The Center for Fraternal Collections and Research collects, preserves, and makes accessible historical and cultural materials related to fraternal organizations and their membership, with an emphasis on organizations that are extinct or without stable historical repositories, and promotes research into the history of fraternal organizations in service of the university’s teaching, research, and service mission.
Fraternal Societies were some of the most influential organizations of the 18th and 19th Centuries in Europe, the Americas, Australia, and many other parts of the world. They were centers for intellectual thought, social relationships, and community building. Large cities and small towns could be home to any number of fraternal organizations, whether Freemasons, Oddfellows, or others. These organizations were central to public life in their communities, and yet, because many such organizations were so-called "secret societies" whose membership and internal rituals were kept from public view, their history and influence is often misunderstood. This combination of historical importance and public misperception make the history of fraternal orders a significant area of potential scholarship and pedagogy.
Despite their earlier prominent role in society, such organizations saw a decline in membership and resources throughout the late 20th and 21st Centuries, resulting in the dissolution of many orders who then lost the means to preserve their history, rituals, and culture. A few repositories for the retention of this history have developed among a few organizations that still have personnel and financial resources, such as the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library (SRMML). A smattering of other order-specific centers exist, such as the Canadian Center for Fraternal Orders; the Grand Army of the Republic in Detroit, Michigan; the Red Men in Waco, Texas; and the Patrons of Husbandry in Minneapolis, Minnesota. However, these institutions only collect and preserve a small amount of local material related to their specific orders. There are no cross-fraternal centers that collect materials from many orders and from many communities in one centralized repository.
For most fraternal organizations, in fact, the records, archival papers, ritual objects, and other materials related to their history and functioning are at risk of being lost. Without these materials, important information about how these societies engaged its members, existed alongside other orders, and influenced their home communities would disappear. Other than the occasional exception, such as those listed above, very few fraternal organizations have the resources or energy to build an all-inclusive fraternal repository, let alone fully maintain and staff a center dedicated to its own history. It is this dire need of historical preservation that the Indiana University Center for Fraternal Collections and Research (CFCR) works to fulfill. The CFCR is a one-stop research center for fraternal studies that collects and maintains these valuable collections; supports student, faculty, and outside researchers of fraternal studies; and holds symposia, exhibits, and events related to fraternal collections and scholarship.