Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Final Verdict

In a series of occasional blog posts, participants in our Mellon Scholars Internship and Workshop programs will introduce themselves, discuss their experiences at the Library Company, and share their goals for pursuing careers in the field of early African American history. This program is generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

“That which grows fast, withers as rapidly. That which grows slowly, endures.”

My mother would always tell me to walk, don’t run before I fall. My mother meant that one day I would look up and ask “where has time gone?” As you can imagine, the concrete marks will show I was not an expert in waiting. Today, I find myself asking that very question, “where has time gone?”  

Four and a half years ago, I graduated from Jack Yates Senior High in Houston, Texas, and continued to the University of Houston, where I received my Bachelor of Science in Political Science. This journey redefined my purpose in life. With a passion for law, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer before I graduated high school. Other aspirations include teaching higher education and becoming a U.S Senator. During my undergraduate career, I chose courses that allowed me to incorporate my passion for law and public policy. Minoring in African American Studies, I focused on public policy regarding race and social justice. This led to my interest in the 2015 Mellon Scholars Internship Program, where I knew I would gain experience that would enhance my studies. Undecided between graduate school and law school, I applied to the program with the hope that it would help me to figure out which was the better option for me. Whether it would be law school or graduate school, I needed to gain experience in conducting research. Participating in the program is helping me to determine what I ultimately want to accomplish and leave as my legacy.

Researching the historical collection of archives at the Library Company of Philadelphia provided many ways to follow my interests in law, public policy, and race. For my research project, I chose to research how activists from Northern states influenced anti-slavery legislation. Previously unaware of the impact the North had on the Reconstruction Amendments, I structured my research to analyze the roots of activism in 18th- and 19th-century literature and rhetoric by black reformers and abolitionists in Philadelphia.

During my journey, I have alternated between the decision of going to law school or graduate school but now realize that I have the capability to do both.

Dominique Washington                                                                 
2015 Mellon Scholars Intern

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

My First SDS Conference

"Disability Arts on Display" panel at Society for Disability Studies Annual Meeting, June 10-13, 2015.
Picture shows view of a panel of people from the perspective of an audience member. Three women and a man sit at a table covered with a black fitted tablecloth. A paper coffee cup with lid, metal water pitcher, a pile of lanyards, and a water bottle are on the table in front of the panelists.  Two screens, including one with closed captioned text, and a podium pushed against the wall are visible. In the foreground, audience members, including a female wheelchair user, are seated. The room contains beige paneled walls and patterned carpeting.

A few weeks ago, hundreds of disability studies scholars, advocates, and activists gathered for the 28th Annual Meeting of the Society for Disability Studies, June 10-13, 2015. I was fortunate to be one of the attendees on behalf of the Library Company, a recent institutional member in the Society as a result of the Common Touch project.

I looked forward to my attendance not only for the multiple sessions related to art and disability, but for the experience of a conference that proactively strove to be as universally accessible as possible. Images for power point presentations needed to be verbally described, closed captioning was standard, and large print copies of presentations were available for distribution.

Through my work with Common Touch project partners, I have become increasingly aware that accessibility standards are a benefit to everyone, disabled or not. Case in point for me at the conference was that more than a few times I glanced at the closed captioning for a word or name I missed while taking notes. Nonetheless, even the most concerted efforts for accessibility can sometimes fall a bit short as did the microphone cords for the Q&A’s. As one disabled panelist noted, even the disabled community can be unintentionally unaccommodating as she asked an audience member, who had vertigo, to come to the front to use the mic.

Not surprisingly, insights also abounded from the subject matter of the panel sessions. The panels on art and disability ranged from dialogues about self-representation of disabled persons in art; the nuts and bolts and challenges/ triumphs of organizing professional Disability Arts festivals; and the social/cultural implications of the stories and relationships pervading the materiality, aesthetics, and concepts of works of art by, depicting, or representing persons with disabilities to the benefits of subjective audio descriptions over objective ones.

To conclude my post, instead of expounding on one or two of the themes from the various panels, I thought I would  share some of the snippets and jottings from my notes that continue to resonate with me:

Disability as relationships as opposed to a medical versus social model

If disability is framed; disability frames us

Disability as transformation of “normal” body

Privileging disability vs. bridge building through disability in art

An original non-disabled body is non existent

Erika Piola
Associate Curator, Prints and Photographs
Co-director, VCP at LCP

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Female Physician: A Deviation from 19th-Century Gender Roles?

This is the tenth anniversary of the Library Company first working with an intern from Haverford College’s Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities. In their summers at the Library Company, each one has helped increase the digital resources we offer significantly. They have brought their own training in history, literature, anthropology, sociology, or art history to their projects in useful and thought-provoking ways. This summer we are very pleased to be working with history major David Zabliski, and look forward to another great outcome.

David Zabliski, Haverford College '17

Friday, June 26, 2015

Mellon Scholars Program: Restoring Our Historical Memory

In a series of occasional blog posts, participants in our Mellon Scholars Internship and Workshop programs will introduce themselves, discuss their experiences at the Library Company, and share their goals for pursuing careers in the field of early African American history. This program is generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

My name is Hannah Wallace, and I am a rising senior at Temple University right here in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Three years ago, through a desire to reexamine the intersecting realities race contributed to my own life as a biracial woman, I was drawn to take on African American studies as my major along with a minor in Sociology. This decision, though focused inward at first, revealed to me a mission—too great for one lifetime to achieve— to do my part in helping to restore the historical memory of African people throughout the diaspora. It is not enough to claim that African American children are miseducated by our school systems and through false representations of ourselves by popular culture. We must take serious action to reverse these mental and spiritual corruptions. This must be done in such a way that will secure a foundation strong enough for the next generation to continue and improve upon though it will continuously be under scrutiny by those who do not understand or wish to understand the purpose of its existence.            

