Case Study: Using the University Archives in Teaching

Mae’n ddrwg gennym ddim ar gael.

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Academic: Dr. Lucinda Matthews-Jones – College of Arts and Humanities
Librarians: Katrina Dalziel and Dr. Ian Glen
Literature Search:
SALT Team: Chris Hall
Archivists: Elisabeth Bennett and Sue Thomas

The Context

HIH3307 – Victorian Domesticities is a 3rd year special 40 credit module with 20 credits in each teaching block. The module examines historiographical debates surrounding the Victorian home. It offers students the chance to study an exciting and burgeoning area of cultural history by engaging with material culture studies, sensory studies and gender studies in order to analyse the most intimate of Victorian spaces. It compares arguments, approaches and research themes to consider how historians have studied the Victorian home and domestic space. Victorian Domesticities uses a range of primary sources to explore the love affair the Victorians had with their homes. Students use a variety of primary sources including visual sources (photographs and pictures), advice literature, discursive texts, material objects and personal testimony.

It is normally a 2 hour session where the students are given a reading and some source material to look at before the session. There is a short introductory lecture of 20-30 minutes followed by students exploring the material in groups and then feeding back to the whole group

The approach

In previous lectures the students had been exploring some of the issues that connected with this particular exercise, such as gender and domesticity. This session was in week seven of a ten week teaching block and I felt it would be really useful to break up the structure with something different at this point, particularly as students were starting to think about assignments.

I wanted to use the Abbey as a case study as this session would be about Grand Domesticity: Upper Middle Class homes. Singleton Abbey, with its rich history, is a great example of this right here on campus. The students had previously explored the photographs on the Gathering the Jewels site

The first part of planning the session was to visit the University Archives, to discuss with the Archivists how the session might run and see what was in the collection that would be useful for the students to examine. Although the Archives only had a limited amount of papers from the Vivians who had lived in the Abbey, the Archivists suggested using the Crawshay household papers. The Crawshay’s were a family very similar to the Vivians and lived in the same type of house.

The whole session was planned with the archivists including how the session would run and what materials would be examined. This planning stage was crucial to the success of the session.

After a tour of the Abbey by Professor Ralph Griffiths and a short break for doughnuts we moved on to the Archives. The session began with a short introduction by the Archivist and was followed by a short context setting lecture. The students then worked together in groups to explore the artefacts that had already laid out by the Archivist before we arrived.


The students were animated and involved throughout and really got into the material, much of which had never been examined before. From a teaching perspective, it is good to be creative and to increase contact time without just giving another lecture.  In this approach the students are getting contact with other expert University staff. The archivists are all qualified professionals, engaged in research and, in some cases, published authors in their own right.

It was good to engage the students with active learning and to be able to find an additional way of conveying passion about the subject: to encourage students to be as excited about the subject as the lecturer is. It was also great to use the University resources and it’s surprising that we don’t make more of the University’s history.

This positive view of the session is backed up the reaction of the students; every single one of whom attending the session.

“The Archives had a wide variety of source material available. During the visit I was able to examine photographs, receipts, inventories and account books amongst others. All material was kept in the best condition possible and we were instructed on how best to handle them in order for them to remain in that state. The archivists were very helpful and welcoming.”

“I learnt a little bit of the extent of the archives Swansea university has access to and how readily available they are. Even though I am currently in my third year at Swansea I had never used the Archives before and wasn’t aware of the amount of material I was missing out on. I will definitely use the Archives in my future studies.”

The University Archives

The University Archives holds a wide collection including The Richard Burton Archive and the South Wales Coalfield Collection.  They also hold Local Archive Collections. These collections are particularly varied and include the records of many local businesses, such as the Mumbles Railway. The metallurgical industries in the area are well represented, particularly copper, tinplate and steel. Family collections include those of the Vivian, Dillwyn and Morris families. Records are also held of the Roman Catholic Church of St David’s Priory, Swansea, and the Methodist Circuit of Swansea and Gower.

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