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Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections > Labour history

Labour history

IntroductionThis guide was designed to assist the researcher in locating the fonds and collections that can be of value to their research in the different fields of Labour History in York University Archives and Special Collections. The fonds/collections have a greater emphasis on Canadian labour history, but there are also many documents that relate to American (U.S.) trade unions and aspects of American labour history. The guide will facilitate research in the Archives by providing a quick overview of the classification of Labour History fonds and how they are categorized.To fully understand what this guide does and does not cover, it is necessary to understand some basic concepts in archival terminology. The first concept which requires definition is the term “private” fonds/collections. The archives collects two broad categories of material: the official records of York University and private fonds/collections. While the official records of York University are those related to the governing, administrative, academic and student bodies of the university, private fonds/collections are archival materials created by persons, families or organizations outside of the sphere of official university business.

Other concepts which are critical to understanding this guide are the concepts of the fonds and collection. A fonds is defined as “the whole of the documents, regardless of form or medium, automatically and organically created and/or accumulated and used by a particular individual, family or corporate body in the course of that creator’s activities or functions.”1 Therefore, the fonds is a group of records that is naturally created by a person, family or organization in the course of their everyday lives and activities. A collection, on the other hand, is a unit of material that is artificially created or brought together on the basis of some common characteristic, such as subject, language, etc. In this guide, both fonds and collections have been surveyed for materials related to Labour History.

This guide was developed by surveying the private collections and identifying 19 categories relevant to research in Labour History. These categories or classifications are defined below and identify the range of materials that are found within them. The guide does not indicate the amount or type of documentation that any fonds contains, though an attempt has been made to clearly describe the range of documents or the broad topic categories contained in the relevant fonds.

The amount of information that any given fonds contains within a classification may range from a single record (a letter, record of meeting, speech, collective agreement, or photograph), to a series or body of work (lecture notes, a book manuscript, newsletters, information on labour strikes/boycott, articles, photographs or tape recordings), and other kinds of textual record. For more details about specific fonds, the researcher will need to visit York Archives and Special Collections located in Scott Library.

Having found a fonds containing material relevant to his or her research, the researcher should then proceed to the Fonds Inventories and related finding aids to identify the specific document titles and descriptions. It is at this level that the researcher will be better able to determine the relevance of the fonds contents and request those items which require further study. Due to the nature of archival collections the user should be aware of two significant characteristics in accessing or retrieving the fonds. Firstly, that the degree of access to documents varies within and between collections. Some documents will require the permission of the Archivist and/or a trustee of the individual collection. Secondly, while the fonds are generally centered on (or named for) one person, family, or organization, they tend to contain extensive amounts of material produced by or about others; for example, copies of collective agreements, expressions of workers’ solidarity, notes on trade union activities, research pieces, newsletters, private collections of photographs or leaflets/flyers on labour strikes and boycotts.


1 Bureau of Canadian Archivists. Rules for Archival Description (Ottawa: Bureau of Canadian Archivists, 1990), D-4.

*ASC would like to thank Tariq Amin Khan for his time and effort in compiling this resource guide.

Labour History Subject Classification

Academic
Articles and Pamphlets
Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT)
Collective Agreements
Communist Parties
Community Labour
Cooperatives
Correspondence and notes
Council of York Students Federation (CYSF)
Labour Conferences
Labour Journals
Labour Strikes
Photographic material and sound recordings
Socialist and Social Democratic Parties
Trade Unions
Union Issues
Women’s Organizations
York University
York University Faculty Association (YUFA)