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Volunteers transcribe minutes from some 19th century "Colored Conventions" at a Frederick Douglass birthday party held Feb. 14 in UD's Morris Library.
It will be
another full year before historians and admirers of Frederick Douglass
mark the 200th birthday of the famed abolitionist, author and orator,
but there was plenty of celebrating all for a good cause at the
University of Delaware this month.
Through the Colored Conventions Project
(CCP), a national initiative founded and hosted at UD, organizers held a
transcribe-a-thon as part of a 199th birthday party for Douglass.
Born into slavery in 1818, he never knew his exact birthdate but chose
to celebrate it on Feb. 14.
This Tuesday, Feb. 14, dozens of participants gathered in a room in
UDs Morris Library to mark the occasion, complete with birthday cakes
adorned with portraits of Douglass. Similar festive transcribe-a-thons
were held at the same time at eight other U.S. locations, including
Brown University and Winterthur Museum, with participants connected via
live video streaming and social media.
Featuring music and inspiring speeches, the gathering at UD
deliberately replicated some aspects of the 19th century Colored
Conventions in which free and fugitive African Americans came together
to strategize about achieving educational, legal and workplace access
Those early organizing efforts for social justice are the focus of
the CCP, which seeks to collect and digitize the minutes and other
records from the numerous state, local and national conventions that met
from 1830 through the 1890s in various locations.
Delegates to the conventions included leading African American
writers, educators, church leaders and others, with Douglass the most
Minutes of the conventions have been rare, out of print and housed in
separate locations. Since 2012, the CCP has been working with partners
and volunteers to transcribe the records in a single online, searchable
location for use by scholars and the public.
This is a collaborative project that couldnt have happened
without all the people who have helped across the United States, said
CCP founding director P. Gabrielle Foreman, who is the Ned B. Allen
Professor of English, professor of history and Black American studies
and a senior research fellow with the UD Library. The project has
reached thousands of U.S. students through a network of national
teaching partners and curriculum and research guides.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Volunteers with the Colored Conventions Project work on laptops to ensure that digitized minutes and other records from the 19th century conventions are accurately reproduced from the original documents.
At the Douglass birthday event, participants got a brief tutorial on
how to transcribe minutes of conventions and immediately put those
skills into practice by transcribing one or more pages on laptop
They also heard from Hassan El-Amin, an adjunct UD faculty member and
actor with the University REP professional theatre company. Speaking as
Frederick Douglass, El-Amin read from an address the orator delivered
before the National Convention of Colored Men in Louisville, Kentucky,
Why are we here in this National Convention? Douglass asked at one
point in the address in defense of the need for Colored Conventions.
To this we answer, first, because there is a power in numbers and in
union; because the many are more than the few; because the voice of a
whole people, oppressed by a common injustice, is far more likely to
command attention and exert an influence on the public mind than the
voice of single individuals and isolated organizations.
Organizers of the birthday event were UD doctoral students Jim Casey and Denise Burgher. Support was provided by the AARP.
The CCP is a collaborative, digital project that is a key part of
UDs ongoing initiatives to build on its established strengths in the
public humanities, particularly African American public humanities, and
material culture studies.
The University of Delaware Library is a key partner in the interdisciplinary project.
Last spring, the CCP was awarded a highly competitive grant from the
National Endowment for the Humanities Office of Digital Humanities to
support an expansion of its work. In December, a UD team with the
project won the 10th Modern Language Association Prize for a
Bibliography, Archive, or Digital Project.
Even more recently, the CCP website won the annual Best Electronic
Reference Award from the Popular Culture Association/American Culture
Association. That award will be presented at the associations
conference in April.
Article by Ann Manser; photos by Evan Krape