A Processing Story: The Claire Robertson papers, 1964-2012

The Claire Robertson papers, 1964-2012 are now available for research!

Claire C. Robertson (b. 1944) received her B.A. from Carleton College in 1966, her M.A. from the University of Chicago in 1968, and her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1974. She is the author or editor of eight books and numerous articles on women, class and gender relations, and African studies. Dr. Robertson was a professor at Ohio State University and a visiting scholar and adjunct professor at Indiana University, Bloomington. Robertson’s teaching and research focused primarily on the history and culture of women in Africa and on women’s studies. This collection consists of a portion of Robertson’s teaching materials, her research materials, manuscripts and writings, and other records relating to her career and professional activities. The collection arrived at the University Archives in multiple accessions between 2010 and 2012 totaling over 60 cubic feet of records.


Boxes from the Claire Robertson papers

Archival processing, a term that encompasses the tasks of arrangement and description for the collections in an archive, can often be a time-consuming task. Depending on the size of a collection, the level of organization that a collection has when it is donated to the archive, any preservation issues, and the level of detail which needs described in a finding aid, processing archival collections can take anywhere from a few days, to a few months, or maybe even years! Processing the Claire Robertson papers took some time between 2017 and March 2018 because of the size and condition of the collection.

Archivists often work on multiple tasks at a time. For student processors (like me!) this provides a great chance to learn how to ‘wear many hats’ so to speak. This project was ongoing while I managed other smaller projects and had the opportunity to learn more about different kinds of processing needs for different collections. The end result is an arranged collection and a detailed finding aid to help researchers access all parts of the collection!

Processing the Claire Robertson papers at the IU Archive
Processing the Claire Robertson papers at the IU Archive

The Claire Robertson papers contains materials relating to Robertson’s time in graduate school, her teaching files from classes taught at places other than OSU, manuscripts and drafts of her many articles and books, items relating to her professional activities, and a large amount of research and data that she created and used while writing her books Sharing the Same Bowl and Trouble Shows the Way. Much of her research involved surveying participants in Accra, Ghana and Nairobi, Kenya, and then compiling the data to analyze with a computer. But, in the 1980s and early 1990s computers weren’t very advanced. The print-outs of the computer data fill numerous oversize boxes on their own!

Robertson’s collection contains her drafts, manuscripts, research, and other materials relating to her many books and other publications

As a professor and instructor, Robertson taught history, African studies, and women’s studies courses at a number of universities, including Indiana University, Bloomington. She is also the author or editor of eight books and numerous articles on women, class and gender relations, and African Studies. In 1985, she was the winner of the African Studies Association’s  Herskovits Book Award. In 1987-1988, she held a Fulbright Fellowship to study the development of Kenyan trade and market women in the Nairobi area. Robertson was a professor of history and women’s studies at The Ohio State University for over twenty years, and active on numerous committees and projects.

She also served in various capacities at Indiana University throughout her career. Beginning in 1978 she served as a Faculty Research Associate in the African Studies Program and in 1984 she was the Co-Director of the Office of Women’s Affairs. From 1992 until 1993 she was appointed as a Visiting Scholar in the Women’s Studies Program, and she has since served as a Lecturer and been involved in IU’s Fair Trade Bloomington selling artisan-made items to benefit two projects. The Indiana University Press published her books, Sharing the Same Bowl: A Socioeconomic History of Women and Class in Accra, Ghana in 1984 and Trouble Showed the Way: Women, Men, and Trade in the Nairobi Area, 1890-1990 in 1997. Much of the archival collection consists of Robertson’s data and analysis for her various research projects and publications.

Central Accra Market Photos, 1978, Claire Robertson papers, Collection C633, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

In Bloomington, Robertson now works on two projects to provide help to children affected by AIDS and to assist women in Kenya. For each of the projects, Ndethya wa Ngutethya Women’s Group and Spurgeon School for AIDS Orphans in Kenya, Robertson raises funds in the U.S. to buy clothing for African women and children, and then travels to Kenya and brings artisan-made items back from the Nairobi markets to sell at Fair Trade Bloomington and other fundraisers to benefit the Kenyan artists.

Claire Robertson’s papers in the IU Archives are now open for research. Anyone interested in the research process, or in topics relating to African Studies or Women’s Studies will find this collection to be full of interesting material!

In the Claire Robertson papers there are many items that she collected relating to her interests in Africa and women’s studies

In addition to items relating to Robertson’s work, the collection contains some other materials relating to her interests which she collected throughout her career. Contact the IU Archives for more information.

Portions of the collection such as African Newspapers and journals are now part of African Studies Collection here at IU, and  files documenting her teaching activities at the Ohio State University  were transferred to the OSU Archives.

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