Organized in 1852, the Presbyterian Historical Society is the oldest denominational archives in the United States and serves as the national archives for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and many predecessor denominations. It exists to collect, preserve, and share the story of the American Presbyterian and Reformed experience with Presbyterians, the scholarly community, and the general public. The society’s holdings include more than 250,000 titles reflecting the history of the Presbyterian tradition in America and over 30,000 cubic feet of official records and personal papers. A 2018 Center grant supports collaborative research projects that introduce Community College of Philadelphia students to rare historical materials, leading to exhibitions that examine the notion of accessibility and representation in archives.
Presbyterian Historical Society will collaborate with classes from Community College of Philadelphia to give students access to rare historical materials. The program will cultivate enhanced research and critical thinking skills, and deconstruct received historical notions through semester-long research projects studying items from the Historical Society’s collections. Public exhibitions hosted at the Historical Society and online will reflect on the students’ research experiences, as well as examine the idea of archives and some of the complications of historical collections—including issues of accessibility, institutional bias in collecting strategies, and holes in representation. Selected in conjunction with the college’s instructors, the archival materials will provide the foundation for timely humanities-based investigations and will be incorporated into new curriculum materials. The project offers instructors and students a unique opportunity to work closely with professional archivists, while allowing the Historical Society to better understand how to serve the needs of student researchers and eliminate barriers to access for underserved patron groups.
Additional unrestricted funds are added to each grant for general operating support.