District of Columbia Africana Archives Project

Posted: November 22, 2015 by saacua in Inside the Archives, Sharing
Tags: , , , , , ,

Guest Post by: Clara Bannigan

            On October 30, 2015, I attended the 2015 Archives Fair hosted by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference, the National Archives Assembly, and the Smithsonian Institution Archives and Special Collections Council.  The theme of this year’s fair was “Hidden Connections.” The presentations focused on exposing historical narratives that may not fit the traditional narrative of the American experience. One particularly local narrative, the history of African Americans in the District of Columbia was discussed in the panel “Beyond the Processed Box: Unearthing the Research Muse through the D.C. Africana Archives Project.”

            The DC Africana Archives Project (DCAAP) Director, Doretha Williams, and the graduate student presenters piqued my interest in this project, especially because as a local of the D.C. area, I am aware of the direct and important impact African Americans had on the development of the District of Columbia. DCAAP is a partnership between George Washington University’s Special Collections Research Center, George Washington University’s Africana Studies Program, and several local archives to “enhance access to previously unavailable research materials that document the history of the African diaspora in DC, the civil rights movements, the struggle for Home Rule, the rise of Black-owned businesses, the development of Howard University, slavery in the nation’s capital, jazz music in D.C., and the literary arts.” GW is partnering with the District of Columbia Archives, the Historical Society of Washington D.C., the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Public Library, the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University, the Archives Center at the National museum of American History, and the George Washington University Special Collections.

            The DCAAP team and the partnering institutions identified 125 unprocessed archival collections that are focused on its mission, and is supported by a grant to George Washington University from the Council on Library and Information Resources. A group of students work to process these collections for the purpose of creating online finding aids to make the material available. These graduate and undergraduate students are exposed to the collections of local archives and the archival processing theory of ‘more product less process,’ and participate in panel discussions in the area. DCAAP is currently working with local high schools to increase the use of local history and primary source learning in schools.

            At the Archives Fair, several student workers presented on the projects they participated in. Haley Bryant, an MA student at George Washington University presented “Archival Ideologies- Ethnography of Archival Practice at the Mooreland-Spingarn Research Center” discussed the negotiations between the practice of ‘More Product, Less Process’ (MPLP) and traditional archival processing methods. Haley discussed the critiques of MPLP and how they speak to larger issues of power structures and the purpose of the archive as an institution. DCAAP specifically trains the student workers to use MPLP processing techniques, but as Haley pointed out, there are valuable critiques of MPLP that should be addressed, especially with special projects like DCAAP that seek to provide access to ‘hidden collections.’

            The African American community has a critical role in the development of Washington, D.C., and DCAAP is providing the tools that researchers and students need to understand and articulate that role further. If you are interested in the local history and the influence of African Americans in the District of Columbia, check out the project and their finding aids, available online at http://library.gwu.edu/dcaap.

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