Brock University is being celebrated for an immersive course in the Faculty of Humanities providing students with a opportunity to gain expertise with rare historical texts.
The Modern Language Association of America (MLA) awarded its third annual MLA-EBSCO Collaboration for Information Literacy Prize to Professor of English Leah Knight and Head of Archives and Special Collections David Sharron for the course MARS 4P01: Sources and Methods in Medieval and Renaissance Studies during a virtual awards ceremony on Friday, Jan. 5.
The award recognizes outstanding coursework developed in partnership between faculty members and academic librarians in language and literature.
Knight and Sharron have been partnering on courses for more than a decade, working together to bring students to the archives for various assignments in the Department of English and more recently in the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.
Their approach to centring the material text as the focus of MARS 4P01 is what set the award-winning course apart.
Knight said that by growing the teaching collection in the archives through thoughtful curation, Sharron has made it possible for Brock students to work one-on-one with the books.
“This provided us the opportunity to structure the course the way we did,” she said.
Each MARS 4P01 student studied one rare book exclusively for the duration of the course, investigating topics ranging from botany, poetry, cultural histories and early examples of biographies.
Sharron hosted the students early in the term and introduced them to Brock Library’s Archives and Special Collections. For many students, this was their first opportunity to work with non-digital collections.
“Being able to touch historical artifacts that are 300 to 500 years old and see their particular intricacies like bookmarks, pressed flowers or handwritten notes really gives the texts a lot of flavour,” Sharron said.
That sentiment was echoed by Knight, who noted how different book culture was during the printing revolution in Renaissance Europe, which signalled the move from manuscripts and print.
“Now, we can let students see these books with their eyes, touch them with their hands and turn the pages themselves just like people from that period would have done,” she said.
For both Knight and Sharron, a highlight of the course was providing the opportunity for undergraduate students to not only gain expertise in an object that is usually only studied by specialists at the doctoral level, but also teach their classmates what they have learned.
“The idea of scholarship being conducted by one individual, the ‘sole authorship’ model, is being put into question across all humanities disciplines,” Knight said. “The scholarly collaboration between David and I paved the way for the collaboration I was asking the students to value.”
Sharron said students who have participated in MARS 4P01 and other collaborative courses he has run with Knight are always welcome back to the library to continue their work, even after the coursework is completed.
“We see students come back multiple times to work on their reflections and for other classes. Keen students also tend to become volunteers, and some have gone on to have careers in library and archives,” he said.