07 février 2024 Blogs

How personal stories humanize history

New resource Women’s & Gender Studies from ProQuest, part of Clarivate, is an accessible resource that helps students engage with history through primary sources

To the average college student, history can often seem remote — a distant collection of faded dates and events. Yet within its archives lie the buried stories of ordinary individuals that have the power to breathe life into the past and forge a remarkable connection between then and now.

“I was reading these letters one after another. It was like I was communicating in some way with these real people from the 1860s, just looking at my 21st-century laptop”
— Student researcher, Cayla Regas

Primary sources deliver history through real stories

Imagine stepping into the past through the handwritten petitions sent to the US government by women during the tumultuous Civil War era.

ProQuest, part of Clarivate, hosted a recent webinar, where history Professor Rebecca Jo Plant from the University of California, San Diego, and undergraduate student researcher Cayla Regas explained how they did just that, embarking on a project to transcribe decades-old handwritten letters. Their project, entitled, 'Do not toss this letter away': Women's Hardship Petitions to the U.S. Federal Government during the Civil War’ – part of the ProQuest digital primary source collection Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000 – enables students to connect with history through the voices of real women.

Letters from everyday women like Mary Blount, Pamela Gould, and Francis Utter reveal the anger, desperation and tenacity of women who were left to shoulder the care of their families when their husbands were drafted into service – sometimes unjustly, according to their letters. Classrooms that use primary sources like these enable students to understand historical events in a more immediate, emotional and holistic way. Regas described the impact primary sources had on her experience studying history: “I didn’t have much interest in things that seemed like they happened a really, really long time ago. I couldn’t really imagine the significance of these historical details to my life. It was when I started reading these letters that I really began to fall in love with history.”

Bridging the past and present

Plant and Regas explained how Gen Z can connect the gap between history and their worlds by using primary sources to examine historical contexts. Drawing parallels between past and present social movements, students gain a deeper understanding of interconnections between different eras. This reflection allows students to recognize striking similarities, evolution in societal norms and the continuum of progress.

For example, during the American Civil War era, women grappled with daunting challenges— taking on immense responsibilities, fighting for recognition and challenging societal norms that stifled them to restrictive roles. Comparing this with today's social movements enables students to reflect on the ongoing movements for equality, inclusion and justice.

Empowering access to historical narratives

Resources such as Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000 can play a pivotal role in helping students comprehend and explore the evolution of social norms. Now, ProQuest has reimagined a rich variety of collections about gender in a single, destination resource. Developed with faculty, scholars and librarians, ProQuest Women’s & Gender Studies includes a global selection of primary and secondary sources, leading historical magazines and periodicals, document projects and exhibits – including Women and Social Movements in the United States – government materials, video, and essays by top scholars in the field.

ProQuest Women’s & Gender Studies is specifically designed to help educators introduce archival research to students. It includes a suite of purpose-built tools, including featured content browses, archival arrangements mirroring physical archives, curated timelines spanning significant historical eras, and detailed topic pages on individuals and organizations.

Libraries with ProQuest Women’s & Gender Studies can support classroom engagement in history, women’s issues and gender courses across eras. From the emotional letters of Civil War-era women to the impactful moments of the International Women’s Suffrage Conference in Budapest in 1913, from the passionate efforts of the National Gay Task Force to the contemporary global marches, these collections reveal the essence of human resilience, triumph and struggle.

Bring history to life for your students

Explore the depth and richness of historical accounts through Professor Plant’s and student researcher Regas’ work in 'Do not toss this letter away': Women's Hardship Petitions to the U.S. Federal Government during the Civil War’ alongside the vast, curated selection of primary documents included in ProQuest Women’s & Gender Studies.

For trial access and pricing options, visit ProQuest Women’s & Gender Studies.