Though still in the process of understanding myself and the ways in which my own talents could most effectively reach the community, I have grown fond of the notions to either teach or possibly take on a curatorial career for my future—to blend the two into a cohesive institution is ideally the long term dream I will hold onto as I develop my skills throughout graduate school. It is for the sake of remembering our ancestors as well as for the need to rekindle the confidence they had within our own communities today, that I have dedicated myself to such a socially and spiritually challenging task.

My applying to the Mellon Scholars Program at the Library Company was initiated by a helpful professor of mine who had heard of the internship and knew that my interests and work experience in archives placed me in a great position to take on such a challenge. Of course the chance to conduct my own research rather than work behind the scenes, especially with such a vast and aged collection, left no question in my mind as to whether or not I would apply for this opportunity. And so, after months of waiting with fingers crossed, here I am, working alongside scholars and mentors who not only are supportive of my every task, but will surely stay lifelong friends after my work at the Library Company of Philadelphia is complete.

Frontispiece from Thomas Prosper Gragnon-Lacoste’s 
Toussaint Louverture,général en chef de l'armée de 
Saint-Domingue,surnommé le premier des noirs    
Paris, 1877.
The independent research project I am pursuing focuses on the pivotal stage of the Haitian Revolution. At this stage, I am examining the crucial decisions made by powerful members of the Haitian population, such as Toussaint L’Ouverture and the free Haitian people of color. From this analysis, I will then recognize the lasting effects these resolutions had on the larger Haitian population as well as African people throughout the diaspora. By placing the overall welfare of African people at the forefront, this analysis will give an in-depth assessment as to if and how Haiti progressed throughout this paramount time in history.

I must thank the Library Company of Philadelphia for granting me this valuable experience to explore history as well as prepare myself for the next steps of my college career. I appreciate these tools given to me and cannot wait to apply them to the road ahead.

Hannah Wallace
2015 Mellon Scholars Intern

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Riddle of Independence: Independent but not Free

Danielle Allen will give the Program in African American History’s 2015 Juneteenth Freedom Symposium talk at the Library Company. While in residence, our Mellon Scholars interns read Dr. Allen’s Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality and prepared a display of items (reproduced below) from the Library Company’s African Americana collection in response to themes in the book.

Independent but not free. What did freedom mean for a 19th-century African American? These four items demonstrate that even free African Americans were vulnerable to racism or sexism. In addition to social discrimination and prejudice, the law itself often failed to protect the rights and safety of free blacks.

Frontispiece from Narrative of Sojourner Truth. Boston, 1875.
In her powerful “Ain’t I a Woman” speech delivered to the 1851 Woman’s Rights Convention in Ohio, Sojourner Truth brought to the forefront the overbearing intersectionalities that black women faced. Whether free or enslaved, African American women were both the color of the oppressed as well as the gender of the subordinate. They were frequently overlooked in the burgeoning women’s rights movement and often sidelined in the antislavery struggle. Dictated to Olive Gilbert and first published in 1850, the Narrative of Sojourner Truth is a biography of this great African American activist.  Narrative describes the Riddle of Independence that Truth faced throughout her life. Even after obtaining her freedom, she was still not seen as a full human being by many in American society.

Illustration from Jesse Torrey, A Portraiture of Domestic Slavery 
in the United States. Philadelphia: Jesse Torrey, 1817.
In A Portraiture of Domestic Slavery, Jesse Torrey documents the realities of “free” life for African Americans. Rape, murder, assault, and kidnapping into slavery were ever-present possibilities for a free African American in both the North and the South. Laws and the legal process frequently failed to protect African Americans and their tenuous freedom. The image shown here depicts a free black man being attacked by two white men on horses, their fierce faces contrasting with his frightened stance. After the passage of the 1808 federal law banning the importation of African slaves, a black market arose to steal free blacks from the North and sell them into the chattel slavery of the South.

Anti-Fugitive Slave Law Meeting. 
Syracuse, New York, 1851. 
Opponents of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act convened an ad-hoc meeting in Syracuse, New York, in 1851. The meeting’s report reveals the instability of freedom and helps us understand the perceived illegality of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. The new law required all law enforcement officials to comply with returning slaves and penalized those who did not, even in states where slavery had been outlawed. With meeting attendees pledging to disobey the law because of its unconstitutionality, the riddle of independence leads us to question whether or not we as a nation trust in the law of the land. 

Proceedings of the Woman’s Rights Conventions, 
Held at Seneca Falls & Rochester, N.Y., July & August, 1848
New York: Robert J. Johnston, 1870.
After decades of activism in the antislavery movement, many women reformers began mobilizing their networks to fight for equal opportunity and protection under the law for women. Activists organized the 1848 Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. The Proceedings of the Woman’s Rights Conventions documents the course of meetings that resulted in the creation of the Declaration of Sentiments, a platform for the new women’s rights movement. The Declaration of Sentiments mirrored the language of the Declaration of Independence to show how the latter document failed to grant all people the right to freedom irrespective of gender.

Jalyn Gordon, Joshua Johnson, Hannah Wallace, & Dominique Washington
2015 Mellon Scholars Interns