Digitizing and preserving African American history and heritage is an important mission in the digital age. Providing access to K-12 and undergraduate students and educators, as well as the community at large, is the largest challenge. Furthermore, strategies for preserving African American heritage and history as it happens is the newest challenge faced by those interested in the field. Thus, at the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) 98th Annual National Convention held October 2-6, 2013, in Jacksonville, Florida, two sessions were dedicated to this very issue.
The first session, titled “Dude, Where’s My Movement? The Intersection of Technology and Historic Preservation,” had panelists Adrena Ifill of DoubleBack Productions, LLC; Janet Sims-Wood, librarian at Prince George’s Community College; D’shawna Bernard of CBCF/Avoice Project; and Leslie Gist Etheridge of The Gist of Freedom, discussed new strategies and best practices for endeavors related to digitizing and preserving African American history and heritage. They suggested the use of social media and the practices of hash-tagging, sharing and liking in order to distribute and track the permeation of cultural artifacts throughout cyberspace. They also suggested that via social media, heritage and history could be preserved.
Of the conversation, the most valuable to my approach to digitizing and preserving African American history and heritage was the discussion of the website Avoice (African American Voices in Congress) www.avoiceonline.org. Avoice is the voice for African-American legislative history online and is a research and educational tool. Avoice is the “first and most comprehensive virtual library on African-American political and legislative contributions to America’s democracy. Avoice is a project of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc. (CBCF).” Importantly, its partners include Dell Inc., The University of Texas at Austin and HowardUniversity. It serves as an example of partnerships between educational institutions, governmental institutions, community institutions and business.
The second session, which was not as relevant to my project, was titled “AFRO, eBlack Studies, and the Digital Revolution: Recent Initiatives.” This session reflected the continuing academic conversation that initially led to my interest in digitizing and preserving African American history and heritage. As scholarly journals dedicated to the ‘Black Experience’ move towards digital publishing, accessibility of their articles to the community at large greatly increases. This move reflects the goal of community engagement of Black Studies as a discipline, as well as the interest of the community at large in having access to these materials.
With that being said, students, educators and the community at large should expect to see more and more projects and initiatives dedicated to the digitizing and preserving African American history and heritage emerge. That reality provides for increased excitement for, engagement with, and interest in cultural heritage informatics.