The University of Houston recently hosted Dr. Maria Cotera of the University of Michigan and her talk, “Decolonizing the Archive: Chicana por mi Raza and the Challenge of Digital Humanities.” Dr. Cotera’s talk focused on her work with Chicana por mi Raza, a public humanities project centered on the collection and digital preservation of archival materials, ephemera, and oral histories that document the development of Chicana feminist thought during the civil rights era. A panel discussion, “Pushing Back: Chicana, Latina, Hispanic Women Preserving our Narratives,” followed Cotera’s talk and featured the founder of Studio One Archive Resource, Patricia Hernandez, Director of Research for Arte Público Press, Dr. Carolina Villaroel, and the first Hispanic Collections Archivist at the University of Houston, our own Lisa Cruces.
Sponsored by a number of organizations on and off campus, Dr. Cotera’s talk was broadly attended and included students, staff, and faculty from UH as well as local universities and high schools. The “digital turn,” Dr. Cotera argues, has allowed for a certain de-centering of authority in the work of scholarly research and the Chicana por mi Raza project establishes a collaborative venue providing broad-based public access to oral histories, correspondence, and out-of-print publications for scholarly research in and out of the classroom. Her work with Chicana por mi Raza represents a challenge to the pedagogy and influence of archival politics, prejudices, and patriarchal legacy of the existing structure. The result is a democratization of the archives and an engagement with communities that have been underrepresented in more traditional research models.
The panel that followed provided attendees an opportunity to ask questions and hear from women in the field with a variety of traditional and non-traditional archival backgrounds address the subtleties, nuance, and challenges of preserving the historical narratives in this new landscape. As Archivist for the Hispanic Collections here at UH, Cruces certainly has faith in aspects of the traditional archival models, but pointed out that Cotera’s work necessitates the bringing together of multiple vested interests and provides a great opportunity to partner with members of the community outside of the traditional institutional walls. In turn, this work allows a means of introduction to the archives while also allowing participants to look critically as to how historical memory is collected.
In addition to the over 7,000 linear feet of archival collections made available for study at the University of Houston Special Collections, we are also proud to offer over 100,000 rare and antique books for use in our reading room. Each month we will highlight a text from our collections and what makes it so special.
Book of the Month: The Spirit of Houston. The First National Women’s Conference. An Official Report to the President, the Congress, and the People of the United States, published by President Jimmy Carter’s National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year.
Why so Special? A number of reasons, really.
First, there’s the timing. Whether you’ve been celebrating Women’s History Week since 1981 or you go all the way back to 1909 and celebrated International Women’s Day last weekend, one thing is certain–March is Women’s History Month. Then, what time like the present to view this report and delve back into a history that captures a moment in time when so-called second-wave feminism was on the rise, the world was beginning to notice, and, for a moment, Houston found itself at the epicenter of the domestic debate and struggle.
The timing of the events that brought about this report is also worth noting. When the United Nations declared that 1975 would be “International Women’s Year,” President Gerald Ford established the National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year. In the wake of 1975, the work taken on by UN partnerships, and the issues and questions raised from the World Conference of the International Women’s Year (held in Mexico City in the summer of 1975), President Carter’s Commission proposed a National Women’s Conference to take place in Houston in 1977. That November 2,000 delegates from all fifty states and six territories descended on Houston along with an estimated 20,000 observers in attendance. Included among these numbers were first ladies, activists, artists, writers, and more. The topics addressed and reported on by the Conference seemed to buoy support for the floundering Equal Rights Amendment on through 1978. President Carter expressed as much in his comments on the one-year anniversary of the Conference, including ratification of the ERA to be among the goals necessary “for all citizens to participate fully in every part of American life.”
Or, maybe what makes this report so special is the tip of the research iceberg it represents. The Spirit of Houston… is just one title in the larger Peggy Hall Collection. Hall was a charter member of Houston Area NOW, active member of the Harris County Women’s Political Caucus on issues related to the ERA, and witness to the events of 1977. Examples of other works comprising the collection bearing her name include Notes from the Third Year: Women’s Liberation (a collection of radical feminism that includes Judy Syfers’ biting essay “I Want a Wife,” just prior to its appearance in the premier issue of Ms. magazine) and the iconic 1972 Our Bodies, Ourselves. But, if you had rather keep your focus on the First National Women’s Conference, maybe you would be interested in the Marjorie Randal National Women’s Conference Collection. Randal, an active supporter of women’s rights in the greater Houston-Galveston-Gulf Coast region, was also involved in the events of 1977 and played critical roles in establishing local NOW chapters. Her collection features correspondence, newsletters, publications, and other assorted materials dating from the mid 1970s into the 1980s, with the bulk of the materials focusing on the critical year of 1977 and the National Women’s Conference.
Location: The Spirit of Houston… is available for study this and every month in the University of Houston Special Collections Reading Room (call number HQ1403.N34 U54 1977). Interested in viewing this report or any of the other resources mentioned above? Then, we look forward to your visit to Special Collections.
The UH Public History Program prepares graduate students interested in history for positions in various historical venues, government agencies, business enterprises, and educational institutions. This fall, students enrolled in Dr. Kairn Klieman’s course “Archival Practice and Organizational Histories” spent three weeks immersed in the theory behind archives and the work of professional archivists. Coordinator for Instruction Julie Grob welcomed the students to Special Collections, where they focused their learning on the fascinating collections that make make up the Carey C. Shuart Women’s Archive & Research Collection (WARC). The goal of the unit was to encourage students to consider archives as a potential career, introduce them to the riches of WARC, and lead them to understand how archivists and institutions make collecting decisions which may perpetuate the dominant narrative or fill in gaps in the historical record.
