- Historians Meet Activists at the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, June 2011
The Activist Forum included in this special issue grew out of the editorial process in which we developed a new transnational online archive and database, Women and Social Movements, International—1840 to Present (WASM-I). As we constructed the portion of the archive devoted to the period since 1975, we encountered women who were part of the UN women's conferences from 1975 to 1995. We got to know some of them personally and entered the community that they created as they challenged and rebuilt international policies and programs about women. Thinking that other historians would enjoy meeting them, we invited several to participate in two panel discussions at the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, held at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in June 2011. We were pleased when the editors of the Journal of Women's History approached us about bringing this unique and fascinating dialogue to a broader audience through the journal.
Historians sometimes get to meet the people they write about, but more often we are sequestered in libraries and archives where we must imagine how voices might have sounded, how smiles might have glowed, how handshakes and embraces felt. Since we had come to know many of the UN activists, we wanted to bring their amazing lives and stories to a wider audience through the Berks panels. We were thrilled with the result—a large room at the Berks filled with brilliant talk, warm humor, and lots of intergenerational interaction about what historians and activists share in their work for a better tomorrow. The essays in this Activist Forum here grew out of those sessions, as Jean Quataert and Benita Roth, the co-editors of this issue on "Human Rights, Global Conferences, and the Making of Postwar Transnational Feminisms," sought out the voices of activists for inclusion in the Journal of Women's History.
This introduction to those reminiscences has two parts. First, we describe the work on Women and Social Movements, International that led us to these activists. Then, we describe our time with them at the Berks, including the interviews and videos that historians made at the conference.
We began working on Women and Social Movements, International early in 2008 as an extension of our decade-long work on Women and Social Movements in the United States, an online journal and database with a U.S. focus. [End Page 175] Like other historians of the United States, we became increasingly aware of the global context in which the social movements took shape. We knew that the international dimensions of American women's activism carried them into transnational organizations that historians had only begun to study. We wanted to promote research on that transnational activism by creating an online archive of documents about it.
We brought this idea to our online publisher, Alexander Street Press. The press encouraged us and provided funding to hire project staff, beginning in the summer of 2008. Binghamton PhD students helped us every step of the way. Denise Ireton became our managing editor. Carol Linskey, Jessie Frazier, and Jennifer Tomas were project assistants. We hoped the project would transform the ability of historians to research and write about women's transnational activism. To achieve that goal, our own search methods had to be authoritative. We searched for documents in two ways. We drew on bibliographies and footnotes in secondary sources, which framed our understanding of the historiography. And we undertook systematic keyword searches in WorldCat, the OCLC online union catalog. We recorded WorldCat citations by downloading them into Zotero, online database software created by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. This software was crucial to the accuracy and efficiency of our work because it allowed us to avoid retyping the metadata and rely instead on the careful work of librarians at OCLC institutions.
To be authoritative, we knew we needed to draw on the expertise of a wide range of colleagues in women's history. Fortunately the triennial meeting of the Berkshire Conference in women's history, scheduled for...