Partnership Between Labor Studies, University Library, and National Experts Creates Archive of Women in the Building Trades
Last fall, Vivian Price, assistant professor and coordinator of labor studies, and Greg Williams, director of University Archives and Special Collections, received a $25,000 digital start-up grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for their project, "New Approaches: Tradeswomen Archive Project" (TAP). Their vision is to create a virtual museum administered through California State University, Dominguez Hills of photographs, documents, and other historical artifacts from women in the building trades.
Last month, a group of national archivists, scholars, and historians met in a symposium at CSU Dominguez Hills to discuss a second level proposal for another NEH grant to expand TAP, which is currently comprised of a Website, a Facebook presence, and a physical collection that is housed in the university archives. The collection of photographs, video, oral histories, original documents, and various three dimensional materials such as union pins and patches has been growing through online contacts and contributions gathered through TAP’s Facebook page.
Price says that the tradeswomen who made their groundbreaking entrance into blue-collar professions in the mid-1970s are now of retirement age and are ready to donate their memorabilia to an institution for posterity – and to overcome their isolation as pioneers in male-dominated fields.
“Women are also concerned that the next generation of women and men working in the trades will not know how institutions have changed, and how the culture of the male-dominated workplace has shifted because of women organizing,” she says. “[Also], women are concerned about the continued resistance to women working in skilled blue-collar jobs, and want to share their experiences and knowledge.”
Price has donated her personal collection of artifacts that span her professional life from the 1970s to the present as a former union electrician, political scientist, documentarian, and advocator. Of local historical interest are materials related to the Southern California Tradeswomen Network and women who constructed the Century Freeway (the 105 Freeway) in Los Angeles.
“CSU Dominguez Hills is in the heart of Los Angeles, where cutting-edge innovation in the labor movement is taking place,” says Price. “This is the only four-year university in Southern California to offer a bachelor's degree in labor studies, so research in [this area] is natural for our University Archives to initiate.”
TAP has already begun to benefit the CSU Dominguez Hills community and beyond, according to Price, who says that “having a growing collection in our library will provide a niche area for students to research.”
Veronica Ciocia-D'Aquino, an intern in the University Archives who recently earned her degree in library science from San Jose State, did the lion’s share of categorizing and sorting the original collection and developing a searching tool.
The project also enhanced the Long Beach lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community through a collaboration with the nonprofit Mentoring Youth Through Empowerment (MYTE). Youth in the program interviewed tradeswomen during the course of a year, created collages from quotations and photos from the interviews, and then worked with local artists to create the final posters. These final results have recently been on display at Los Angeles City Hall to celebrate April’s Labor History Month and were also shown at the CSU Dominguez Hills Labor and Social Justice Fair that took place yesterday at the university.
Price and Williams have recently submitted a proposal for a Level II NEH Digital Start Up-Grant for $50,000. Price has also applied for an NEH faculty grant to bring international organizations into TAP. She says that in the spirit of the original tradeswomen, the project so far has benefited from a collaborative effort of archivists, scholars, tradeswomen, and activists.
“Some [participants have encouraged tradeswomen] to attend the tradeswomen conferences and initiate oral history projects and diary campaigns to produce materials that tradeswomen can upload electronically to our Website, send in physically to our library, or to a local collection that could be linked to our archives,” says Price. “What was also interesting was our discussion regarding our archives as a participatory curatorial project, in which the tradeswomen are involved in shaping the campaign to document themselves rather than being the objects of scholars' directions.”
- Joanie Harmon