Students in the course read a variety of journal articles about archival theory and practice, attended lectures and discussions led by Grob, toured Special Collections, and completed a project in which they arranged a photocopied version of an archival collection in order to duplicate the work on an archivist. Their favorite activity was probably exploring some of the WARC archival collections related to local organizations such as the Hispanic Women in Leadership Records, Women in Action Records, and Women in the Visual and Literary Arts Records. One pair of students was excited to find correspondence between the Houston Council of Texas Garden Clubs and (then Senator) Lyndon B. Johnson, related to an environmental cause. Students also enjoyed a visit from Vince Lee, curator for WARC, who spoke to the class about his background and career path to the field of archives, and his work with donors and incoming collections.
Following the archives unit, the students went on to work extensively with the local nonprofit Voices Breaking Boundaries, recording oral histories and writing an organizational history to document the organization. The records of Voices Breaking Boundaries, and the oral histories created by Dr. Kairn’s students, will be added to WARC.
If you are interested in exploring the collections yourself, you may visit the WARC website to view finding aids (guides to the collections) and digital collections, or stop by Special Collections during our open hours. If you are a faculty member interested in having a unit developed around archival practice or our primary source collections, please e-mail Julie Grob.
“Archival Practice and Organizational Histories” Course Visits Special Collections
This week marks the final days of the installation and exhibition, Living Lines by Lynn Randolph, a piece commissioned by Arts Brookfield and on view through October 9th at Total Plaza. The 16-foot long oil pastel mural pulls from the sketchbooks of Randolph, providing a window into the creative process of not only the individual artist, but artists as a whole. Curated by Sally Reynolds, the exhibition is held in cooperation with the artist and also features a number of Randolph’s individual paintings.
Lynn Randolph is probably best known as an artist. Or, is it writer? Or, maybe activist. Labels can be tricky. Throughout her life she has seen her art and/or her writing intermingled with her passion for women’s rights and human rights. Originally from Port Arthur, TX, Randolph attended the University of Texas where she received her BFA before returning to Houston and establishing an impressive artistic legacy. Her works have been reproduced in a number of books, academic papers, and journals (including Coronation of St. George, which was reproduced for The Nation) as well as widely exhibited throughout the United States and are part of permanent collections at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Menil Collection, and The National Museum of Women in the Arts, among others.
Her work with women’s rights and human rights was far reaching and art became a natural conduit for her work in these areas as well. In 1984 she and her friend Suzanne Bloom organized in Houston for the Artist Call Against U.S. intervention in Central America, a broad umbrella of artists, activists, and others seeking to bring attention to the crimes being committed as part of U.S. foreign policy in the Western Hemisphere. In 1992 Randolph joined the Women’s Action Coalition and helped the New York based group organize protests of the Republican National Convention held in Houston. Prominent in the protests were the use of drum corps. Born from this experience were the Ilusas (or “deluded women”), a Houston-based drum corps that continued to perform until they disbanded in 1997. In 1993 Randolph and Marilyn Zeitlin traveled to El Salvador and helped organize an exhibition of Salvadorian artists entitled, Art Under Duress, El Salvador from 1980 to Present, which was mounted at the Arizona State University Art Museum and also traveled to Houston with an exhibition at the Lawndale Art Center.
For those interested in the artist’s process, the University of Houston Special Collections is pleased to offer the Lynn Randolph Papers for study. Included in this collection are documents and materials related to her artistic and literary career, as well as her activism and public service, and research and personal papers. In addition, a number of items and works by the author have been individually cataloged to facilitate discovery. The Lynn Randolph Papers are available for study, along with the other collections comprising our Carey C. Shuart Women’s Archive and Research Collection, during our normal research hours. We encourage you to catch Living Lines in these final days and be sure to visit Special Collections for further study with the artist’s papers.
New and varied content continues to be published via the Digital Library on a regular basis. Thanks to these efforts, researchers unable to visit the Special Collections Reading Room in person benefit from remote access to critical primary resources. Last week some new additions went live and Vince Lee, Archivist for the Carey C. Shuart Women’s Archive and Research Collection, provides us with the details below.
Who knew that oral histories could be so much fun and attract such a star-studded lineup? The University of Houston Special Collections is pleased to announce six new additions to the Barbara Karkabi Living Archives Series. You’ll meet Houston women who impacted the environmental movement, allowing us to enjoy Houston’s green spaces, women who had a hand in designing the architecture you see all around you, and women whose dishes you may have savored in the culinary world. If that wasn’t enough, watch an interview with Joanne King Herring as she recounts her role in charities and assisting Afghan resistance fighters (as depicted by Julia Roberts in Charlie Wilson’s War). Or, if pop culture grabs your interest, Tina Knowles talks about her early life and career in establishing her brand in the fashion industry (yes that “Knowles,” the mother of Beyoncé–who attended the original interview recording, by the way, and drew huge crowds on campus). Finally, we have our very own President Khator as she recounts her own personal life and journey which took her from India, to the United States, to ultimately being confirmed as the President and Chancellor of the University of Houston.
Visit the Barbara Karkabi Living Archives Series or Carey C. Shuart Women’s Archive and Research Collection for more information.