Final Chronicling Resistance Thinking Partners Meeting

Members of the Chronicling Resistance steering committee and thinking partners met April 9, 2019. This was the last formal event for thinking partners in Phase I of the project. Discussion topics at the meeting included where the project was and what it had accomplished, potential next steps, and best practices for future work.

Those in attendance agreed that the project had learned much about what the barriers are to people using traditional library/archive reading rooms and about the collections in PACSCL institutions which relate to resistance. We have also learned that thinking about resistance is often very local: in talking about resistance heros and what resistance means to them, attendees at our listening sessions often mentioned someone in their family or community elders. These outcomes will inform our future development of the project, which includes a grant application in concert with the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Further discussion focused on best practices for reaching out to communities and making archives and libraries more open. We discussed the possibility of developing training for PACSCL library staff on implicit bias and anti-oppression work. We also discussed what it might mean to provide support for activists in archives who may encounter traumatic material. The issue of encouraging more students from a variety of backgrounds to explore libraries and archives as a potential career was raised.

We also discussed issues of preservation and access to collections in both institutional and non-institutional settings. Many communities don’t want their materials to go to a university or historical society, but prefer to preserve them within the community which created the materials. If we put together kits for groups to use in preserving their archives, will they want these and no further contact, or should there be a continued relationship? What might both these options look like?

The meeting closed with conversation about the news from the previous day that the Historical Society of Pennsylvania was laying off 30% of its staff. While not directly related to the project, HSP is a PACSCL member, and everyone at the meeting expressed sadness at the news. Many people around the table also stated that such news forces us to consider how Philadelphia values, preserves, and thinks about its cultural heritage — one of the very questions being explored in Chronicling Resistance.

Resistance Collections PACSCL Member Event

Resistance Collections
An Event for PACSCL Library Staff

22 people attended a Chronicling Resistance event for staff from PACSCL member libraries. The goals of the event were to inform PACSCL member staff about the project and its findings, and to learn more about resistance-related collections in the collections of PACSCL institutions.

The event opened with everyone sharing something that was going on at their own institution, either that they were particularly excited about or that they had been focusing on. Project director Mariam Williams outlined the events we hosted, questions that were asked of attendees, and some early findings. She also asked several people in the room to share their experiences of attending or hosting listening sessions.

One attendee noted that the listening session he attended gave him further motivation and a framework for the work he wanted to do in thinking about his institution’s demographic boundaries. He was also especially influenced by speaker comments on how ownership of narratives is critical. A staff member at an institution which hosted a listening session noted that having the session there connected her with people who had been involved with the history of her institution, and brought out stories she had not heard before. Other attendees noted that sessions gave them a lot to think about and found them productive.

Mariam then reviewed discoveries from our process, and rounded up some other projects we have thought about, used as inspiration, and been in conversation with. Major points included that the public connects the past and the present, but doesn’t necessarily see a connection of the past to archives and special collections. One major barrier to this is not knowing what materials are available or if they are available to everyone.

The conversation then transitioned to the website we are creating that will include information about resistance related materials found in PACSCL collections, which attempts to address in some way the findings above. We discussed the audience for the website and its goals, as well as how materials could be added and what information we are hoping to collect. Guidelines written by project staff were passed around, designed to help people think about language and types of description.

The event closed with general social and networking time, so that attendees could talk more informally about the work they are doing.

“Sisters in Freedom” Screening Summary

“Sisters in Freedom” screening summary

This event was held in collaboration with History Making Productions, which produced the film “Sisters in Freedom”. The event began with an introduction to the film and to the Chronicling Resistance project and its aims. Six attendees then watched the film, which is about the advocacy of black and white women in Philadelphia for the abolition of slavery and the ways in which they worked together. Stories include those of Ona Judge, Lucretia Mott, and Sarah Mapps Douglass.

Discussion after the film centered on the importance of untold stories, things that are not taught in school, and how much Philadelphia history is unknown to many. Attendees noted that in school slavery is often presented as something that happened only in the South, while the film made clear it was also an issue in Philadelphia. Most people in the room had not heard the story of Pennsylvania Hall, built by abolitionists and destroyed by those in favor of slavery and colonization soon after its opening; this story is part of the climax of the film, and emphasized how unknown important stories of Philadelphia’s history are not necessarily widely known.

