The Johns Hopkins University has been awarded $476,000
to collaborate with the Baltimore-based Afro-American
Newspapers to open the 115-year-old newspaper company's
historic archives to access by scholars and others.
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded project will
involve the Center for Educational Resources at the
Sheridan Libraries and the Center for Africana
Studies in the
Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.
"We are delighted to be part of this initiative," said
Winston Tabb, the Sheridan Dean of University Libraries at
Johns Hopkins. "It is an unparalleled opportunity to create
a training program for students at Johns Hopkins and other
Baltimore area colleges and universities that combines
archival theory and hands-on practice in providing access
to a nationally significant archive."
Founded in 1892 by John Murphy Sr., a former slave,
the Afro is the nation's longest-running
family-owned African-American weekly newspaper. The
archives, comprising 2,055 linear feet of boxed materials,
contain a rich and unique collection of letters, business
records, journals, personal correspondence and photographs.
The materials not only document the history of the
newspaper company but also chronicle its role as an
advocate for social change in Baltimore and the nation.
Large collections such as the Afro's require
what archivists call "finding aids," descriptive
information about each item, to enable scholars to
efficiently mine their contents. But finding aids currently
exist for only a small portion of the Afro-American
collection, rendering it a hidden treasure, said archivist
Marilyn Benaderet, who joined the staff of The
Afro-American in 2006. Students trained by the project
will create finding aids and post them online for scholars
anywhere to use.
"The archives contain the writings of many notable
black journalists and intellectuals, including Langston
Hughes, William Worthy and J. Saunder Redding, as well as
thousands of extraordinary photographs," Benaderet said.
"The creation of searchable guides that will be freely
available on the Internet will enable users anywhere in the
world to mine the riches of this exceptional resource."
The Mellon grant will support the development of a new
archival training practicum and internship program that
will train students in collection assessment, description
and processing. Faculty at Johns Hopkins and Morgan State
University will collaborate with the Sheridan Libraries
staff and Benaderet at The Afro-American to teach
"This project will enable us to forge a strong
interdisciplinary team of faculty, librarians, archivists
and students to explore and describe the wealth of
materials in this archive," said Candice Dalrymple,
associate dean of university libraries and director of the
Center for Educational Resources. "We hope to attract
student interns not only from Johns Hopkins but also from
other colleges and universities here in Baltimore, allowing
us to tap into the strengths of the city's higher education
Ben Vinson, director of the Center for Africana
Studies and professor of Latin American history at Johns
Hopkins, said the grant will contribute significantly to
the Diaspora Pathways Initiative, a long-term research and
instructional effort housed at the center.
"The center is developing new ways of thinking about
scholarship and research, particularly in forms that
accentuate community input and engagement," Vinson said.
"This grant offers a giant step forward in this direction.
It is a multilevel partnership with a genuine community
treasure — The Afro-American Newspapers.
"At the core of the broader Diaspora Pathways
Initiative is the quest to understand how African-Americans
have, historically and currently, perceived their roles in
an ever-changing world — one that is affected by
processes such as immigration, the quest for full
citizenship rights, multiculturalism, globalism and
internal regional change," he said. "Through the
unprocessed archives of the Afro, we can obtain a
new and privileged view, and ultimately think differently,
about blackness in Baltimore."
The internship program will begin in January 2008 and
will be offered to undergraduate and graduate students.
Processing will begin with the photographs, currently the
most sought-after resource, Benaderet said. Internships
will be available on a part-time basis during the academic
year and on a full-time basis during the summer to appeal
to the broadest cross section of talented students.
As finding aids are created, they will be entered into
a permanent database, searchable via the Web, ensuring both
accessibility and long-term preservation of the records.
The libraries and the Krieger School will continue to
underwrite summer internships and the course practicum at
the conclusion of the three-year Mellon grant.
For Vinson, the partnership between an archival
repository, a university library, local educational
institutions and an Africana Studies Center offers an
interesting model for future trajectories of black studies
programs. "As these primary source materials are rendered
more accessible to the black studies and humanities
curriculum, we can experiment and develop new pedagogical
techniques," he said. "I hope that the scope of the
project's work will transcend the university and the
Baltimore community and be beneficial to the broader
Jake Oliver, publisher of the Afro, said, "With
nearly 115 years of existence, The Afro-American
Newspapers have perhaps the largest single source of
African-American history on the planet. We've long
recognized the value of our archives and have made some
progress not only in chronicling our items but also in
using our archives to provide assistance to researchers,
students and history enthusiasts. This collaboration with
librarians and faculty at Johns Hopkins and Morgan State is
an exciting and significant step toward our goal of sharing
our history with the global community."