“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.

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.