I decided to take Darin Waters‘ advice and read John Hope Franklin’s 1969 article published in the American Archivist entitled “Archival Odyssey: Taking Students to the Sources.”  Franklin read this paper at a joint luncheon of the American Historical Association and the Society of American Archivists that took place in New York in December 1968.

At the time, Franklin was chair of the history department at the University of Chicago.  A few years earlier, he’d met with the director of the South Carolina Archives, Charles Lee, who posed a simple question (376):

“Why have your students engage in a tug of war over two or three pages of manuscripts, perhaps one newspaper, and Appleton’s Annual Cyclopadia as they attempt to write seminar papers up there in Chicago, when each of them could have his own wall of manuscripts down here.”

Franklin convinced his university to help defray the costs for his graduate students, and they spent 2 weeks in early 1967 researching Reconstruction at the State Archives of North Carolina along with the nearby manuscript repositories at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The graduate students read all the relevant secondary sources and defined their research topics before they arrived in Raleigh, and the staff of the State Archives researched the relevant materials in their collection.  The staff and students met frequently while they were in Raleigh to share insights on materials, problems, sources, and approaches.  In addition to the knowledge and materials the students gained, Franklin explained that the greatest benefit of this experience was in the confidence they developed.  Franklin concluded (380):

“the opportunity afforded the students of going ‘beyond the water’s edge’ to confront significant materials that formed the bases for meaningful and even important papers was worth every effort that was put into the undertaking.”

I hope archival repositories never lose sight of the need to cultivate such relationships so we can continue leading students “beyond the water’s edge.”

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