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Liberating the Archive, Emancipating Philanthropy: Philanthropic Archival Layering as a Critical Historical Approach for Researching Voluntary Action in Marginalized Communities


Historical analysis of philanthropy and civil society is a valuable research method that provides useful assessments of the sector’s development and its evolving strengths and challenges. However, the historical philanthropic experiences and contributions of underrepresented populations are oftentimes neglected due to their marginalized status in historical archives and records. To correct this, we propose philanthropic archival layering as a historical methodology for recovering and investigating diverse forms of voluntary action in marginalized communities. In this paper, we focus on the philanthropic experiences of Afro-Caribbean civil society in the early twentieth century and African American women during Jim Crow. We review scholarship on the African Diaspora and historical research methodologies for analyzing the archives of marginalized peoples. We demonstrate this methodology through two case applications before outlining steps for conducting philanthropic archival layering as an innovative methodological framework that broadens the field’s knowledge about what constitutes philanthropy and who contributes to it.

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Freeman, T.M., Williams-Pulfer, K. Liberating the Archive, Emancipating Philanthropy: Philanthropic Archival Layering as a Critical Historical Approach for Researching Voluntary Action in Marginalized Communities. Voluntas 33, 1114–1121 (2022).

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  • Philanthropic archival layering
  • Critical historical research methods
  • Marginalized communities
  • Voluntary action
  • History