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Blog: Teaching with Special Collections and Archives

by University of Liverpool Library on 2020-11-17T12:04:00+00:00 | 0 Comments

Teaching set up with books, iPad and laptop to stream collection items

Supporting Teaching

Special Collections and Archives (SC&A) is active in supporting the teaching and learning at the University of Liverpool. We usually look forward to welcoming academics and students in the Wolfson Teaching Room, whereby we introduce students to the service and facilitate access to material from the collections. However, like many other departments in the University, this year we have adapted our provision to the virtual learning environment.

Our general introduction to the service provides an overview of the collections and all of the necessary information on how to access SC&A material. This helps students to understand how the primary sources available at SC&A are an excellent opportunity to enrich their studies. The introduction lends itself well to a virtual format, as students can follow a screen share exploration of the SC&A website and catalogues.

Of course, in addition to the usual challenges of using online streaming software, it can be more difficult to convey the “feel” and features of the rare books and archival material within the virtual learning environment. In order to combat this we offer a combination approach, whereby we provide digital images of relevant material alongside a live session showing the material on the specialist book rests. We have acquired a tripod for the SC&A iPad for this purpose, and we have had to be as inventive as possible to marry the centuries old collections with our modern day technology. A recent and very interesting challenge for the module “HIST521: Approaches to the Global Eighteenth Century” was to capture on film the beautiful iridescent detail of the hummingbirds within John Gould’s A monograph of the Trochilidae or humming birds – it required lots of testing different lighting and camera angles to seek out the best result!

Teaching set up with iPad to stream images of hummingbirds

Bethan Roberts, Post-Doctoral Research Associate in the Department of English, said:

'I usually bring students on the History MA-level module ‘Approaches to the global eighteenth century’ to SC&A for a 2-hour session, the purpose of which is introduce students to using SC&A and to introduce students to primary sources and interdisciplinary approaches tutors use in their research. My session focuses on eighteenth-century natural history and ornithology with a focus on the nightingale, considering the relationship between literature and science in presentations of the bird. This year, the session took place online, and the SC&A team provided me with a range of high-quality photographs, as well as a video, of illustrations from works of ornithology from the collection before the session, which I was able to build into a presentation for the session. SC&A staff then used an iPad to show the books live over Zoom during the session, showing both the inside of the books – texts and images – as well as the exterior, the bindings, and overall size and sense of the items. Thus, the students were still able to experience the texts first-hand, viewing them from a variety of perspectives, through which we were able to consider the differing modes, purposes, and audiences of eighteenth-century works of ornithology.’

Get In Touch

We are very happy to develop bespoke digital content for future classes and we are keen to support the research and learning of students. If you are interested in the support for teaching offered by Special Collections and Archives, please do not hesitate to contact us at

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