needs.
  3. Orientations for classes—we will give your class a one-hour introduction to finding and using our materials.
  4. Specialized course activities—we gladly host classes or individual students to work on assignments using our collections.
  5. Digitization of our materials—we will be happy to provide digitized copies of our materials (where possible) for use in Blackboard or in your presentations.  This could be especially useful for larger classes.
  6. “Show and tell”—if you just want to give your students a chance to see manuscripts or rare books relating to the subject of your course, we can do a “show-and-tell” presentation in Special Collections, or, for large classes, in your classroom.


Learn more about Special Collections >

Suggestions for Assignments

Topical blitz of sources—during a class visit, each student or group is assigned a different rare book, periodical, or manuscript to analyze as a source for research on the course’s subject.  The students then do brief oral or written reports on their assigned source exposing the entire class to a range of sources.  This could be an introduction to a more in-depth research project.

Letters or diaries—assign students to read one or more letters or diary excerpts related to the subject of the course. Then you decide how in-depth the students should go as they create a list of what information the source provides and what questions it raises, identify the author and situation, transcribe, and/or annotate.

Curriculum history—explore the history of your discipline by studying curriculum changes through the university's catalog, departmental records, faculty files, and lecture or course notes in the University Archives.

Sermons and speeches—have students examine and analyze the text of one or more sermons or speeches, with the questions varying depending on the purpose of the course.  We have an abundant supply of both unpublished and published sermons and speeches.

Natural history —assign students to compare the descriptions and images of animals or plants in older natural history books to present-day images.  We have Audubon, Curtis's Botanical Magazines, The Naturalists' Library, and other well-illustrated rare books.

New edition —students are assigned to find a book or pamphlet related to the course subject that deserves to be reprinted in a modern edition.  The student could then write an annotated introduction to the new edition, including a publication history, explanation of the book’s importance, content analysis, etc.

Periodical analysis —each student could be assigned a different issue/periodical to analyze, either as an artifact or a research source.  Possibilities include literary magazines, annual registers, religious journals, reform organizations’ journals, etc.

Artists’ books/fine press books —students analyze different fine press books: art students could analyze the details of the presentation and how it fits together, while English students could analyze how the presentation affects the meaning.

Poetry —we have poetry in several formats, including original poems in manuscript form, poems copied into commonplace books, and poems printed in books and magazines.  Analysis could include the physical manifestation of the poem and how that affects meaning/interpretation.

Plays —have students read (or act out) one of the many plays available in manuscript or published form, including some performed at William and Mary in years past.  Have them analyze what the play tells them about the time period in which it was written or performed.

Multiple editions —students could compare different editions of the same book to analyze changes in its interpretation and presentation.

Consumer research —students could analyze ads from magazines and newspapers to determine how consumerism/marketing has changed over time.  Alternatively, they could use account books and ledgers to determine what people were buying and selling in different eras or what sorts of activities were possible within a household, based on its possessions.

Political cartoons —students could evaluate political cartoons for viewpoints, symbols, effectiveness.  We have modern political cartoons by Hugh Haynie and earlier ones in magazines such as Puck (we have issues from 1890-1891).

Exploration/travel narratives —have students individually or in groups analyze a travel or exploration narrative in our rare books.  Depending on the discipline, they could look for descriptions of flora and fauna, accounts of interactions with different peoples, the reactions of the writer, etc.

Sheet music —have students perform the music, if they can.  Students also can analyze sheet music—why was this song published?  How did this particular edition differ from earlier or later arrangements?  How was the music presented physically on the sheet?  Who was the audience?  What does it tell us about its times?

Lesson Plans

In an effort to assist K-12 teachers as well as university faculty where appropriate, we have also developed lesson plans for some of our collections available online. These lesson plans were created for grades 8-11 in the areas of United States and Virginia History and could certainly be adopted for other levels.

  • Richard Manning Bucktrout Daybook and Ledger:
    Richard Manning Bucktrout's "Daybook and Ledger" tracks the daily activities of an important Williamsburg, Virginia businessman in the 16 years before, during and after the Civil War. Starting in 1850, the Daybook offers an intriguing glimpse into the daily lives (and deaths) of Williamsburg's citizens.
  • Mary Comes to the College:
    Mary Comes to the College with William follows the first year women were admitted to the College of William and Mary, beginning with the endorsement of the proposed legislation by the College's Board of Visitors on February 12, 1918, through the end of the spring term in 1919 using a blog format.
  • Manuscript and Rare Book Grab Bag:
    This offers a sampler of treasures from Swem Library's manuscript and rare book collections. These treasures represent gifts and purchases over the last ninety years. Many of the items are classics in their own right; others are representative of larger collections. All are landmark works which reflect Swem Library's diversity and strength. Unfortunately, this website cannot convey the strength in collections of materials relating to non-elites: cabinetmakers, carpenters, slaves, servants, women. In choosing to exhibit what curators refer to as treasures, we chose single works which are highlights of our holdings. We invite researchers to visit our library and explore all of our collections.
  • William Taylor Civil War Letters
    Letters, September 1862 through October 1864, from Captain William Taylor, a soldier in the Pennsylvania Regiment during the American Civil War. The letters were written from camps in Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Tennessee, Mississippi, Indiana, and Maryland to his wife Jane McKnight Taylor. Included are his descriptions of the Battle of Fredericksburg, the shelling of Vicksburg, the fighting, retreat, and siege outside of Knoxville, the siege of Petersburg, and the Petersburg mine explosion and assault.
  • World War II Scrapbook
    How was World War II experienced by a soldier abroad? What does a scrapbook reveal about these experiences? Students will analyze a scrapbook from World War II in order to more fully understand the period and its effects. This will include interpreting experiences from many different perspectives, including soldiers, military leaders, and other noncombatants. They will also practice using photography as a primary source in historical research.
  • Molly Elliot Seawell Papers
    How do primary source documents inform us about events in the past? Students will practice analyzing primary sources to learn about life and the role of women during the emergence of Modern America.