Brown University Launches New Digital Archives Relating to Women’s History

The Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, has launched a newly curated collection of women’s archives to provide women’s history scholars with an organized, expansive database featuring the stories of hundreds of women.

“For the first time, library users can access fully organized and described special collections and manuscripts that are by and about women in a matter of seconds — fully processed, fully organized,” said Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg, director of the Pembroke Center. “This is an important step in bringing more women’s voices to the fore in every academic field, from women’s and gender studies to history, science and art.”

Since 1987, the John Hay Library and the Pembroke Center entered a formal partnership to find collections by and about women and compile them into a digital archive. Over the decades, the archives grew slowly until 2016, when the proportion of university collections by and about women reached 11 percent. Then, the Pembroke Center hired its first full-time archivist, Mary Murphy. Since her hiring, the proportion of women-centered special collections has more than doubled, now making up 25 percent of the total. Murphy’s goal is to reach 51 percent, which would reflect the American population’s current gender ratio.

“In an era where college libraries are stressing the importance of partnership, this is an outstanding example of a successful one,” Murphy said. “That Brown took actionable steps to ensure women’s history was included, that it dedicated money to this project, that it allowed the Pembroke Center so much independence — all of that is phenomenally open-minded.”

Today, the Pembroke Center’s collections are divided into two archives: The Christine Dunlap Farnham Archive, which offers a comprehensive history of women at Brown and in Rhode Island, and the Feminist Theory Archive, which documents the work of influential feminist theorists and scholars who have transformed the landscape of higher education through their writing, teaching, and activism.

“These collections show that stereotypes are made to be broken,” Murphy said. “Women are part of every movement and behave in every way — good, bad and ugly, just like the men. These archives prove that. They were involved in wars, peace efforts, civil rights and racism.”

Murphy holds a master of library and information science degree from Simmons University in Boston and a master of fine art degree in historic preservation from the Savannah College of Art & Design in Georgia.

The new curated collection may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Women's Studies


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