Get to Know PHS: Helping Students | Presbyterian Historical Society

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Get to Know PHS: Helping Students

July 18, 2023

Organized in 1852, the Presbyterian Historical Society is the oldest denominational archives in the United States and serves as the national archives for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its predecessor denominations. Since 2018, PHS has welcomed community college students into the archive to explore history and to use archival materials, spaces, and expertise to bolster research and critical-thinking skills.

Building Knowledge and Breaking Barriers

Building Knowledge and Breaking Barriers is an archives-based learning project that brings educators, students, and student-support networks from Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) together with the material and staff resources of the Presbyterian Historical Society, a Philadelphia archive with over 500 years of history to explore. The project grew out of the belief that PHS could create meaningful firsthand encounters between Community College of Philadelphia students and historically resonant documents, build research and critical-thinking skills important to student success in academic and vocational pursuits, and identify ways to assist Philadelphia students and educators more in the future.

Jenny Barr, a Reference and Outreach Archivist at PHS, helping students in the Reading Room. 

Click here to learn more about Building Knowledge and Breaking Barriers.

Students Experiencing the Archive

Through classroom collaborations, internships, special-events, and the design and installation of a student exhibit, PHS has formed new learning experiences and confronted obstacles to access that limit community engagement. Since the beginning of the project, over 300 CCP students have visited PHS or used PHS resources as part of their coursework. We’ve also extended internships to five CCP students who’ve researched and wrote about church histories, expanded our African American Presbyterian History and LGBTQIA+ History timelines, and created documentary about archival work. 

Sonia Prescott, a Reference and Outreach Archivist at PHS, acts as a Research Consultant on the BKBB project. Here she is seen in the reading room, engaging with students. 

From 2019 into 2021, seven CCP students worked collaboratively with two professional exhibitors, a project videographer, and three PHS staff members to reveal parts of the PHS archive that meant the most to them. Their work, the Building Knowledge and Breaking Barriers exhibit installed at PHS, explores topics including the Black church, LGBTQIA+ inclusion, representative public art in Philadelphia, and white Christian attitudes toward Asian communities. 

Click here to learn how students experience the archive. Click here to visit the digital version of the BKBB exhibit.

Helping Professors Teach the Archives

PHS staff collaborated with CCP professors to develop tools and materials to support the teaching of primary sources. Whether your focus is history, English composition, fiction, or another discipline, these materials can help facilitate the kind of critical, historical thinking required for analyzing and drawing conclusions about information from the past--or the present. The source sets created during the BKBB project can be used for a variety of academic exercises. These range from simple exercises that can be done in one class session or repository visit, to semester-long projects. 

Architecture Professor Miles Grossbard addresses students during a CCP class visit to PHS.

Click here to explore our collection of source sets that feature digitized primary sources from the PHS collection along with secondary sources, contextual information on the topic, full citations, information about the author, and reading questions.


Click here to meet our Reference and Outreach Archivist. Click here to learn how you can support the work of the Presbyterian Historical Society. And click here to receive our monthly e-newsletter.