Feminist Theory is defined as an extension of feminism, which is a belief in equality of the sexes, into a theoretical, sociological, or philosophical discourse. It is a scholarly pursuit that aims to understand the nature of gender equality/inequality and covers fields like psychoanalysis, philosophy, anthropology, biology, literature, education, economics, and many other fields. Key areas of focus within feminist theory include discrimination and exclusion, objectification, power and oppression, and gender roles.
The Feminist Theory Archive was established at Brown University in 2003 by Elizabeth Weed, Director of the Pembroke Center from 2000-2010. She, along with Joan Wallach Scott, Founding Director of the Pembroke Center from 1981-1985, and other supportive colleagues moved to document the work of influential feminist theorists who had transformed the landscape of higher education through their writing, teaching, institution building, and activism. Scholars such as Naomi Schor, the Benjamin F. Barge Professor of French at Yale University, whose papers served as the seed collection for the archive, were first in their fields to approach their research through the lens of gender. As an example, Schor's academic background was in French Literature but she focused her research on subjects such as female fetishism, deconstruction in literature, the concept of details/ornamentation as gendered, and universalism in an era of identity politics and difference. Beginning in the 1960s, Schor then taught courses on these subjects and along with other groundbreaking feminist theorists, such as Judith Butler, Hortense Spillers, and Anne Fausto-Sterling, caused a paradigm shift in the way scholars and students studied all fields of higher education including English, History, Anthropology, and Biology, placing sex and gender at the center of theorectical study.
Upon Naomi Schor's untimely death in 2001, Elizabeth Weed, other leadership from the Pembroke Center, and Schor's family realized that Schor would have wanted her papers to go to Brown, where she had been the Nancy Duke Lewis Professor (1985-1989) - a position designated for a senior scholar in any discipline with significant scholarly interest in women’s studies. As a result, Weed and others conceptualized the idea to develop an archive for Schor's papers and for the papers of other feminist theorists at the Pembroke Center and to house the collections and provide access to them through the John Hay special collections library at Brown University.
Since 2003, the collection has grown and now includes the papers of theorists across discplines including feminist theorists and other scholars of difference with specializations in queer theory, Black feminist theory, global feminisms and affect theory related to gender and sexuality studies.
The Feminist Theory Archive is curated by the Nancy L. Buc '65, Pembroke Center Archivist, who works in close collaboration with the Director of the Pembroke Center, the Pembroke Center Faculty Board, The Feminist Theory Archive Advisory Board, and colleagues from the John Hay Library to select appropriate collections for inclusion. The principles that guide curatorial decision making for the Feminist Theory Archive are that scholars be senior in their fields or on a trajectory towards senior leadership and are groundbreakers -- theorists who have transformed and diversified the very meaning of "feminist" research through their lives and scholarship.
As of 2017, the Feminist Theory Archive continues to grow and places special collecting focus on first generation feminist theorists and on the next generation of feminist theorists who studied under the "founding *mothers*" of the field.
For more information about the history of the Feminist Theory Archive and the Pembroke Center, please see Elizabeth Weed's "Notes on Pembroke Center's History, 1981-2011"