Demystifying using collections

Alyssa Mt. Pleasant

Assistant professor of American studies and history

Undergraduate courses: “Narrations of Native America,” “Introduction to American Indian History,” “Indians, Settlers and Slaves in Early America,” “Indian-Colonial Relations,” “Land, Homelands and American Indian History” and “Northeastern Native America”

Joys of teaching: There are several things that I enjoy about teaching undergraduates — Yale students are enthusiastic about learning. They immerse themselves in the reading and arrive in class ready to discuss texts in detail. Yale students are also tremendously inquisitive — in each course I teach, I assign a research project of some sort, and the topics students investigate are wide-ranging. I have been consistently impressed with the quality of work students produce; their curiosity produces inspired projects. For those students whom I have the privilege of knowing over several years, it’s wonderful to see the ways they develop as people during their time at Yale.

Lessons from students: In every course I teach, I assign a research project. I try to make these assignments broad enough to allow students to investigate a topic that is of genuine interest to them. As a result, students’ work sometimes exposes me to areas of American Indian history that I am less familiar with. This is always exciting to me. I also teach a course that brings students into the archives to work with a special collection. Students share this work with the entire class, and their analyses expand our collective understanding of Yale’s rich resources in American Indian or other studies.

Beyond the subject: I enjoy helping students develop an appreciation of Yale’s extensive collections. I want students to understand that these collections are available to them, and I work with archivists and curators to introduce undergraduates to the collections and teach them how to use materials at the Beinecke, the Peabody, or the art galleries on campus on their own. One of the University’s greatest strengths is its collections, and through my teaching I aim to demystify the process of conducting research with primary sources. For students who enroll in my freshman seminar, by the end of the semester they leave with a skill set that can be applied across a wide range of disciplinary interests.