[17] Back to the Future: From the Archives to an Experiential Education


Back to the Future: From the Archives to an Experiential Education


Alexia Bowler


This poster will present recent work with first year undergraduate students on the module ‘A History of the English Language’.
One of the key topics discussed with students on this module is how writing technologies contribute to, or constrain, the development of the English language. We discuss parchment and ink making, the work of the great scribes in the monasteries of Anglo-Saxon England and the loss of important, irreplaceable manuscripts due to the Viking invasions of the 9th century. The topic is also linked to the students’ first piece of assessed work, which involves writing a wiki on Old English. As well as covering orthography, morphology, lexis and grammar/syntax, the wiki can include elements about writing systems such as runes, manuscript making and other writing technologies and important literature.
One of the difficulties encountered in the teaching of such a subject is the lack of original and physical artefacts through which to enliven discussion and facilitate a deeper connection with the topic, as well as provide inspiration for the more creative aspects of the wiki. However, after attending SALT’s ‘7 characteristics of a good university teacher’ in which we were shown around the Richard Burton Archives and discovered the possibility of working with their team, I decided to give my students a more hands on approach to learning about the history of the English.
Once the possibility of forming closer ties with the archives arose, I became more creative and organised several activities: 1. Carmarthen Museum visit to see the Standing Stones (with a mix of the Celtic Ogham script and Roman lettering); 2. A visit to the Burton archives – students were able to see, touch and explore handwritten documents on parchment from the Medieval period (none were available earlier then the 15th century), and 3. Handling and using materials such as real vellum and sheep parchment, quills and inks. Through these activities, the students were able to view, first-hand, the traces of Britain’s past; they were able to explore original documents to find orthographic variations and inconsistencies, decipher the various handwriting styles, touch different papers, parchment and read types of text; the students were able to benefit from working in a more experimental, experiential and creative fashion through writing with homemade quills and real vellum/parchment that I had sourced from specialist providers.
I suggest that, as well as absorbing information from books, the future of learning is about going beyond the classroom, linking students’ academic and intellectual activities with real-world experiences to provide greater understanding of the transitions and connections between new and old practices. Physical engagement with the past provides a vital addition to student learning beyond simply listening to lectures about it. Thus the future classroom should involve a greater mix of traditional academic work and more creative endeavours for authentic and experiential learning felt that students would have a greater understanding of the topic through using this technology themselves in a way that would translate into a direct learning experience.

Session Outline

Background and rationale
Images of activities/work
Outcomes and feedback from students

Key Messages

Think about using variety of methods (archives, visits, practical work) for subjects that might not seem to facilitate these approaches.

Key Words

Experiential, Practical, Creative


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