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Women's Studies

Guide to Archival Resources for Women's Studies at York University


This guide was designed to help users locate archival material related to Women's Studies 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 Women's Studies 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 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. Examples of private fonds include the papers of individuals such as Margaret Laurence, Joyce Wieland, Susan Swan, etc. This guide surveys private fonds or collections only.

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 Women's Studies.

The guide was developed by surveying the private fonds/collections and defining categories or classifications of material relevant to Women's Studies research. The parameters of these classifications and the range of materials that are found within the classifications are listed below to help the user locate documents best suited to their area of interest.

Below is a listing of the subject classifications of archival material related to Women's Studies. By clicking on any of the links, you will get a listing of the fonds/collections that contain material relevant to that topic. The amount or type of documentation that any fonds contains cannot be indicated by this guide. To do so would create a cumbersome task for both the user and designers and would also introduce an additional layer of subjective interpretation into the construction of this guide. It was felt that aside from the initial and broad categorization that this guide provides that the interpretation of the data and its context is best left in the hands of the researchers who use it. With this in mind, many documents fit into more than a single classification and all possible classifications have been indicated on the chart to increase its scope and research potential.

The amount of information that any given fonds contains within a classification may range from a single document (a letter, article, course outline, or work of art) to a series or body of work (a book, diary, collection of art/letters/research material) or even the majority of the collection itself. Within the descriptions of each classification the range of materials most commonly found is indicated to provide the user with some clarification about possible documents.

Having found a fonds containing material relevant to their research, the user should then 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 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 a couple of significant characteristics of the fonds. Firstly, it is important to know that the degree of access to documents varies within and between fonds. Some documents will require the permission of the Archivist and/or a trustee of the individual fonds. Secondly, while the fonds are generally centered on (and named for) one person, family, or organization, they tend to contain extensive amounts of material produced by or about others. For example, while the Margaret Laurence fonds contains documents relating to almost every classification, material within these classifications may not be produced by her, but instead may relate to groups, organizations and individuals with whom she worked and corresponded.

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

*ASC would like to thank Sharon Blady and Jennifer Harris for their time and effort in compiling this resource guide in 2000. We would also like to thank Tasia Alexopoulos for her time and effort in updating this resource guide in 2010, and acknowledge the generous support of the School of Women's Studies for this project.

Women's Studies Subject Classifications


Activists and Activism

Discrimination -- see Social History and Reform

Education and Pedagogy

Environments and Ecologies - see Science and Technology

Feminist Publications and Publishing

Fine Arts

First Nations Women

Gender Issues and Identities


Women's History

Immigrant Women


Labour and Labour History

Law and Public Policy

Life Writing


Mothers, Mothering, Family

Philanthropy-- see Social History and Reform

Politics and Government

Race and Racism

Refugee Studies

Religion and Spirituality

Science and Technology

Sex and Sexuality

Social History and Reform

Sports and Athletics

Travel and Adventure

Violence Against Women-- see also Social History and Reform

War and the Military

Women's Studies

York University

Guide Last Updated 2010/03/30.