Supporting undergraduate research

Roberta Barker, Theatre

“I’ve realized that it’s important to look for opportunities to collaborate and not to underestimate our own setting. These wonderful resources are already here, for our students to learn from.”

Associate Professor Roberta Barker’s graduate research in the United Kingdom has motivated her to provide a similar experience for her students at Dalhousie. In an innovative collaboration with the Killam Library, she’s using the Neptune Theatre archives to teach her students valuable primary research skills.

The class offers undergraduate students the rare experience of doing primary, archival research into the history of a theatre company and its productions. The archives include plays, prompt books, hiring letters, set and costume designs, and stage manager’s reports, among other documents. “There are very few theatre archives in Canada,” says Dr. Barker. “It’s not a project, especially at an undergraduate level, that’s happening widely in this country.”

Although many students are initially intimidated by the research experience, they’re quickly drawn in by the excitement of discovery. “It’s one of their favourite projects because they have a real sense that they’ve used the raw materials of research to imaginatively put back together a production or a piece of art that otherwise would be lost,” explains Dr. Barker.

Using funding creatively

“This is a great example of a project where funding that is going to another part of the university is actually paying off within the teaching units of the university,” says Dr. Barker. “What’s made it possible is funding that has gone to the library's Archives and Special Collections. And now those resources are being used in new ways. So far, over 100 students have had the opportunity to benefit from the funds that have been put into those channels.”

For Dr. Barker, taking full advantage of available resources is an important part of innovation. “I’ve realized that it’s important to look for opportunities to collaborate and not to underestimate our own setting,” she says. “These wonderful resources are here, for our students to learn from. The support that we’ve had from Archives and Special Collections at the Killam has been exceptional.”

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