Monday, June 25, 2018

Launch of the Canadian Archive of #WomeninSTEM - So what?

Commentary on the importance of the launch by Dr. Ruby Heap, Dr. Claire DeshĂȘnes, and Monique Frize

On June 19, 2018 the official launch of the Canadian Archive of Women in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) took place at the University of Ottawa - so what? That was a question that one of my most challenging and excellent history professors loved to ask because it makes you dig deep for the importance of the idea, thought or event and put it in its proper historical context to really determine its place in history.

Minister Kirsty Duncan speaks about the importance of the new archives.

So what is the place of the Canadian Archive of Women in STEM? Well let's start with some basic facts - always a good place to start:

  • The initiative first really got rolling in 2014 during a conference where social sciences and humanities researchers, librarians, curators, women in science and engineering and others sat down to determine how to preserve and promote the history of Canadian women in STEM. 
  • This was followed by four years of persistent and ongoing efforts by key leaders in the various fields and strong support from the University of Ottawa Library, Library and Archives Canada and the International Women in Engineering and Science Education Research Institute (INWES-ERI). 
Why was a unique effort needed? Why couldn't the existing archives handle this?
  • Our understanding of Canadian women's history in STEM has advanced a long way in the past 10 years, and we are no longer fully on an emergency "search and rescue" mission to find these women, but some of that work still remains to be done. The importance of women in STEM has often been overlooked, and even the women themselves have not always seen the value of keeping their records for posterity. The efforts of the team behind this initiative have included a large educational role to help women in STEM realize their value to Canadian history and understand that their records play a key role in the story of Canada. 
  • Regular archives hold some records, but they have been scattered across the country without any means to connect them easily. For example, I found that while the bulk of Elsie Gregory MacGill's papers reside at the Library and Archives of Canada, there are smaller fonds (collections) available both at the Archives of Ontario and the University of Toronto.
  • The new web portal provides researchers and interested persons a means to explore the range of women's records available and locate them with ease. This tool will help make the writing of the history of Canadian women in STEM much easier - as less time will be spent on trying to find the sources and more time can be spent on exploring their richness and bringing it to light.   
Why now?
  • All the pieces of the preparatory work have fallen into place. 
  • Women in science and engineering are continuing to play key roles in their disciplines, and they and their families are recognizing their role in history and supporting this effort. In fact, at the launch, Dr. Monique Frize was able to announce that the family of Claudette MacKay-Lassonde was in the process of donating her records to the new archive!

To learn more click HERE.
  • Women in STEM is in vogue ("Hidden Figures" the movie" etc.) and 
  • Women such as:
    • Her Excellency Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, 
    • Dr. Mona Nemer, Chief Science Adviser to the Government of Canada, and 
    • Minister Kirsty Duncan 
         are serving in Canada's leadership. Canada can boast about having a former woman astronaut             as the Queen's representative - that's pretty out of this world! 

How can I support this important initiative?
  • Share the information about the new archive.
  • Learn more about Canadian women in STEM.
  • Talk to women in STEM that you know and encourage them to share their records.
  • Encourage young women and girls to consider STEM fields as their fields too!