Research is an important part of who I am and what I do. There’s a lot of implicit bias that goes into it, something that is unfortunately left out of most scholarly discussions. It’s up to individual researchers, then, to self-police and make sure our reflections and findings–while invariably affected by the hindsight and modern experiences we possess–are as fair as we can make them.
Part of this is cross-checking information, getting multiple sources to affirm the initial, historical source itself was unbiased and fair.
It also requires us to get meta and take a look at the sources we use. Who gathered them, who curate them. Whose voice is included and highlighted, whose voices are excluded. Who is spoken for.
One of the biggest hurdles to research is gatekeeping: be it intentional or otherwise. For example, hiding information behind an exorbitant paywall, or locking it in the ivory tower of a university. It is vital to make information accessible to all.
This is a nonnegotiable step in expanding opportunity within the research community. Removing barriers that keep out people of marginalized groups, which silences their voices.
We will never be able to fully understand the perspectives and life experiences of others, be they our neighbors in the present or the subject of our past study. What we can do, though, is make an effort.
Building on the theme of seeking out alternate perspectives, in August, I made an effort to find alternate archival resources of groups both in- and outside my bubble, which were free to use and open to all.
This is not an end-all, be-all list. It is incomplete; by definition, a list of a fixed length will exclude voices. If there are other digitized archives you’d suggest I check out or include in a future list, please send them to me: comment below or visit my Contact page.
General Newspaper Archives
I frequently use Newspapers.com for my research projects, but the subscription fee can make it an impractical resource. There are several free digitized collections that can serve as alternative resources to anyone looking for primary sources. Check out the partnership between the Library of Congress and the NEH in the “Chronicling America” initiative, which works to make historic newspapers across America free and accessible online. Visit nehforall.org or chroniclingamerica.loc.gov to learn more.
Black History Resources
It’s far too frequent that the voices of certain communities are silenced, be it out of purposeful ignorance of others in the field or simply a lack of resources for researchers. Initiatives like the Black Press Research Collective are working to change that. The BPRC has an excellently curated collection of resources, including digitized Black-owned newspapers, films, and research guides, all free and open for the public to use. Find them at blackpressresearchcollective.org, and consider supporting their work. Also check out the resource collections of the Center for Racial Justice in Education, which specifically looks to address racism in the classroom.
Indigenous History Resources
The voices of indigenous peoples across the world have been silenced throughout history, with much of the research on and resources about indigenous issues coming from outside the community. A great place to start when looking for indigenous-made resources is firstnations.org, which curates collections of books, webinars, and more. If you’re looking for primary sources, many tribes across America have worked with local libraries and universities to digitize historic documents and other resources. Check out the Ojibwe People’s Dictionary, done in partnership with with the University of Minnesota, and the National Indian Law Library, an initiative of the Native American Rights Fund.
Latinx History Resources
As trends of nationalism and xenophobia rise across the globe, immigrants and people perceived to be ‘other’ are constantly targeted. A major group facing violence and hostility in America are Latinx peoples. To combat this, civil rights organizations create and spread resources which are open to all. Check out the work of groups like UnidosUS and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which work to connect communities, fight for Latinx rights, and share educational programs about relevant issues. Don’t be afraid to reach out to researchers, professors, or local organizations to be pointed in the direction of a specific topic or resources–don’t forget libraries are ALWAYS a great resource.
LGBTQ+ History Resources
In recent years, efforts to record and digitize queer history have ramped up. The desire to preserve stories of yesterday and today is ever-present, and initiatives like the LGBTQ Oral History Digital Collaboratory work to collect and share the voices of people across the queer community, including activists and others across America. For other primary sources, check out the Digital Transgender Archive, which looks at the record and depiction of trans+ people across history, and the Queer Digital History Project, which preserves and shares the presence of queer communities on the early Internet.