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DCAAP Uncovers Black History Collections for Research

Over the past three years, GW has been home to the D.C. Africana Archives Project (DCAAP). Funded through a generous “hidden collections” grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), DCAAP is a collaboration between GW, Howard University, the District of Columbia Archives, D.C. Public Library, Historical Society of Washington, D.C., and the National Museum of American History to arrange, describe, and make more widely available records documenting the history of African American and African diaspora populations in the District of Columbia.

Portraits and pictures of weddings and events from the Scurlock Studio Records, AC618 at the National Museum of American History laid out for processing.

Over the course of this project, which drew to a close in December, more than 100 local black history collections across the six partner institutions were uncovered. These collections, which span from the 1790s to the present and document the richness of black life in the city, previously had either no or very little description and so were virtually unusable for researchers. Student processing assistants under the supervision of professional staff of the GW Libraries and its partner institutions, gained substantial experience working with these archival collections and helped to make this project a success.

“We are pleased that the DCAAP project was able to bring such rich historical materials to light,” said Elisabeth Kaplan, associate university librarian at GW and co-principal investigator on the project with Jennifer James, associate professor of English and director of the Africana Studies Program. “The diverse collections that our team uncovered really demonstrate the depth and breadth of African American life in D.C. We hope that making these collections available to the public—some for the very first time—will stimulate use by scholars, family historians, and a variety of other researchers.”

Recently uncovered documents confirm the presence of enslaved laborers at the Columbian College prior to the civil war.

As a result of this project, the District of Columbia Archives has a complete online listing of their holdings, many of which explore the changing demographics of the city over two centuries. Other collections processed as part of this effort include the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.’s oral history collection on the Black Arts in D.C. Survey, which chronicles the history of fine arts in the Shaw, U Street, Howard University, and LeDroit neighborhoods; the WANN Radio Station Records at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, which chronicle the history of an Annapolis, MD-based radio station that served local African American communities; and the papers of Jeanne Spurlock, a psychiatrist who received her medical degree at Howard University and worked to analyze aspects of culture and race that influenced the treatment of mental illness. The GW Libraries described its Joel S. Bacon Letters on the Arnold Case, which hold some important truths about the role of slavery in university history.


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