Archives are facilities that house physical collections, where records and materials are organized and protected. Archival materials are used to write history. Through the internet, digital archives make those records more accessible to students, researchers, and the general public.
Students learn to navigate a digital archive by browsing and performing effective keyword searches. Through this process, students learn how to use the Helen Keller Archive. They also learn the value of preserving information.
Understand the function and significance of an archive.
Describe the different capabilities of a physical and a digital archive.
Know more about how archives can increase accessibility for people with visual and/or hearing impairments.
Navigate the digital Helen Keller Archive using the Search and Browse tools.
Note: The digital Helen Keller Archive team strongly recommends that this or similar demonstration be included in the lesson, unless the teacher has formally taught these students browse and search techniques. We find that students are used to “Google” style searches, which are not as effective on specialized sites like digital archives.
We are going to use the digital Helen Keller Archive.
Who has heard of Helen Keller? Why is she famous? What did she do?
Keller lost her sight and hearing at a young age but learned to sign, read, write, speak, and graduated college.
She used her fame to advocate on behalf of blind and deaf communities, fought for education/employment for blind people and the inclusion of people with disabilities in society.
She was politically active: Anti-war, advocated for socialism and workers’ rights, as well as the suffrage movement and women’s rights.
Pull up the Helen Keller Archive home page and ask the class to explain the difference between search and browse. For example:
The Browse tool follows the structure and order of the physical collection. Browse is the best way to see how an archive is organized and what it contains.
The Search tool uses a keyword search term or terms. Search is the best way to find a specific item.
Show the Browse Function
Click the Browse tab.
Click Browse by Series; point out the series titles and ask students to explain what each “series” contains.
In this archive, series are organized based on the type of materials (letters, photographs, and more).
Explain that this is how a physical archive is organized (in series, subseries, boxes, and folders).
Browse for a type of item. Guide students through the choices they have at each level.
For example: “Browse the photographs in this archive. This series is divided into photographs and photo albums. Let’s explore the photographs. How are these organized? It looks like they are organized alphabetically by subject matter. Wow, there are two folders here just for Helen Keller’s dogs! Let’s take a peek.”
Optional: Ask students to browse for “boomerang given to Helen in Australia”.
Show the Search Function
Click the Simple Search tab.
Ask the class to pick a word to search based on either their knowledge of Helen Keller or class curriculum on late 19th/early 20th century.
For example: Let’s search for documents related to the women’s suffrage movement. The best way to start a keyword search is with a simple keyword. Let’s use “suffrage.”
Point out the filters in the left hand column and explain how they are used narrow search results. Ask students to choose one area to refine search to narrow their results for a specific reason.
For example: “Let’s select 1910-1920 so we can find material written before the 19th Amendment was passed.”
Works like a library or e-commerce website.
Optional: Ask students to search for a speech given by Helen Keller while she was traveling abroad. She gave many – they can choose any one. Brainstorm effective search terms and ways they might refine their results, and warn students it will take more than one step to find a speech that qualifies.
Show the Browse by subject functions and ask how they are similar to, or different from, searching by Keyword(s).
Use same topic as keyword search (or as close as possible). For example: Can you find “suffrage” in this subject list?
Explain that not all topics will be present. For example, there is no subject header for “computers”.
Break students into working groups.
Assign each group a “scavenger hunt” item (see in class worksheet).
Optional: Collect scavenger hunt items in a private list to be shared with the whole class.
Sample Scavenger Hunt List
Flyer for a 1981 dance production “Two In One”
Film of Helen Keller testing a new communication device in 1953
Medal from the Lebanese government
Photograph of Helen Keller at a United Nations meeting in 1949
Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
Lesson One: Introduction to Digital and Physical Archives – Helen Keller Archive
The mission of the American Foundation for the Blind is to create a world of no limits for people who are blind or visually impaired. We mobilize leaders, advance understanding, and champion impactful policies and practices using research and data.