TL Abroad: Applied Research in London

Written by Mark Janzen, Ph.D. and Michael S. Springer, Ph.D., History & Geography – 

Summer break provides a great opportunity to get out of the classroom and engage students in transformative learning experiences. In May, Dr. Mark Janzen and I took a group of students to London to work on the Dutch Church Library Provenance Project. The students, History and Museum Studies majors, worked on the project, which is a collaboration between the Dutch Church in London, the oldest Dutch-language Protestant church in the world, and Lambeth Palace Library, one of England’s oldest public libraries.

All students enrolled in HIST 4940/5940 Applied Research, and we build the coursework around four TL tenets: Discipline Knowledge; Global and Cultural Competencies; Research, Creative, and Scholarly Activities; and Service Learning and Civic Engagement. The project entailed identifying and researching provenance of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century books that were given to Lambeth Palace Library by the Dutch Church following World War II. In addition to the cataloging work, the students learned about book history as well as acquisition, provenance, conservation, and collection management. During their time in London they also had a chance to interact with librarians and archivists from Lambeth Palace Library, the London Metropolitan Archives, the British Library, the Heinz Collection at the National Portrait Gallery Archive, and the Institute for Historical Research.

Assignments ranged from exercises in archival research to reflective journal and essay assignments. In addition, we worked closely with the students on the project, providing multiple points for feedback and evaluation. One of the excellent opportunities afforded by international travel is engaging students in trip planning, understanding of local customs, and even things like currency exchange and knowing which way to look when crossing the street. The students took to British culture and standards without a problem and are excited by the possibilities for the future.

For Museum Studies students, the course has an added career development component. A common industry practice is for museum professionals to help each other out when it comes to identifying, cataloging, or researching collections. In addition to learning, the student provided a valuable service to Lambeth Palace Library in the management of the collection and developed their professional networks internationally. The information gathered will be used to update the library catalog and may pave the way for some of the books to be added to the Dutch Short Title Catalog, making these works more accessible to scholars around the globe. By the end of the two-week project, the group had cataloged 240 books and identified about 60 more works not previously known to be from the church. There is much more work to be done, and the efforts thus far suggests the Dutch Church collection is larger than former estimates of 200-300 books.

Dr. Janzen noted, “As a museum professional and Director of the Museum Studies program at the University of Central Oklahoma, it is my primary goal to find ways to inspire and energize students as they prepare for careers in museums and archives around the nation and world. It is always gratifying to see students go out into the field and excel, and I offer my thanks to both Lambeth Palace and the Dutch Church for their generous inclusion of their time, expertise, and materials.” There is more work to be done, and we plan on returning next summer to continue working on the project. Although the goals of the project remain unchanged, the unexpected scope of the project, as well as the enthusiastic response from our British peers, has led to several exciting possibilities for development and expansion.

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