Project History

“RESIST” became the public outcry after the 2016 election, when the public faced the real possibility that rights might be rolled back or taken away from African Americans, non-European immigrants, and other people of color; women; people who identify as LGBTQ; religious minorities; and other vulnerable populations. Resistance, however, is not new. The theme of resistance runs through every major movement in the Philadelphia region’s history, with every challenge to the status quo being met with a counter-push.

PACSCL archivists and special collections librarians knew that a vast amount of evidence of that history is held where they work. They also knew that not all perspectives and accounts of resistance, activism, and organizing had been valued and collected equally, and that this needed to change. Stories from activists and their communities needed to be preserved, and more of their stories already held in the archives needed to be wider known. So PACSCL began Chronicling Resistance.

Beginning as a discovery project funded by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, we held a series of community listening sessions from November 2018-May 2019 to answer these questions:

What are the large and small acts of resistance that have brought us to today?

How can librarians and archivists help people make  more meaningful connections between past and present acts of resistance?

What previously untold stories of resistance should be preserved, shared, and told?

Who is important to Philadelphia’s resistance history? Who is creating a history of resistance right now? How will future generations know about them?


During discovery, we boiled those down to two questions:  “What are the large and small acts of resistance that have brought us to today, and how can more people know about them now and in the future?” One important lesson we learned discovery: the major barrier to connecting communities to archives is that a lot of people don’t know what materials are available and that they are available to anyoneTo help bridge this gap, we’re developing a resistance-themed database featuring a sliver of the resistance-related documents in PACSCL collections.

In January 2020, just two months before the coronavirus pandemic closed most archives, Chronicling Resistance began transitioning into a project about about the history libraries and archives hold onto, the history we can find there easily, and the history that’s harder to trace. We received small grants from the  Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation and the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage  for a pilot project.  Three nontraditional researchers who are also artists and activists conducted research in PACSCL archives and, once the pandemic hit, through secondary sources. They discuss their findings in our podcast, Research Revelations.

Those activists helped shaped Chronicling Resistance into its current iteration with 10 fellowships, 11 fellows, and a year of programming and exhibitions planned for 2022 that we hope will reveal how the fellows and communities represent see themselves in Philadelphia’s resistance history and how they continue the city’s tradition of resistance in large and small ways every day.

Chronicling Resistance is now housed at the Free Library of Philadelphia and supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation with additional funding from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.


Previous Events and Listening Sessions

Chronicling Resistance at “Design in the Archives”
October 30, 2019, 6 pm – 8 pm
Free Library of Philadelphia, Parkway Central

Chronicling Resistance joins more than 20 exhibitors for this ArchivesMonthPhilly centerpiece event, “Design in the Archives,” with an information table and activity station showcasing the importance of design in resistance movements.

The theme for the Chronicling Resistance table is “Resistance by Design” and will feature logos, posters, etc. with implied or explicit messages of resistance from the 19th through 21st centuries.

The theme for the activity is “Design in Dialogue.” The way images and words are positioned on a page sends a message. Chronicling Resistance dug out some historic photos and posters; tell us what they say to you, and show us how you’d design your own resistance poster — no artistic skills required!

The Chronicling Resistance display and activity interpret one of two PACSCL-projects  at “Design in the Archives.” Be sure to stop by the “In Her Own Right” table — also about resistance — and design your own “Votes for Women!” button. And browse the many tables featuring 11 PACSCL member institutions and other area libraries, museums, and archives.

More information:  Design in the Archives at the Free Library of Philadelphia

Listening Sessions

Tuesday, May 7, 2019, Sankofa, a closing celebration, pop-up exhibit, listening session, and community dinner at Bartram’s Garden and Sankofa Community Farm (Read the recap)

Tuesday, March 19, 2019, Screening, Sisters in Freedom, at Free Library of Philadelphia Paschalville Branch (Read the recap)

Wednesday, March 13, 2019, “Who Tells Your Story?” Community Archiving Forum at William Way LGBT Center (Read the recap)

We were unable to host the listening session with One Book One Philadelphia on Wednesday, March 6, 2019 at Free Library of Philadelphia, Lucien Blackwell Branch. The rest of the program continued as planned.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019, Screening, Sisters in Freedom, Free Library of Philadelphia, Haverford Branch (Read the recap)

Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, 4:30 pm, Community Day and Douglass and DuBois exhibit tour, Free Library of Philadelphia Parkway Central Branch (Read the recap)

Friday, Feb. 8, 2019, 7:00 pm, was canceled due to technical difficulties with the screening.

Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019, 5-7:30 pm, “Remembering Resistance, Chronicling Community” (Read the recap)

Wednesday, December 12, 2018, 6-8 pm, “Uncovering Women of Color in Time, Place, and History” (Read the recap)

Wednesday, November 28, 2018, 6-8 pm “Archiving Our Own” (Read the recap)


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Previous Project Team

Former Steering Committee Members:

  • Peter Conn, Executive Director, The Philadelphia Athenaeum
  • Rachel D’Agostino, Curator of Printed Books, Library Company of Philadelphia
  • Tim Murray, Head of Special Collections, University of Delaware Libraries
Thinking Partner Consultants, Discovery Phase
PACSCL engaged a diverse group of “thinking partner” consultants to its Chronicling Resistance project. These consultants joined with PACSCL members, the project staff, other cultural organizations, community groups and communities of activism to consider issues of resistance and memory.
    • Laurie Allen, University of Pennsylvania Library / Monument Lab
    • Rob Blackson, Temple Contemporary
    • Paul Farber, University of Pennsylvania / Monument Lab
    • Valerie Gay, Art Sanctuary
    • Melissa Hamilton, CultureWorks Philadelphia
    • Ivan Henderson, African American Museum in Philadlephia
    • Katherine Kane, Harriet Beecher Stowe House (emerita)
    • Sean Kelley, Eastern State Penitentiary
    • Nathaniel Popkin, Hidden City / History Making Productions
    • Matt Rader, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
    • Hazami Sayed, Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture
    • Jessica Shupik, Public school teacher
    • Rebecca Traister, Journalist and author
    • Denise Valentine, Roots & Wings Storytelling (deceased)
    • Morris Vogel, Tenement Museum

Project Assistant, September 2018-May 2019: Zoe Jeka

News Release, June 18, 2018:

PACSCL receives grant to showcase histories of resistance and preserve materials reflecting 21st century issues

The Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) is pleased to announce that it has been awarded a Discovery Grant from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage for its project, “Chronicling Resistance, Enabling Resistance: Libraries and Archives Expose Historical Documents and Encourage Communities to Make Their Stories Heard.”

In announcing the award, Ronald Brashear, Arnold Thackray Director of the Othmer Library at the Science History Institute and PACSCL board chair, observed, “Resistance is embedded in our human DNA. Both the city of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania colony were founded as an act of resistance to England’s religious intolerance. At the same time, the colonists themselves were the subject of resistance by indigenous peoples. And you see it reflected in the development of science and medicine where new theories face resistance from established theories.” The theme of resistance runs through every major movement in more than three centuries of the area’s history, Brashear noted, with every challenge to the status quo being met with a counter-push. Milestones in Philadelphia- area resistance are as diverse and compelling as the 1688 petition for the abolition of slavery; the violent labor protests of the Molly Maguires and the children’s march of Mother Jones; a mid-20th-century protest against the proposed Tocks Island Dam; and the 2011 Occupy Philadelphia movement. But while the historical and cultural materials preserved in libraries may tell these stories, they often are either not known or not available to everyone — and many citizens may not see themselves in the narratives or recognize the relevance to their own lives.

In an effort to bring these important stories into focus for a broad public, PACSCL is enlisting a group of fifteen “thinking partner” consultants — drawn from other cultural and community organizations, activists, teachers/students, and journalists — to think about current collections, resistance narratives, and ways to build partnerships, strengthen collections, and engage new audiences. Their work will involve small group discussions on the one hand and larger, community-based “listening sessions” on the other, challenging PACSCL members to think about these issues and challenging PACSCL to build a set of outward-facing programs — such as exhibitions, performances or works of art inspired by the collections, and online resources — around the broad theme of resistance and what it means to us both historically and in the present.

“There are two important things we want to accomplish,” explained Sarah Horowitz, leader of the advisory board for the project and Curator of Rare Books & Manuscripts and Head of Quaker & Special Collections at Haverford College. “We want to make sure the stories in our collections are better known and in a way that a broad cross-section of our citizens can relate to. In other words, we want to get those stories out of our reading rooms and into the community.” But just as important, Horowitz continued, are the stories that aren’t yet in PACSCL collections or that may not even have happened yet. “We need to make sure that contemporary stories of resistance are collected and preserved, either by our libraries and archives or by other institutions or community archives.”

Nancy Shukaitis Papers

In this process, PACSCL will seek to reach individuals and groups who are 1) records creators; 2) records keepers such as neighborhood organizations, churches, and communities of activism, in addition to libraries and archives; and 3) those who interpret and share records, such as educators, journalists, and curators. PACSCL will welcome broad participation in listening events and other gatherings. “If we are going to involve everyone, we need to get out of our buildings and into the neighborhoods,” Horowitz noted.

This project will allow PACSCL to move beyond allowing people to use its reading rooms, instead proactively bringing collections to people, and expanding our ideas of “collecting” based on feedback and community needs. Future collecting might involve helping an activist group to retain and preserve their records in a way that makes sense to them, or placing materials on “digital deposit” with libraries and archives while the community retains the originals. It anticipates a re-visioning of how history is documented and who can and should be documenting, ultimately leading to a version of the historical record which broadly reflects the people and issues of 21st-century Philadelphia.

“Content created with community input is likely to be meaningful to people in that it will speak to their experiences and interests,” commented Brashear. Having such communities participate in content-creation will provide a multiplicity of voices as part of the project. It will also take some small steps towards corrective action in a history of implicit/explicit exclusionary practices on the part of collecting institutions and collectors and provide insight into the kinds of records deemed important by collecting powers, as well as absences in the record.

Support for the research and development of “Chronicling Resistance” (2018-19) was provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. PACSCL is very grateful for this support, which will help PACSCL to showcase the histories of resistance in its collection while partnering with new organizations and challenging its own notions of what should be collected.