03 May 2017 Blogs, Academic, Community College, Faculty, Librarian, Student/Researcher

Why study social movements?

Discover resources that “spark new interest in how we got to where we are today, and how we might move forward to tomorrow.”

Studying social movements helps researchers analyze the activists who have sought social change, as well as help researchers develop critical thinking skills about the process of social change, according to Kathryn Sklar in the recent ACRL webinar, “How Does the Past Inform Today?”

The webinar featured Sklar with her partner Thomas Dublin, both of State University of New York Binghamton and editors of the Alexander Street Women in Social Movements collections, and Daniel Lewis, the Product Manager behind ProQuest’s History Vault.

Sklar said the study of social movements is a way to “connect the past with the present to spark new interest in how we got where we are today, and how we might move forward to tomorrow.”

Women in Social Movements

Sklar added that there are a number of critical reasons to study women in social movements:

    • it provides new topics to explore in all history
    • it offers a more comprehensive understanding of history: “All issues are women’s issues, and no history is complete unless it is seen through women’s eyes as well as men’s.”
    • it’s more inclusive – men’s history often overlooks women, but women’s history integrates men in relation to what women were doing

She and Dublin outlined the three Women in Social Movements collections from Alexander Street – “Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000,” “Women and Social Movements, International, 1840 to Present” and the recently released “Women and Social Movements in Modern Empires Since 1820” and revealed the curation process behind them. Organizing the collections in clusters allows Sklar and Dublin to collaborate with distinguished faculty and librarians in particular subjects within women’s history to aggregate the most comprehensive body of primary source materials, including books, video, and documents such as journals, institutional records, personal letters and diaries, photographs and more.

Sklar also explained the goals of the collections:

    • Combine what historians do (interpret primary sources)
    • With what the internet does (provide new scale of space)
    • To enable researchers to work with online materials in ways that are not possible with print media
    • To serve all levels of historical research
    • To make (often inaccessible) primary resources accessible
    • Within a monographic focus and interpretive framework that contributes to historical knowledge
    • To work closely with colleagues, as authors, editors and advisors of the collections

Intersectionality in Social Movements

Lewis demonstrated how primary source documents from the Civil Rights and the Black Freedom Struggle History Vault collection enable in-depth research on the intersection of Black History and Women’s History. This History Vault collection includes primary source documents, including correspondence, photographs, memos, newsletters, reports and more, from nearly 200 NAACP branches. Lewis narrowed his search of the 10 Civil Rights modules in History Vault to focus on the NAACP branch files, and the important leadership roles assumed by women throughout the NAACP’s history.

As if he were a student conducting research on this topic, Lewis showed the access points a researcher might use to begin an exploration of History Vault – such as through collection descriptions, featured documents and suggested searches – depending on whether he was seeking specific information on a particular person or topic, or conducting a search to inspire broader connections and serendipitous discovery. 

His demonstration also highlighted how many History Vault collections encompass invaluable content for research in Women’s Studies even though they might not explicitly be categorized as Women’s Studies materials. With this in mind, Lewis shared how other History Vault collections can be used to investigate the critical contributions of women to the Civil Rights movement. 

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Watch the recording of the ACRL webinar.