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Guide to Archival & Primary Source Instruction

A guide for teaching faculty and staff to learn about archival and primary source instruction at the University of Regina

Types of Instruction Offered

This page outlines the types of archival instruction that are currently offered by the University of Regina Archives. Faculty, staff and students are invited to connect with us to discuss other possible approaches for integrating archives into the teaching life of the campus - we would love to work with you! 

Types of instruction outlined on this page:

Also included is an example of programming using one archival source

Archives Tours

Repository tours introduce students to our reading room and behind-the-scenes spaces to help orient them to Archives and encourage them to use primary sources in their research.

Topics covered: 

  • What is an archives?
  • What is an archivist?
  • What are primary sources? 

To schedule: Contact to arrange a class tour. In order to accommodate your preferred date(s) and ensure that we have staff resources available to support your visit, please contact us sooner rather than later when planning your class schedule.  

Primary Source Literacy Session

In a Primary Source Literacy Session, students will gain hands-on experience using archival materials, interpreting them, and citing them. This activity can be tailored to suit specific course content. This activity can also be offered remotely

Topics covered:

  • How do researchers use primary sources?
  • How can primary sources be interpreted? 
  • How do primary sources connect to larger themes and topics? 

To schedule: Contact for more information. In order to tailor this activity to your class content, we ask that you contact us as soon as possible when planning your term to discuss scheduling options. 

Specific Course Integration

As illustrated in the exercise below, archival sources can apply to a number of disciplines and can inform many different types of assignments. If you have a specific course area that you would like to teach using archival materials, please get in contact and we would be happy to collaborate to create a lesson plan or embedded assignment. Some examples of course assignments include (but are not limited to):

  • research papers using archival collections
  • a digital gallery of art pieces
  • creative writing with archival sources as inspiration
  • an anthology of primary sources on one theme or topic

To schedule: If you would like to learn more about creating a lesson plan or assignment using archival sources, please contact

Examples of Programming with a Single Archival Source

The following exercise is meant to serve as an example of the breadth of archival instruction, showcasing how one document can provide the basis for instruction in a number of different disciplines. Read through the description of Gladys Arnold and her letter on this page, then browse the tabs for example assignments in various disciplines.  

About Gladys Arnold: 

The letter pictured below is a document from the Gladys Arnold Collection held at the University of Regina Archives. Gladys Arnold (1905-2002) was a Saskatchewan journalist who worked at the Regina Leader-Post before traveling to Europe in 1935. While there, Arnold began submitting freelance pieces to the Canadian Press (CP) and soon after was hired as their full-time Paris correspondent. In the next four years she reported from France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Italy and from the Spanish border during the Spanish civil war.

Gladys Arnold was the sole Canadian correspondent in France at the outbreak of the Second World War and she covered the early days of the conflict until the German occupation of Paris in June 1940. For more on her biography, please visit her collections page (linked here). 

U of R Archives 2007-42 Box 2 Photo 98, Gladys Arnold in Paris, 1936.

About the letter: 

In this letter she wrote to her mother less than a year before the formal declaration of war, Arnold discusses the turmoil she feels at the prospect of staying in Europe during the upcoming conflict. Though she emphasizes that it is her duty as a journalist and as a human to stay in France, Arnold concedes that it "does not make it easier to to bear the despair I feel at being forced to refuse your prayer to come home.." recognizing the danger she will be in if she stays. 

U of R Archives 98-54 Box 4 File 25, Gladys Arnold to Parents, 1938.

U of R Archives 98-54 Box 4 File 25, Gladys Arnold to Parents, 1938.

Assessing a Primary Source: Interpret and contextualize Gladys Arnold's letter and photograph using the following questions as guidelines. 

Questions about the letter:

  • What do we know about Gladys Arnold from her letter?
  • What are the events described in her letter?
  • What information is missing from the letter?
  • What about the document itself: what is it made out of? How was it created? What does this tell us about the source? About its creator?  

Questions about the photograph:

  • What is in this photograph? Where was it taken? Why was it taken? Is it staged or candid?
  • What can we learn from this photograph?
  • Who may have taken this photograph? 
  • What information is missing from it? What would you like to know more about?
  • What questions does this photograph leave you with? How would you go about trying to answer them? 


