By Dr. Susan Guinn-Chipman & Dr. Nicole Jobin
This course portfolio details a collaboration between a history course, The Age of Religious Wars: Reformation Europe, 1500-1648, and Special Collections. Dr. Nicole Jobin, of History and Sewall RAP, and Dr. Susan Guinn-Chipman, of Special Collections, Archives, & Preservation, explore the potential for experiential and object-based learning to foster historical empathy and to affect how we think of the past.
HIST 4212, The Age of Religious Wars: Reformation Europe, 1500-1648 examines the history of Europe from the end of the Hundred Years War through the Thirty Years War. Focused on a period of significant technological, religious, and social change in early modern Europe, the course lends itself to innovative approaches for studying the effects of the print revolution.
We have collaborated on bringing students from lower- and upper-division courses to Special Collections for many years but this course offered us the opportunity to deepen and extend that collaboration. It had been several years since Nicole Jobin last taught HIST 4212, which provided the opportunity to look at the course with fresh eyes and to make several changes. The narrower focus on the relationship of print to the Reformation began with an experiential learning component focused on print technology. Designed to engage directly with the topic, we featured a hands-on experience with the setting of moveable type and letterpress printing in Special Collections. Students’ study of the role of print in an era of reformations and religious warfare drew upon fifteenth- through seventeenth- century manuscripts, incunabula, and other early printed primary sources. By paging through and exploring these rare works, students would gain an understanding of these materials not only for their content but also for their importance as artifacts, creating an opportunity for object-based learning and the development of a historical empathy that complements more traditional, historical approaches to contextualization.
Course goals were consulted in order to draw up more specific goals for three sets of visits to Special Collections, Archives, & Preservation (SCAP), University Libraries. During the first set of visits, Special Collections provided students a short introductory lecture on the shift from manuscript to the earliest works of print, or incunabula, and a hands-on type-setting workshop. The goals for these visits were an introduction to the print revolution through example and an opportunity to engage in hands-on experiential learning about the nature of letterpress printing. In the second and third sets of visits, students were given an opportunity to focus on the analysis of one specific item for each visit related to the Reformation or the Religious Wars and their context. The goal for these visits was to encourage students to engage with the materiality of the items – to think about them as both useful for the information written in them and for the information that could be gathered from a physical examination of the item itself.
Students in the 2018 spring semester of HIST 4212 The Age of Religious Wars: Reformation Europe 1500-1648 completed a series of worksheets and reflection questions about materials viewed during three sets of visits to Special Collections. They also were asked to write a research paper and present their research at a class mini-conference during the last two weeks of the semester. Most students chose topics that furthered their engagement with SCAP materials. Finally, they were given the chance to reflect on their experiences in a short essay final-exam question. Examples of each of these types of student work are given to demonstrate the ways in which the collaboration proved fruitful for student learning.
We have been pleased with the results of our collaboration this semester. The student responses to their initial efforts in letterpress printing and to their close readings of rare works revealed thoughtful insights that spoke to the materiality of these manuscripts and texts, to the key role played by print in an era of change, and to the meaning and effects of multiple reformations. Our future collaborations, two slated for this coming Fall, will give us the opportunity to adapt some of our Special Collections sessions for slightly larger groups of lower division students. This opportunity has also provided us with a learning experience with which to gauge future changes to our model of instruction.
We would like to thank the Book Arts League of Lafayette, CU’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), and Deirdre Keating (CU Libraries, Communications Manager) for their generous contributions of training, funding, and photography, respectively.