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Testing Convictions: The Power of Readex in the Classroom

Posted on 09/09/2014
Teresa Van Hoy is Associate Professor of History at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. Originally from North Carolina, Prof. Van Hoy moved to Texas to research the intersecting histories of Latin America and the United States. Over the past year she has made extensive use of Readex digital collections in her classroom. Recently Van Hoy shared her thoughts on the impact these collections had on her students:

I have discovered an unexpected outcome of access to Readex databases. I knew they boosted the quality of student research and facilitated our teaching of research skills. But something more powerful turned out to be happening. It was a phenomenon more subtle than the pedagogical objectives I had so long been measuring and celebrating.

What was happening? Students' dearest convictions were being tested. Their deepest sense of what the Alamo means or the prestige of the Texas Rangers or the commitment of Texas to slavery or the presumed triumph of the end of Reconstruction or the role of San Antonio in the Mexican Revolution was tested by their swift and independent access to America’s Historical Newspapers.

It turns out that it wasn't enough for historians to argue these things and footnote their evidence, or for a history professor to present a handful of primary documents for class discussion. They still felt it to be too filtered, too tendentious. Too top-down. But when I can tell them, okay, don't believe me, don't believe David Montejano or Randolph Campbell or anyone. Look for yourself. Run the search terms slavery and San Antonio and see what you get. They are shocked to find, for example, that though San Antonians didn't own many slaves, they profited hugely as bounty-hunters to track runaways. No dodging it. The advertisements are in these papers. The articles are in these papers.

It changes not only how they interpret Texas history or U.S. history. It changes how they define themselves because one's sense of self as heroic or unworthy gets produced and reproduced also by our historical claims. My favorite exercise is the 30-minute research project. We identify X historian's claim in that day's reading, we run the search terms right in class to test it, then we argue the merits or flaws of that claim. Never has teaching been so dynamic and intense.

Learn more about how access to Readex digital collections can have a powerful impact on students at your institution.  Request more information or a campus-wide trial to Early American Newspapers, Caribbean Newspapers, Hispanic American Newspapers, or Latin American Newspapers.

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