Building Knowledge and Breaking Barriers is an archives-based learning project that brings educators, students, and student-support networks from Community College of Philadelphia together with the material and staff resources of the Presbyterian Historical Society, a Philadelphia archive with over 500 years of history to explore. Grant support for the project has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

BKBB uses archival materials, spaces, and expertise to bolster the research and critical-thinking skills of students. The project also confronts barriers to access, learning, and professional opportunities that too often keep institutions like PHS a resource for the privileged few instead of a place of welcome for the broader community.

We designed Building Knowledge and Breaking Barriers to provide students with experiences in a working archive, where they could handle primary sources and talk one-on-one with archival staff. The pandemic showed us ways that distance learning can complement in-person visits, though never replace them. gathers digital versions of project information and materials in one place, including primary sources and teaching materials, student scholarship and exhibit work, and project overview information. Shared across the site are written and recorded insights from project leaders, including BKBB interns and professors.

The experiences of educators, students, and project staff provide some of the best evidence of why collaborative learning projects are vital to the health of cultural communities--in Philadelphia and across the country. We hope Building Knowledge and Breaking Barriers inspires new partnerships wherever history materials and institutional knowledge can help students form a deeper connection with the past, and inspire them to engage their communities through scholarship and the creative arts.

Although this site will be fully constructed by Spring 2021, we’ll continue adding curated sources, student work, and learning insights for years to come--and we will continue to eagerly welcome students and educators into the archive. The BKBB project provides a solid foundation for future knowledge-building work, and this site a virtual structure for breaking barriers we’ve only started to confront. 

students standing looking at materials in PHS meeting room
Fall semester celebration at PHS, December 2019