By: Katelyn Canaday, Outreach and Public Services Archivist, ODU Libraries

Old Dominion University’s Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) department collects, preserves, and provides access to archives, rare books, and other unique materials documenting the history of the university, local community, and region. By digitizing and sharing our collections, we enhance research and scholarship across the world. The Special Collections and University Archives department is located on the third floor of Perry Library and offers a unique opportunity for faculty to incorporate archival use into their classes.  

Why Teach with SCUA? 

Studies have shown that bringing students into the archives “has a positive effect on student engagement, performance, and, in some cases, student retention” (Golia & Katz). We want to encourage students to learn how to distinguish between primary and secondary sources, enhance and increase their subject-specific knowledge and core skills, and develop a connection with the past to learn how others have stored and transmitted their knowledge. Working with archives also increases students’ critical reading, writing, and analytical skills while helping them identify bias, inaccurate information, and even propaganda in documentation.  

We welcome opportunities to teach and co-teach sessions on archival literacy using primary sources. In addition to in person sessions, we offer hybrid and zoom sessions to make it as convenient as possible for you and your students to experience the archives. We are also happy to work with you on designing class projects, identifying collections, and making archival research approachable and engaging for students! 

Collection Highlights 

Our collections, both physical and digital, lend themselves to a variety of class activities and research projects. Some highlights include: the Norfolk 1919 photograph collection, depicting shop owners and employees of small businesses in Norfolk; Samuel Switzer Papers, which include maps, photographs, letters, and memorabilia from his time as an artillery officer in World War I; several Maritime and Naval collections, including the USS Vulcan Papers, a navy repair vessel that played an active role in World War II and was the first non-hospital ship in the Navy to receive women officers; Public Health collections, including documents regarding the first successful in vitro fertilization in the U.S. that happened right here in Norfolk; the Massive Resistance and Desegregation collections, which contain invaluable oral histories, speeches, legal documents, and more; and the Our Own Community Press Newspapers collection, one of the country’s oldest gay newspapers that started as a newsletter and grew into an institution in the Hampton Roads community.

The topics that are covered by our collections are vast and the research that can be accomplished with them is endless. There is also fascinating material on the history of Old Dominion University inclusive of oral histories recording the professional lives of former faculty members. To learn more about our collections, use this link.

Examples of Class Activities

In addition to people using the archives to conduct research, we encourage you to think about other ways you can use archival collections in your classes. The ODU Chemistry department worked with the archives to conduct testing on ancient pottery to determine its date and origin. Art classes have created digital 3D models of ancient Cypriot pottery and others have recreated ceramics based on our collection of pre-colonial pottery. To inspire creativity and new ideas, students can view artifacts, rare books, digital images, and more for their art classes and clubs. History graduate students explored the Switzer papers in preparation for the 2014 centenary of the “Great War.” The Women and Gender Studies department studied a collection of feminist buttons, which inspired them to make their own versions. Music classes can study the plethora of compositions and scores in the Music Special Collections; some classes have even put on concerts using materials from the archive.

In Perry Library, we have seen firsthand the inspiration accessing archival collections brings to students and we hope this encourages you to consider incorporating the archives into your classes.  If you are interested in integrating the archives into your courses but not sure how to get started? Let’s chat and figure out how to make the archives accessible to you and your students.  - 


Golia, Julia and Robin M. Katz, “Our Teaching Philosophy,”,

“ODU Students Replicating Pieces of Pre-Colonial Pottery,” The Virginian-Pilot, April 22, 2022:

“Special Collections and University Archives Collections Guide.” Old Dominion University Libraries.