Crowd-Sourced Project: 19th-Century ‘Colored Conventions’

Are you interested in the digital humanities, social movements, or American history? If so, you should explore the Colored Conventions Project, which recently introduced a crowd-sourcing initiative to help transcribe minutes from 19th century Black political organizing meetings called “Colored Conventions.”

As a library and information science student, I find this project an exciting example of how academic librarians can collaborate with scholars in the humanities to create opportunities for interdisciplinary scholarship, innovative curriculum development, and improved access to primary historical materials for students, researchers, and the public.

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image via coloredconventions.org/

What is the Colored Conventions Project?

The Colored Conventions movement, which began in 1830 and continued beyond the end of the Civil War, was a collective organizing effort within the Black community to fight for labor, educational, and legal justice.

The Colored Conventions Project seeks to facilitate scholarship on the conventions and on the many men and the few women who attended them. It also emphasizes researching Black women in the convention delegates’ broader community, whose work helped support the conventions, but is not always represented in the minutes. The project is run by a team of faculty, librarians, and graduate and undergraduate students at the University of Delaware, derived from several disciplines, including English, African American History, Art, and Education.

What Does the Colored Conventions Project Do?

As a digital humanities project, the Colored Conventions Project uses new media and information technologies to enhance research and teaching in the humanities.

The website not only makes available the minutes themselves, but also provides access to associated research, including visualization of trends, demographics, and other information through interactive maps and tables.

In addition to the recently announced transcription initiative, the project is organizing a symposium in April 2015 at the University of Delaware. It is titled, “Colored Conventions in the Nineteenth Century and the Digital Age.” The event will explore “ways in which understandings of nineteenth-century campaigns for racial justice shift when the decades-long colored convention movement stands alongside abolition as one of the principal ways in which we conceive of early racial and justice movements.”

The project also offers curricular materials to support instructors who want to teach undergraduate or graduate classes about the movement, called “Colored Conventions in a Box.”

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image via coloredconventions.org/

As part of this curriculum, students working on a particular convention write biographies of individual delegates and associated women, grounding their biographies in the issues addressed by the delegates in the minutes of that convention.

What’s interesting about this curriculum is that it includes a digital publishing component–students upload their instructor-approved biographies to the Colored Conventions Project website, using Omeka.

That is a free open-source web-publishing platform designed specifically for academic and cultural heritage projects. Thus, students learn by directly contributing to ongoing research in a digital environment. As the phrase “in a box” suggests, the curriculum can easily be used at institutions other than the University of Delaware, where a research guide of resources related to the conventions and the time period can also be adapted to library resources available at those institutions.

How Can You Get Involved?

Transcribe minutes! It’s easy–just create a free account and then click on the convention for which you want to transcribe minutes. You’ll see PDF images of the pages of that convention’s minutes with accompanying transcriptions.

The transcriptions contain many errors because they are machine-generated. Choose a page with a transcription that has not yet been corrected, and read the PDF to help you correct it. More detailed instructions are available on the website. You can also simply view the PDFs without an account.

The minutes provide insight into the ideas, concerns, and struggles of Black leaders of the 19th century. This is a great opportunity to learn more about this period of history while contributing to making important historical documents digitally searchable.

If you are intrigued by what you learn, you can explore further by taking a look at the maps and tables available on the website.

Is this something you’d like to become involved in? If so, or if you have feedback, let us know in the comments here!

Anjali Parasnis-Samar

I'm a first year graduate student in the MS in Library and Information Science program at the iSchool. Email me at aparasni@syr.edu.

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