By Rebecca Henfrey



Prior to the first official discussion of the day, participants were invited to give personal introductions. The following are brief summaries of each individual’s introductions, which outline their name, position or involvement with this society and what they would like this workshop to do for them.











Graduate students






University researchers







Visions of the organisation

The first round table discussion of the day was centered on ways in which this collective could actively engage with the various communities it could possibly serve. Discussion also focused on (ways to) develop a framework of approach for this field and the possibility of creating networks that can actively engage interested graduate students in meaningful research and work with NGOs.

Various key quotes and ideas put forth by members in attendance are included below.

“I would like to share what we are doing with the community, but also find ways in which NGOs and development agencies can capture, preserve and share their histories.”


“I would like to (see us) make the best of our collected work and try to do this and reach audiences we would like to reach”


John Foster: “I’m here essentially because Dom and Will’s engagement in doing history studies on Oxfam which coincided with the anniversary of Oxfam a couple years ago, was also interestingly and also a dimension we haven’t explained very much. Orienting a new generation at Oxfam.”


Hooks: Brought up the potential for utilizing oral histories as a research and archiving tool. Mentioned its potential for a method of collecting and constructing alternative perspectives and narratives.


Bernard Taylor: “It could be interesting to consider developing some sort of simple message that could be shared with the NGO Community. Not the whole community, but at least some, maybe the ones of historical importance. Sharing with them the need for this work and encouraging them to take action. Not suggesting a guide, but bringing the issue to their attention and indicating to them the important work that Oxfam, LAC and this group has been doing. Encouraging their response and offering help or assistance (that might encourage them as well and make their response warmer).”

Kevin O’Sullivan: Proposed the idea of a Voluntary Action History Society. “I was wondering if there were ways in which we could archives and ** for NGOS to tap into, a way for them to be aware that there are resources available and that people care.” On co-production he also mentioned how balance was very important to maintain – between keeping a distance from the NGO whilst still working together with these new histories in order to maintain our interests as historians. On collaboration, he spoke of the potential for this network to collaborate and connect with other networks.

Erin Edwards: “I’m here with Match International Women’s Fund, a brave and gritty organization that’s reached 40 years now. We’re a grassroots women’s organization that works primarily in the global south. In 2012, we lost our funding and almost died as an organization, yet here we are thriving now and excited to continue our work. That being said we are realizing that we don’t know much of our history. I’m here to see how to go with our archives and solicit help to go through our archives”.

Sarah Glassford: “While Robert G is the ‘information manager’ at the Canadian Redcross Society (…) I have built up a trust with Robert and have somehow been and become a part of their archive. I’ve adopted* the position of the professional organization manager who manages the files and makes sure the documents don’t just walk away. I’ve enjoyed the change to have a little bit more of a role in the organization.” “If your organization could find someone with a little bit of expertise and interest, volunteers can find things for you and help”.

William Tait: “I was wondering if on the proposed website there would be any way of making or connecting NGOs with graduate students working on humanitarian aid and connecting them to the right NGOs. The graduate students could give them support and help the NGO as well as connecting them to these resources of the NGOs. It’s about money and time and NGOs don’t have them, but if we could connect them to a grad student that would benefit it would be great.” “As well, part of what I wanted out of this meeting was to see where others see this going. I would like to see where people are making these broader connections amongst historians and practitioners. Should there be limits on “interesting or meaningful” content?

David Meinen: Brought up the challenges of approaching NGOs in an academic context, especially when contacting them for conducting interviews. In his situation, he was conducting semi-structured interviews with certain NGOs and government officials in Canada but was not entirely sure how to go about gaining access so to speak. He mentioned an interesting point on research methodologies, suggesting that it may be prudent to create an “ethics link to developing a research plan, such as formulating questions that aren’t particularly offensive” as it could be beneficial.

This perspective was also supported by Nassisse Solomon and Nicole Marion who both conducted research of this nature as they both had experience beginning and cultivating research related relationships with NGOs.

Monica Patterson: Proposed the creation of a space to potentially involve more undergraduates, perhaps through tools such as the e-portfolios used at Carleton University.  She found that “students are increasingly interested in producing things and contributing to end products beyond just sort of the visual* papers at end of the year, particularly in relation to cataloguing so perhaps developing small modules for undergrads to get involved would be another good way (of involving and developing this craft)”.

Sara: Suggested the idea of sharing readings and lists of organizations that are in need of history or archival help. If there is an updated database or list of projects sitting there, waiting to be done resources could be harnessed. Furthermore, we could provide great material based upon our own contacts. Sara also later mentioned the idea of utilizing and engaging students in various schools of Library and Archive Science Programs.

Landon Pearson: Noted that oftentimes there are many great resources available to students and scholars but often they go unused. One example of this is her database on the Study of Childhood and Children’s Rights. In her discussion, she brought forth concerns of resource use in relation to availability and would like to find ways to possibly engage more people with these resources.

Zehra Mawani: Identified that her role as an archivist at Libraries and Archives Canada places her in a unique position to connect academic researchers and humanitarian aid groups. However, she brought forth the concern that often resources or the lack thereof is an issue that affects LAC as it has always been on the receiving end; they do not proactively approach organizations.

Ruth Compton Brouwer: Brought forth concerns that NGOs may not be entirely aware that their materials are of historical interest; would like to see more of an engagement in that respect with NGOs as it is important we have them engaged as well.

Jill Campbell-Miller: “I found I had a hard time plugging into the literature, the people and the academic infrastructure that would support my work, so when I started making connections it was very beneficial for me; especially with just simple things as what to read and things like that. This network is quite self-serving because if there had been in existence earlier, having that network and group of people; adding to that list of people interested in the field facilitates making these connections, not just to the NGO community.”

Kevin O’Sullivan: “I want to emphasize the role that this historical society can play for the process; particularly in an industry that doesn’t have the same type of permanence. A website can be a place to call for great resources.”