Research Paper: Write a research paper on one of the following topics (or, on a question you have about something brought up in the letter). Research questions may include:

  1. What happened to Gladys Arnold? Did she stay in Europe? How was her career influenced by her decision?
  2. What was the expected role of women during World War II? Were these roles contested in any way? If so, how? 
  3. In her letter, Arnold discusses her plan to go to Bordeaux. What was the experience of other people living there during the war?
  4. What was the experience of other Canadians living in Europe during World War II? 

Suggested sources:

Write a newspaper article: Using the information provided in Gladys Arnold's letter and photograph, write a retrospective newspaper article to tell her story. The following questions might help to frame your piece:

  • About the letter: What does the letter tell us? What information is missing? What do we know about Gladys Arnold from her letter? Which quotations would you include in your article? What kind of story would that tell?
  • About the photograph: What is the photograph depicting? What impression does it give of Gladys Arnold? 
  • About Gladys Arnold: What do you know about Arnold based on the letter and photograph? What is left out? How would you find out more about her? 

Suggested sources:

  • Historical Newspaper Database in the Archer Library's holdings: Try searching for articles written by Gladys Arnold in the Regina Leader-Post


Reflection paper or discussion: In her letter, Gladys Arnold outlines the tensions between the duty she feels to her profession and the duty she feels to her family. Consider the ethical dilemmas of journalists in either a short reflection paper or class discussion. 

Discussion questions:

  • How can journalists maintain safety while reporting on conflict?
  • What should the role of foreign correspondents be? 
  • Have ethical guidelines changed since Arnold was reporting in the 1930s? What would be the considerations made today? 

Suggested sources:

Policy decisions: In Gladys Arnold's letter, she decides she is going to stay in Europe until she is evacuated. During both historical and contemporary large-scale emergencies, governments must make decisions surrounding when citizens need to be evacuated, and take the actions necessary to do so. 

Write a policy brief on evacuation as though you were in government. 

  • What factors are you considering?
  • What are the best ways to ensure the safety of citizens?
  • How can you account for a situation that may be unfolding rapidly? 

Suggested sources:

Literary form - autobiography, creative writing: Understanding Gladys Arnold's life and letter, consider different literary forms and their applications to archival sources. 

Autobiography: Arnold wrote an autobiography about her life in 1987, entitled One woman's war: A Canadian reporter with the French Free Press. Write a reading response based on your reaction to her autobiography:

  • Which moments does she emphasize?
  • How does she convey her memories?
  • Does the letter she wrote factor in as a large part of her memory? 

Creative writing: Using the letter as creative inspiration, write a poem, play, or short story based on the themes Arnold brings up. Potential questions to guide this exercise may include:

  • How do you think her mother reacted upon receiving her letter?
  • Arnold discusses her friends who are "going about their work calmly and courageously…” during this time. What do you think they are thinking and feeling? What are their inner monologues? 
  • What do you think happened after Arnold sent her letter? 

Suggested sources:

Create an art piece: Using Gladys Arnold's words, create a performance inspired by her emotional position. 

Audio: Create an episode of a podcast.

  • How can you use audio technology to bring Arnold's words to life? 

Film: Write, film, and edit a short film based on Arnold's letter.

  • How do you visually convey Arnold's emotional turmoil? 

Theatre: Write and/or perform a screenplay based on the letter. 

  • How will you design the set and costumes? Which historical considerations are you taking into account?

Visual arts: Create a visual art piece inspired by the letter. 

  • Which mediums will you work with?
  • Will you incorporate archival photographs? 

Suggested sources:

Connecting with an aging population: Gladys Arnold's letter and photograph recount a firsthand experience of the 1930s and the specific issues faced by young adults during this time. Using archival sources to connect with an elderly population that also faced similar issues or experiences can be a useful way to promote communication and memory. 

Compile a sourcebook of archival photographs and materials that might be relevant to an elderly population. Questions to consider include:

  • What types of photographs and sources would be appropriate for this collection? 
  • How might people connect to these sources? 

Suggested sources: