This article argues that getting students to learn about archival preservation and research in the context of an underpreserved, underresearched history offers a number of pedagogical rewards. Colleges and universities are pushing to increase community-based learning opportunities for undergraduates. At the same time, digital humanities initiatives are making it increasingly possible for undergraduates to work hands-on with primary sources, and a number of university-sponsored efforts are being made to process and digitize neglected African American archives. Many of these projects make use of graduate student labor, but few have recognized the benefits of engaging undergraduates in processing local and minority archives as part of their classroom experience. This article argues that such classes would not only build mutually beneficial relationships between town and gown but also encourage students to recognize that the approach to history they are familiar with—one that emphasizes national leaders and “major” events—is part of the same tendency to value the powerful that has caused African American history to be underpreserved. Preserving and publicizing local histories counters this tendency and may help produce a younger generation of scholars who are attuned to politics of power and privilege within the scholarship they encounter and produce.
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Mollie Godfrey; Making African American History in the Classroom: The Pedagogy of Processing Undervalued Archives. Pedagogy 1 January 2016; 16 (1): 165–177. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/15314200-3158733
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