Teaching with Confidential Print: Middle East at Liverpool John Moores University
HIST 5127 Tanzimat to Tahrir: The History of the Modern Middle East
Undergraduate survey course Tanzimat to Tahrir: The History of the Modern Middle East, available to second-year students at Liverpool John Moores University, considers the modern history of the Middle East from a chronological, thematic and historiographical perspective. Most students on the course had little or no background in the history of the Middle East. Professor Katherine Harbord integrated Confidential Print: Middle East, a title in AM's Archives Direct platform, into her teaching in order to help students develop their primary source analysis skills and to increase their familiarity with an archive environment.
Confidential Print: Middle East in the classroom
Using Confidential Print: Middle East on a weekly basis, students were asked to identify and contextualise a primary source pertaining to each week’s theme and write a post about it. They were asked to include details about the source’s significance, context and why they chose it, as well as a link to the document. To gain confidence in using primary sources, they used the database frequently to write short, low-stake assignments. “Using the database on a weekly basis… allowed them to develop and enhance their skills, and then embed this learning in their assignments.”
Developing their archival skills in a straightforward, low-risk way – such as using a database like Confidential Print: Middle East – means that when they come to a physical archive, they are already more familiar, so less daunted, with the experience.
Each week centred around a different theme such as revolution, civil wars or minorities, and students were encouraged to engage with and discuss each other’s posts. This type of integration promoted engagement both with documents identified through independent research and documents identified by peers to support a more collaborative academic dialogue.
Using Confidential Print: Middle East gave students in the North-West of England access to thousands of archival documents physically located in London. These documents would not have been otherwise accessible, not least in part due to Covid-19 restrictions. Each task could be set and completed from home asynchronously without the need to be on campus. Professor Harbord noted that there was “significantly better engagement” because there were no restrictions on when the students could access the material. Being able to browse and search the database allowed these students to get to grips with the archival material at their own pace. It proved an effective way to employ active learning in an online environment.
I think there was something about actually searching the archive, identifying a source, and then analysing it that led to an improvement in the quality of the assignment.
A final assignment asked the students to use a primary source they had not used in their previous posts, to produce a presentation that explains, analyses or otherwise contextualises the source itself. The aim of this final assignment was to research and interrogate an issue pertaining to the study of the modern Middle East. Students were able to present this work in any way they felt best suited, such as a presentation with slides, a short video, a visual handout or even a podcast. This type of exercise allowed the students to have free rein in how they engage with their source and produced “excellent work”, according to Professor Harbord.
Impact on student learning
Professor Harbord commented that the development of skills with primary sources is critical to academic training and that the database encouraged those who used it to be “more assiduous in their engagement with the sources.” Allowing students to identify documents for analysis gives a sense of ownership and authority in their own work.
By the end of the course, the students were very familiar with using and navigating Confidential Print: Middle East and were eager to display their primary source analysis skills in their essays, and “they were all extremely successful in that”.
Using Confidential Print: Middle East on a regular, low-stakes basis allowed the students to use primary sources in an environment that did not significantly impact their performance “I think there was something about actually searching the archive, identifying a source, and then analysing it that led to an improvement in the quality of the assignment.” “Developing their archival skills in a straightforward, low-risk way – such as using a database like Confidential Print: Middle East – means that when they come to a physical archive, they are already more familiar, so less daunted, with the experience.” Dr Katherine Harbord, Liverpool John Moores University if they struggled at this stage – introducing primary source work before third-year dissertation work allows them to feel familiar with the process before they enter L6 level. Module evaluation showed that the students appreciated the chance to develop archival skills at this stage (L5) of their education. They also felt the database had well supported their learning and that they had the “freedom to pursue their own intellectual interests through use of the database.” The benefits of using online primary sources goes beyond the remits of the course and enhanced the students’ critical thinking skills more broadly.
Made me feel like a real historian: every week I was doing history, not just hearing history.
Overall, there was a “strong correlation” between students who used Confidential Print: Middle East and students who performed well in the final assessment. Professor Harbord saw the students’ skills and confidence grow but more than that, she saw their passion for the subject grow too. One student said that the primary source work “made me feel like a real historian: every week I was doing history, not just hearing history.” One student said that the primary source work “made me feel like a real historian: every week I was doing history, not just hearing history.”
About the author
Dr Katherine Harbord is a faculty member in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Liverpool John Moores University.
About the collection
Confidential Print: Middle East, 1839-1969 is out now.
The City of Burlington is committed to preserving its history and cultural heritage for future generations. As part of this mission, Burlington Public Library makes it a priority to digitise materials that document the history of Burlington and its people.
Securing long-term support for its cultural heritage collections is central to the mission of Samford University Library and a catalyst for its migration to AM Quartex.