Archives Alive

Archives Alive creates courses that enable students to develop innovative and significant projects based on original materials held in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. These courses are open to first-year and upper-class students and range from the arts and humanities to the social sciences. Scholar-teachers guide students’ explorations, providing first-hand exposure to advanced research practices and immersive learning that goes beyond traditional coursework. Students produce signature products that demonstrate their capabilities for in-depth investigation, team collaboration and communicating the significance of their work to others.

Current Archive Alive Courses

Spring 2024

History of the Book

book page

Curriculum Codes: R, ALP, CZ
MW 3:05-4:20PM,
Reuben-Cooke Building 127 and Rubenstein Library.
Instructor: Clare Woods

This course investigates the history of the “book” as physical object from its earliest forms (clay, bone or bamboo tablets, papyrus scrolls) through to texts in the digital age. Throughout the course, we will use materials from the Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library to explore forms of written media at first hand. Although we will consider the "book" in its many forms, as well as book technologies developed first in the East (paper, printing) the course will largely focus on the book in the West. We'll explore manuscript and early print culture from ancient Greece and Rome through medieval Europe to the present day, investigating how texts were copied and where, how and why scripts and decoration/illustration developed, and changes in book production from monastic centers to the printing presses of the Renaissance and later. In the final part of the course, we'll look at book forms and reading practices now, and discuss possibilities for the future of the book.

Fall 2023

Engineers, Doctors, and Scientists in the Renaissance

Engineers, Doctors, and Scientists in the Renaissance

Curriculum Codes: (CZI, STS, W)
Instructor: Thomas Robisheaux

This course explores the making of modern science and medicine at the time of the “Scientific Revolution.” It begins with an examination of the concept of “revolutions” in science and medicine, the historical significance of Renaissance approaches to nature and technology, and whether “revolution” adequately describes the changes of this period. We then look for answers to this question through close study of the works of four Renaissance natural philosophers. Our first section examines the fascinating Leonardo da Vinci, his work as a brilliant engineer, designer, and artist. We then turn our attention to a Renaissance physician, Paracelsus, known as the “founder of modern pharmaceutical medicine.” Through his first-hand observation of nature, Paracelsus developed extraordinary approaches to medicine, including the incorporation of chemicals into medical therapies, distilling medicines from plants, and tapping the magical influences of the stars. We then turn to Galileo, his support for the New Copernican world-system and his trial. Was his trial the great conflict between the Church and Science that we have come to think? Finally, we are introduced to Maria Sibylla Meriam, artist and naturalist, and her study of the mysteries of metamorphosis in nature. How was she able to overcome the limitations society set for women to become a pioneer in the study of entomology and ecology? Readings include Renaissance notebooks, correspondence, excerpts from published treaties, trial records, drawings and paintings. Students will conduct team-based research projects using early-printed books from Duke’s Rubenstein Library.

Spring 2023

Introduction to Digital Humanities

old picture showing building of medical school

CMAC/ISS 222D / VMS 203D
Curriculum Codes: ALP, CZ, STS
WF 10:15-11:30AM
Smith Warehouse, Bay 11 A233 (Digital Art History & Visual Culture Research Lab)
Instructor: Hannah Jacobs

Digital Humanities projects always begin from humanistic content and inquiries. In this Introduction to Digital Humanities, students will take a deep dive into the Duke University Archives, in search of untold stories of students, faculty and Durham community members from the time of the University’s founding in 1924 to the present. They will explore and interpret a range of first-person accounts in the form of letters, photographs, student newspapers, yearbooks, scrapbooks, sound recordings, and moving images to illuminate the history of Duke University over the course of the 20th century. We'll consider how Duke has grown and changed over the last century, examining everything from architecture to academics to student life and athletics. The course will provide students with hands-on opportunities to apply digital methods like GIS, 3D models, and  data visualizations to their analyses. Students will develop research skills that encompass both digital humanities theories and methods and historical analysis.

Image Credit: "Medical School, Duke University," June 1929, University Archives Photograph Collection, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Accessed October 26, 2022, via

Fall 2022

German and Jewish: Creativity, Conflict, and Continuity

man carrying flag

Curriculum Codes: CCI, R, ALP, CZ
Monday 10:15 AM - 12:45 PM
Instructor: Prof. Laura Lieber

In this seminar, students will explore the history of Jews in Germany, from the medieval period to the present. Topics examined will include the Crusades, the emergence of Ashkenazi Judaism, distinctive German Jewish forms of mysticism, the development of Yiddish, the origins of Reform Judaism, the Holocaust, Jewish life in post-Holocaust Germany, and the newly emergent connections between right-wing movements in Germany and in the US. As an Archives Alive course hosted by the Rubenstein Library, this seminar will make weekly use of archival holdings unique to Duke and stress the skills and importance of such research for the study of the remote and recent past, and set students up for highly original and creative research throughout their time at Duke.


Spring 2022 

Digital Durham

Old photo of Durham

ISS 356S/VMS 358S/EDUC 356S/HISTORY 382S (Seminar/SGLE)
Curriculum Codes: STS, ALP, W, R
Wednesday 10:15-12:45 PM, Perkins Rubenstein Library 150
Instructors: Trudi Abel and Victoria Szabo

Durham, North Carolina makes an ideal case study for examining emancipation, industrialization, immigration, urbanization and segregation in the context of the New South.  Digital Durham introduces students to the history of our locale and the process by which history is researched and written.  We will use primary materials from the Rubenstein Library—maps, photographs, handwritten letters, newspapers, and census data—to explore the history of Durham as well as broader themes in American history.  Students will also work individually, and in groups, with digital storytelling and data analysis tools to create interactive timelines, maps, visualizations, multimedia presentations and other techniques to share their research findings with the campus and the broader Durham community.