Introducing an Online Tutorial for Archival Research on Human Rights at UT-Austin

The papers of author and activist Gloria Anzaldúa.
(Image courtesy of the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin)

The Human Rights Documentation Initiative is excited to introduce the online Tutorial for Archival Research on Women’s Human Rights, a new tool created by a UT iSchool student, Amelia Koford.  While the tutorial is geared towards students and faculty who are researching women’s human rights rights at UT, the tutorial can be useful to anyone who is unfamiliar with the archival research process and questions of ethical engagement with archival material. The link to the tutorial is given below. You can also find a link to it from the UT Collections page on the HRDI website.

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By: Amelia Koford

The archives at the University of Texas at Austin are invaluable resources for scholars, students, and activists interested in human rights. It can be challenging, however, for people unfamiliar with archives to locate, access, and interpret these resources. This semester, as a project for my dual master’s degree in Information Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies, I created an online tutorial to help people conduct archival research.

The tutorial focuses on research topics related to women’s human rights.  However, it can useful for anyone conducting archival research at UT-Austin.  I invite you to explore the tutorial here: http://www.utexas.edu/cola/centers/cwgs/womens-rights/Archival-Research-Tutorial

Background
The idea for this resource came from a conversation with Dr. Kristen Hogan, Project Director of the Embrey Women’s Human Rights Initiative in the UT-Austin Center for Women’s and Gender Studies.  I wanted to find a project that would let me use my skills as an information professional to support feminist scholarship and activism.  I sat down for a brainstorming meeting with Dr. Hogan, who explained that the Embrey Women’s Human Rights Initiative was funding the development of several new Signature Courses on women, gender, and human rights.

Signature Courses at UT-Austin are interdisciplinary classes designed to introduce undergraduate students to college work. The newly developed courses would promote student and faculty engagement with women’s human rights frameworks. One of the innovative components of these courses would be the incorporation of research using the archives at UT-Austin. However, for many students and faculty, archival research would be an unfamiliar and potentially daunting undertaking. Perhaps, Dr. Hogan and I thought, an online tutorial could help them bridge this information gap.

I was drawn to this idea because I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed as a first-time archives user.  During my first year in the School of Information, I learned the particularities of archival research through trial and error.  “I can’t bring my backpack into the reading room?”  “I need to look at something called a finding aid?”  “I should have done some background research before I came?”  I learned the answers to these questions piecemeal, from kind and patient staff members at the archives.  By creating an online tutorial for archival research, I sought to answer some of these questions up front and demystify the archives experience.

Writing and developing the tutorial was extremely rewarding. It gave me the opportunity to learn about information literacy, human rights education, and archival theory and practice. I was able to connect with inspirational archivists, librarians, scholars, and activists who helped me edit the content and gather images to illustrate the website.

Applications
The tutorial helps researchers find and use both the physical archives on campus and the digital archives preserved by the Human Rights Documentation Initiative.  It offers tips for conducting background research, analyzing and interpreting archival material, and considering emotional and ethical questions.

Although the tutorial was designed to support Signature Courses on women, gender, and human rights, it is useful for anyone conducting archival research at UT-Austin.  Some potential uses for the tutorial are:

  • As an assigned reading for undergraduate or graduate students before they begin an archival research project.
  • As a guide for individual students choosing to use archives as sources for class assignments.
  • As a resource for professors seeking to incorporate archival research on women’s human rights into their courses.
  • As a teaching tool in the classroom.
  • By students, staff, and faculty at UT-Austin and neighboring colleges.
  • By activists and other community members not affiliated with UT-Austin.

I hope the tutorial will increase the visibility and accessibility of UT-Austin’s human rights archives and facilitate human rights research, teaching, and advocacy.

Amelia Koford is a second-year graduate student pursuing dual master’s degrees in Information Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies at UT-Austin.  She works at the Perry-Castañeda Library and has also worked at the Seminary of the Southwest Booher Library.  Previously, she served as an AmeriCorps*VISTA member at College Forward, interned at the West African Women’s Association in Senegal, and studied English and French at Grinnell College.

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