Guide to African-American Archival Materials at Othmer Library

In February, I first posted a new document to Emma, Brooklyn Historical Society’s catablog: the Guide to African-American History Archival Material at the Othmer Library. You might be interested in knowing a little of the context for this Guide.

The Guide is an early outcome of the In Pursuit of Freedom project. Those readers who keep up on BHS’s many doings are already aware of the project. For those unfamiliar with it, In Pursuit is a multi-faceted public history project memorializing the history of abolitionism, anti-slavery and the Underground Railroad in Brooklyn. It aims to provide new resources for understanding Brooklyn’s leading role in the abolitionist movement, including exhibitions, a website, walking tours, an original theater piece, and an educational curriculum, just to name some goals. An especially distinctive aspect of In Pursuit is that it is not centered in any one institution, but is a partnership among three Brooklyn cultural institutions: Brooklyn Historical Society, Irondale Ensemble Project, and Weeksville Heritage Center. You can take a look at a past PRESS RELEASE for more information about the project and the partnership.

As the Project Archivist based in BHS’s Othmer Library for In Pursuit, an important role of mine has been to help the project team identify and work with relevant documents from BHS’s collections. Yet while that supports the immediate short-term needs of project research, it does little to support those future users of BHS’s collections that are inspired by In Pursuit to pursue additional lines of inquiry. Accordingly, my second role on the project has been to process and describe archival collections to a degree sufficient to allow both project and public discovery of archival material related to In Pursuit and the lines of research in African-American history encouraged by In Pursuit. These lines of inquiry might begin with In Pursuit’s core concern with abolition and anti-slavery in nineteenth century Brooklyn, but they might easily extend into other facets of African-Americans’ pursuit of freedom and equality over the 400 year history of Brooklyn, New York City, and Long Island.

It is in this context that the Guide to African-American Archival Materials at Othmer Library, which covers all periods of “greater Brooklyn’s” history, was compiled. Following a standard format used at BHS for other subject guides, the African-American history guide provides one means for the In Pursuit project staff to navigate BHS’s vast holdings to find potentially useful source material. And beyond the project, the Guide can be immensely helpful to BHS staff and patrons in efficiently identifying potentially useful collections on the subject, without the ongoing mediation of a project archivist or other specialized staff.

The Guide was developed by drawing on existing documentation and some surveying of the collections themselves. As work with the collections continues over time across all projects in Othmer Library, updates to the Guide are likely. In fact, since I’m blogging about the Guide today, it also seemed like a good time to post the current update.

And while I am making changes and providing context, I will also point out a change in Emma as it relates to Subject Guides. Until today, Subject Guides (of which the African-American history guide was the first) were included in the catablog, which generally includes descriptions of individual collections. But as a way of better highlighting the Subject Guides as roadmaps across collections, starting today the guides are now found on their own pages within Emma. You can go to the Subject Guide HOME PAGE for more information. Happy Researching!

About Larry Weimer

Larry is a project archivist at Brooklyn Historical Society working on In Pursuit of Freedom, a collaborative project between Weeksville Heritage Center, Irondale Ensemble Project and BHS that will design and implement new resources for understanding Brooklyn’s leading role in the abolitionist movement and Underground Railroad.
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