Black History Month event works to preserve important historical papers

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(Photo/ Zenith Shrestha)

Students work with Learning Center Coordinator Patricia Harris to transcribe papers written by Anna Julia Cooper, a prominent black scholar and activist.

Lirona Joshi

Staff Writer

The Learning Center at Troy University observed Douglass Day last Friday. The day is a commemoration of the legacy of the African-American author Fredrick Douglass.

In 2017, Douglas Day was incorporated by the Colored Conventions Project as an annual day for preserving Black history.

For this year’s celebrations, institutions and individuals across the country gathered to conduct a transcribe-a-thon and read-a-thon focused on the papers of Anna Julia Cooper, who was a prominent female African American author and scholar.

“It is a day when we can celebrate him, his life and his legacy,” said Patricia Harris, the Learning Center Coordinator. “In the recent years, Douglass Day has evolved into an opportunity to also celebrate and lift up lesser-known people who were in his circle at that time that scholars were not interested in.”

To begin the celebration for the day, students gathered at the Learning Center to cut a cake for Douglass, which was followed by a viewing of the national broadcast of the event.

After that, they joined a national cohort of individuals in transcribing, reading and discussing the works of Anna Julia Cooper.

“What we are doing this year is we are doing Anna Julia Cooper’s work, which is focused on what in literary research and historical research is called feminist recovery,” Harris said. “She is an important female writer, and those are the kind of writers who are more apt to be swept under the rug.

“And so it’s a wonderful thing to see this feminist recovery work performed with writers and scholars such as Anna Julia Cooper so that people who never knew about her can now know or the people that thought about her as a forgotten part of that era’s history and never had access to her work because it’s really important to transcribe her work.”

According to Harris, this year’s transcription event involved transcribing documents in American history that went to the digital archives of the Library of Congress.

In Troy, the transcription was done by students under the guidance of Harris and Karen Ross, an associate professor of history, which contributed to the total 70% of the transcription that was reported by the Library of Congress that day.

For Pratibha Gautam, a senior psychology major from Kathmandu, Nepal, and a participant of the transcribe-a-thon, the event was an opportunity to learn more about the literary figures who have not been duly recognized.

“I mostly transcribed her correspondences as I wanted to learn more about the type of person she was,” Gautam said. “The project itself is very interesting as participants can select what documents to transcribe.

“Every document was like a time capsule. It was the perfect way to celebrate Fredrick Douglass and Anna Cooper. It was also the perfect way to recognize black history month.”

“There are really two major goals that we have with an event like this in Troy and the impact that we hope to have on the students,” Harris said. “One, it’s just consciousness raising- so people remember Fredrick Douglass and we are in Alabama formally celebrating a formerly enslaved person.

“The second thing is, when we are doing transcription work, we are actually performing a radical act within higher-ed and contributing directly to the scholarship. And to think that students at Troy are transcribing documents in American history that will go to the digital archives of the Smithsonian or the Library of Congress is huge. It changes a sense of yourself as a student if you think, ‘I just did something for the Library of Congress today.’”

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