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Social Reform

Guide to Archival Resources for Social Reform Movements at York University Archives and Special Collections


This guide was designed to help users locate archival material related to Social Reform Movements at the York University Archives and Special Collections (ASC). Its purpose is to provide an overview of the private fonds/collections, indicating those which contain relevant archival documents. This guide is designed to be the first finding aid for the researcher, and is intended to make Social Reform research in the Archives more thorough and efficient.

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 that requires definition is the term "private" fonds/collections. The Archives collects two broad categories of material: 1. The official records of York University, and 2. Private fonds/collections. The official records of York University are those related to the governing, administrative, academic and student bodies of the university. Private fonds/collections, on the other hand, are archival materials created by persons, families or organizations outside of the sphere of official university business. Examples of private fonds include the papers of individuals such as Margaret Laurence, Isadora Duncan, Joyce Wieland, etc. This guide surveys both private fonds or collections and the York University records.

The second important set of concepts critical to understanding this guide are fonds and collections. 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 A fonds is thus 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 Social Reform Movements.

The guide was developed by surveying the York University records and the private fonds/collections and defining categories or classifications of material relevant to research in Social Reform Movements. The parameters of these classifications, and the range of materials that are found within each classification or category, are listed below to help the user locate documents most closely related to their area(s) of interest.

Below is a chart listing the subject classifications of archival material related to Social Reform Movements. By clicking on any of the links, you will get a general description of the specific category as it relates to the material in the York Archives, and a listing of the fonds/collections that contain material relevant to that topic.

This guide does not indicate the amount or type of archival material that any fonds contains within a category, which may range from a single document to a series or body of work, or it may even comprise the majority of the fonds/collection. The descriptions for each category indicate the range of materials most commonly found in that category in order to clarify possible document types that the user might find.

Aside from the initial and broad categorization that this guide provides, the interpretation of the data and its context is best left in the hands of the researchers who use it. Having found a fonds containing material relevant to their research, the user should proceed to the Archives and consult the Fonds Inventories and related Finding Aids to identify the specific document titles and descriptions. It is at this stage that the researcher will be able to determine the relevance of the fonds contents, and to request those items which they wish to study.

Because of the nature of archival collections, the user should be aware of a few further characteristics of the fonds. Firstly, it is important to know that the degree of access to documents varies both within and among fonds. Some documents are readily available for perusal, while others will require the permission of the Archivist and/or a trustee of the individual fonds. Others may not be available to the public for a specified period of time (eg 10 years after an event), or for example, during the lifetime of a particular individual. Secondly, while the fonds are generally centered on (and named for) one person, family or organization, they tend to contain extensive material produced by or about others.

We hope that this Resource Guide is useful as an initial tool to help you begin your search for archival material on Social Reform Movements at the York University Archives and Special Collections Library. Any questions may be directed to the Reference Desk or the Reception Desk in the ASC.

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

*ASC would like to thank Sandra Jeppesen for her time and effort in compiling this resource guide.

Social Reform Subject Classification



Community Development

Developing World

Educational Reform


Human Rights

Indigenous Peoples

Institutional Reform

Peace and Anti-War Movements


Reproductive Rights

Socialism, Communism and Marxist Movements

Student and Youth Movements

Last Updated 2001/08/31. Edited 2012/01/23.