Within the study of social history, there are multiple sub-fields. The themes presented here are just four of many possibilities. In order to provide as wide a selection of documents as possible, we have intentionally chosen broad themes: Family Life, Social Awareness and Reform, Arts and Leisure, and Work. Each can be further refined. For example, Family Life contains documents that reflect courtship patterns over the nineteenth century, childrearing practices, and nineteenth-century gender roles. Within Social Awareness and Reform are items related to the abolition of slavery and changing perceptions of race, women's suffrage, and philanthropy. Within Arts and Leisure are materials which reflect, in part, increased opportunities for professional women artists in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. We have also included a set of paper dolls to represent the growing availability of leisure for the middle and upper classes during the Victorian era, as well as an increased recognition of the importance of play for the children of prosperous parents. Finally, under the Work theme, are materials which provide evidence of how some families took advantage of opportunities offered by an expanding economy to grow prosperous throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries. They also demonstrate how women continued to face barriers within the workplace even as the industrial revolution surged forward.
It is important to note that the families whose papers are represented here--the Bodmans, Dunhams, Garrisons, and Hales--are white, middle-class, traditional families, and their experiences represent only a portion of American society in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For a number of reasons, including education and economic resources, these are the people whose papers were more typically preserved. Families of other races and ethnicities, and working-class and poor families, have usually been under-represented in archival collections. Today's archivists are striving to change that, however, by collecting more inclusively in order to preserve a complete picture of American history.
The 63 documents and images presented in this exhibit are but a tiny sampling of these large and rich collections. We cannot hope to tell the complete story of the multiple generations of these families, or to present all of the myriad potential research topics one could possibly find in these papers. We do, however, hope to enrich the viewer's understanding of history by offering glimpses of a handful of moments in American history through the eyes of individuals who experienced them. We have designed this exhibit so that the documents and images can be accessed either of two ways--by Theme or by Family.
Researchers interested in further information about these collections, or the many diverse holdings in the Sophia Smith Collection, can view collection descriptions on our Web site. You may also contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org or
use our Reference request form. For additional sources on family history, see the Research section in this exhibit.
1 Tamara K. Hareven, Families, History, and Social Change: Life-Course and Cross-Cultural Perspectives (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000): p. 18.