Archival outreach through teaching and learning

by Kate Harris, Archivist

As a university department, Special Collections and Archives supports learning and teaching at UL in a variety of ways and our collections are here for students to use. We strive to highlight and promote our holdings to potential users in the hopes of encouraging the use of material in academic endeavours and research. This is known as outreach.

One way this is achieved is through classes, workshops and visits to the Special Collections and Archives. These events offer students hands-on experience with the material and can demonstrate the relevance of our collections for research and coursework. They can also help to put prospective users at ease by improving their archival literacy. Archival literary refers to a researcher’s knowledge of the workings of an archive. It involves building the skills needed to search, find, access, and analyse archival material. This can include an understanding of how to use catalogues, how to handle the material and the reasoning behind the reading room rules. These skills can make a researcher feel more comfortable in the archive and help them to get the most out of their visit.



Classes, workshops and visits 2021/22

Every year, the Special Collections and Archives Department hosts a number of undergraduate and postgraduate classes, workshops and visits. This past academic year has been no different. We hosted introductory class for this year’s first year history students. The topic was revolution and the items shown to the students included letters from Michael Collins and Padraig Pearse from the Daly Papers. This class gave the students the opportunity to interact with and interpret primary sources.



We hosted a workshop where students were given an introduction to archival description. The MA in Public History students received this class online and it was given to the MA History students in person a few weeks later.  An important aspect of this class was the workshop element where students were given primary sources to describe. These primary sources were from The Limerick Papers, and were related to a dispute over the title to St George’s Church in Mallow Street spanning over the 18th and 19th Century. The students were encouraged to explore the context of these items and extract as much information from them as possible. It was hoped that this activity would improve the students’ archival literacy and help them to get the most out of archival catalogues in their own research.



We also hosted classes for the MA in History of the Family, the History of the Family Certificate and the Certificate in Local History classes. We showed these students a number of items that can be used for genealogical and local history research in our Estate Collections. For example, a sworn declaration by William Morony that his son was born on 1 July 1854, taken from the Allott papers. This was significantly, before the civil registration of births in Ireland, which began in 1864.


We also displayed a number of rare and important books from our collection. For example, we showed a number of directories which were used by tradesmen and businesses to communicate their services to potential customers around the country. We also had a look at some editions of Burke’s Landed Gentry which lists gentry families in Great Britain and Ireland.


Cover of Burke’s genealogical and heraldic history of the landed gentry of Ireland


In the second semester, we displayed letters, photographs and other items for Creative Writing students to give them an idea of how special collections and archives can be used to inspire creative processes.

We also had an introductory class for the Cultural and Historical Geography module who were undertaking research projects on a variety of local topics such as History and memory: Limerick and WW1.



We are looking forward to welcoming more students into our Reading Room in 2023!