Community Day Recap

Project director Mariam Williams (front, center) facilitates discussion with participants at Free Library of Philadelphia’s Community Day, 16 Feb 2019.

Chronicling Resistance, Enabling Resistance participated in Community Day at the Free Library of Philadelphia. The event began with the talk/exhibit tour “Philadelphia’s Seventh Ward in a Changing City” given by by Kalela Williams, Director of Neighborhood Library Enrichment for the Free Library of Philadelphia. The talk was presented in conjunction with the exhibit “At These Crossroads: The Legacies of Frederick Douglass and W. E. B. Du Bois,” which Williams co-curated.  In her talk, Williams discussed significant people and places in the Seventh Ward, and DuBois’s study of the Ward in The Philadelphia Negro, published in 1899. Williams also talked about some of the primary sources she consulted while working on the exhibit, including diaries of an African-American woman in Philadelphia during the Civil War (held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania), and several African-American girls’ friendship albums (held at the Library Company of Philadelphia).

Following the talk, 20 people participated in a listening session over pizza and snacks. Discussion centered on how people were thinking about preserving their own and their families histories, and how materials end up in archives. The audience raised important questions about how you can know whether something you have is of interest to an institution (either in general, or what the right institution to contact might be), whether the fact that so much is digital makes it easier or harder to preserve and share materials, and how to decide whether or not to save something when you are cleaning the attic or tidying up. Participants also were interested in what archival institutions exist in Philadelphia and expressed surprise that PACSCL has 40 member institutions.

 

Thinking Partners Retreat Recap

Members of the Chronicling Resistance thinking partners and steering committee met January 18 for a half-day retreat. Major topics of discussion included where the project is now, what the main goals are for the second part of this phase, and the possibilities for future phases. Themes of the discussion included how best to activate materials and the importance of stories. We also identified two distinct strands of the project: one is about accessing collections, letting people know about materials, interpreting those materials, and deepening engagement with them; the other is about collecting materials and documenting stories. We need to figure out how/when/if to bring these things together, and what that might look like.

We have been using cards to gather information on how people think about resistance and the history of resistance. This lead to a discussion about whether we could do this work in another format; e.g., encouraging people to do a short video essay in answer to these questions, and posting it online. This might be especially attractive to a 9-12/education population. There are some privacy concerns, but this is something we might look into for the future.

One thing that we have learned from our listening sessions is that lots of people don’t see libraries as their spaces. One of the reasons that sessions have been successful to date is because we drew on the networks of the people involved in those sessions, particularly the speakers, but also the venues. If we are doing events without speakers, or at public libraries, how can we continue to engage with people who don’t see libraries as their spaces? We discussed strategies, and acknowledged the fact that tension in these areas is okay; if there isn’t any tension, this project is not going well, as tension is one way of knowing that we are getting to the heart of issues.

It also seemed that the “chronicling” part of our work has been less of a focus than “resistance” so far. We discussed various methods of making sure that this is part of the conversation at events, including having materials (or facsimiles) available in the space to spark thoughts in this area, framing opening questions to encourage discussion of experiences with archives and libraries, and asking people about what stories they want to hear and do not, and what do they find off-putting about libraries.

Stories were once again a major feature of the discussion, particularly how we can (or cannot) tell stories with documents and objects, the ways in which stories allow for engagement, and creating authentic excitement about history. Connections, and the lack thereof, between communities and collections were also an important topic of conversation. A long-term goal of the project is to lessen the power dynamics between communities and archives.

 

In thinking about next steps for the project, thinking partners were very interested in how PACSCL members might demonstrate commitment and use their power. There were discussions about whether future grants could include money to bring communities to work with collections, to purchase new resistance materials, to work with communities to preserve collections, or to bring in artists to make work inspired by materials. Such collection-development related activities are not new work for institutions, although this is a different way of seeing them. Although Chronicling Resistance is a PACSCL project, to do this kind of work we will need investment from individual institutions; more interaction between member institutions and communities could have beneficial outcomes for both groups.

One key component of any next steps should be to activate materials and collections; part of what has been inspiring about previous listening sessions has been when people talked about their own work.