Thursday, June 20, 2013

New Database: African American Archives

Primary sources are the life's blood of historical research.  What are they?  Well, as an American Library Association / RUSA guide states: "Primary sources are original records created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs and oral histories. Primary sources may include letters, manuscripts, diaries, journals, newspapers, speeches, interviews, memoirs, documents produced by government agencies such as Congress or the Office of the President, photographs, audio recordings, moving pictures or video recordings, research data, and objects or artifacts such as works of art or ancient roads, buildings, tools, and weapons. These sources serve as the raw material to interpret the past, and when they are used along with previous interpretations by historians, they provide the resources necessary for historical research."

As that same guide, and many of our own LibGuides (like this one) show, there are some wonderful digital archives of primary materials available free on the web--if you know where to find them.  Others are privately produced.  And many digital archive products combine public access documents with materials from privately-held collections.

When possible, we like to purchase these types of databases to give our students and faculty easy online access to vital documents created by those who lived the "first-person" of history.  This year, we were able to add a digital repository called African American Archives.

The publisher indicates, "African American Archives provides over one million pages of original historical documents pertaining to the African American experience over several centuries, and is richly-detailed with narratives and quantitative data alike. The earliest materials in this collection come from Essential Records Concerning Slavery and Emancipation from the Danish West Indies." (The earliest of these documents is from 1672!)

Materials include everything from Account Books to Annual Reports & Government Records to Casualty Sheets & Death Reports to Enlistment Papers & Lists of Deserters.  Also included are Letters, News Clippings and various types of Notational Cards, Original Muster and Hospital Rolls and Prisoner of War Papers.

Sub-collections include materials from the  American Colonization Society, which was formed in Washington, DC, in 1817 to establish a colony in Africa for free people of color residing in the United States. Most of the documents included are letters between Liberia and representatives of the Society. Many cover fundraising issues relating to support and education in the newly-formed country. You will also find account books, annual reports, news clippings, and related manuscripts. The Society's most active period was prior to, and just after, the Civil War.

Records of the Office of the Secretary of the Interior Relating to the Suppression of the African Slave Trade and Negro Colonization (from 1854 through 1872) can also be found here.  Agents within the Office of the Secretary of the Interior were authorized by the Secretary of the Navy to receive any "Negroes, mulattos, or persons of color" found aboard vessels seized off the coast of Africa and relocate them to Liberia.

Another module contains records of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia relating to slaves that date from 1851 to 1863.  Slavery was abolished in the District of Columbia in April 1862. In order to receive compensation, loyal owners of freed slaves were required to file slave schedules. These records include emancipation papers with dates when certificates of freedom were issued to freed slaves, manumission papers that record the voluntary freeing of slaves by their  owners, and case papers relating to fugitive slaves.

In 1871, the US government established the Southern Claims Commission to address southerners' petitions for compensation of supplies, livestock, and other items taken by the Union troops during the Civil War. More than 20,000 claims were filed. These testimonial files include first-person accounts of how civilians survived the war, detailed circumstances regarding loss of property, and accounts of each family's history and loyalty to the Union cause.  Documents from the Southern Claims Commission are also in this archive.

Early 20th Century Correspondence of the Military Intelligence Division Relating to "Negro Subversion" consists of War Department memorandums, investigative reports, and correspondence with other agencies, particularly the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Investigation.

Other materials include Federal and Supreme Court records related to the Amistad case (made even more famous by Stephen Spielberg's film), as well as records related to "Colored Troops" of the U.S. Civil War.

Because of our Clark Collection of African American Literature, as well as courses offered at Suffolk related to black history and genealogy, we thought this archive was a good addition to Sawyer Library online resources.  We hope you'll enjoy exploring it.

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