I posted my initial blog concerning the Black Women’s Suffrage Digital Collection, a collaborative project hosted by the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), prematurely. My initial impression of the site was one of great excitement that such an extensive national organization valued Black women’s history to the point where they wanted to foreground their involvement in the suffrage movement. This was a movement that lead to the ratification of the 19th amendment which has typically been historicized as a White women’s movement. Initially, White and Black suffragists were able to stand and fight back against patriarchal systemic inequities in solidarity, however the movement became racially polarized when the right to vote was decidedly a race between Black men and White women.
Needless to say, I was excited by the site: the apparent diversity of the DPLA team, the aesthetically pleasing layout, and the many photos of women I recognized from my Black feminist genealogy, historical leaders like Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell and Charlotta Bass. And I must say, the collection of papers and artifacts they have for these three women are impressive. However, as I took a deeper dive into the site after my initial post, I was disappointed. The other collections, The Featured Primary Source Sets, are drastically diluted. Of the six collections, one is announced with a picture of a group of white women marching and the collection contains several pieces of suffrage memorabilia from the white community, another promises artifacts pertaining to Black women’s involvement in the Black Power movement, signaled with a beautiful piece of artwork, but the artifacts primarily pertain to men. The Equal Rights Amendment collection features Alice Paul and other white women, and I could go on.
I was hoping not to sound overtly disparaging when two representatives from the DPLA came to give a talk in class. I was able to point out the disconnections between what the archive promises and its delivery, and the representatives were very gracious in receiving feedback. Their efforts in curating the collections are ongoing and to be commended. Take away: Collections have to be monitored for accuracy, especially 1) when you are dealing with artifacts from and of people that have been historically marginalized and minoritized and 2) when you have many partners contributing to an archive or from many different sources.
This course in archival encounters has been very inspiring. Upon arrival to my PhD program in English (and maybe even sooner), we have been encouraged to consider occupations outside of academia. I think archival management may be a possibility higher on my list.