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Center for Arts & Heritage for its project, “Chronicling Resistance, Enabling Resistance: Libraries and Archives Expose Historical Documents and Encourage Communities to Make Their Stories Heard.”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. [View list of consultants]
“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.”
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, Enabling Resistance” is 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.