In Her Own Right at SAA!

On August 6th, 2019, In Her Own Right conducted a working group at the Society of American Archivists annual conference, this year held in Austin, TX. The purpose of the working group was to tease out the many issues involved in documenting women’s history outside mainstream archives, and to attempt to identify best practices for engaging with non-archival communities, their stewards (archivist or layperson), and their records. The resulting conclusions will inform the work of the project as it expands its reach in the NEH phase.

Kat Antonelli, Project Manager for In Her Own Right, facilitated the working group session. Faith Charlton, Lead Processing Archivist for Manuscripts at Princeton University Library Special Collections, acted as note-taker. The session was attended by about 40 participants, which the project team considered to be an excellent turnout especially considering that it was scheduled on the final morning of the conference. To begin the session, Kat introduced participants to the history of the In Her Own Right project and explained how the working group is intended to help project goals. Briefly—as part of the NEH phase of the project, In Her Own Right will conduct a survey of Philadelphia-area repositories that may contain records of historically underrepresented women, such as women of color or women with disabilities, within their collections. The hope is that, within local small repositories and community archives, the project team will be able to identify materials that fill gaps within the existing archival record (and between the records collected in the In Her Own Right database thus far), and then promote wider access to them by providing collection level descriptions on the In Her Own Right site and, possibly, aiding their custodians in digitizing them. The project team intends to conduct this work intentionally and respectfully, and the questions for discussion were designed to help determine how to do so.

After the introduction, participants broke into groups of about 6 in order to discuss the questions (linked below within the collaborative notes). There were two rounds of questions; one pertaining to locating records of under-documented women, and one pertaining to best practices for working with community archives and/or small repositories. For each round, the groups were allowed about 20 minutes of discussion time, and then everyone came back together to share their conclusions. Each group nominated a spokesperson, and Kat facilitated this portion of the session by asking follow up questions and guiding discussion. Occasionally, Kat asked one group member or another for a clarification of their position if the spokesperson was unable to adequately explain it or if it seemed they could provide further details from personal experience. Throughout this time, Faith took notes, which were eventually consolidated with the collaborative note-taking form (here) provided to participants. The session concluded after the second round of talk-back, and multiple participants expressed interest in hearing more about the project in the future.