The Traveling Rare Bible Petting Zoo: Teaching with Rare Books in an Undergraduate Biblical Literature Course
The invitation to speak to students in an undergraduate Biblical literature lecture course inspired one special collections librarian to weigh the risks and rewards of creating a hands-on classroom experience, placing examples of 18th century and older Bibles from the institution’s special collections into the hands of students.
The professor of record for Bluffton University’s Introduction to Biblical Worldview course sought out the special collections librarian to guest-lecture, to introduce students to a selection of the rare Bibles from the university library’s special collections. Course content had exposed the students to the concept of a “canon” and had provided an introduction to the structure and contents of Bibles over time. While considering options for a show-and-tell presentation to the class of 40-45 students, the librarian struggled to settle on an engaging and memorable approach. Could a one-shot, hands-on experience be possible?
After consulting with the professor and with colleagues in archives and special collections at other institutions, the librarian was encouraged to design an activity in which small groups of students would each examine a large folio- or quarto- sized Bible from the library’s special collections under controlled, guided conditions. First, simple handling practices were demonstrated by the librarian. Then the librarian distributed a Bible to each group, along with a worksheet of questions to guide the students’ study. After each group completed their examination, photographs of each Bible were shown using the classroom’s projection equipment, and each group was invited to share their findings to the class.
Reactions to this pedagogical experiment have seemed overwhelmingly positive. Students were engaged and audibly acknowledged their interest: “this is so cool!” The librarian was pleased with the outcome of the first offering and has made minor changes to the teaching strategy to improve successive iterations of the experience.
August 2018: Ohio Private Academic Libraries conference, Otterbein University
June 2018: Guest Post for Society of American Archivists' The Academic Archivist blog
March 2018: Midwest Archives Conference Annual Meeting, Chicago, Illinois
March 2017: Excel@Teaching Conference, University of Findlay