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University of Delaware’s Colored Conventions Project wins an MLA award

The work is an interdisciplinary look at the pre- and post-Civil War organizing efforts of African American activists.

The documented proceedings of a colored convention held right here in Delaware. (Screenshot via YouTube)

Most of the general knowledge of 19th-century African-American reform movement gravitates toward the major events we were taught in class — the Thirteenth Amendment, the Emancipation Proclamation, abolitionism and more.
But even before the 1860s, when African Americans were finally allowed to get involved in the American political system, Black political activists were organizing in the form of “colored conventions.” These major events acted as platforms for African Americans to voice and act upon their desire for equality in education, representation in government and respect in the workforce.
A team at the University of Delaware is now being awarded by the Modern Language Association (MLA) for their efforts in the digital archiving of materials from these conventions. The work is called the Colored Conventions Project.
Founding and core members of the Colored Conventions Project — P. Gabrielle Foreman, Jim Casey and Sarah Lynn Patterson will be presented with the 10th MLA Prize for a Bibliography, Archive or Digital Project at the MLA’s annual convention on Jan. 7 in Philadelphia.
The specific award is given every other year and is one of 17 total awards that will be presented at the convention.

“I am thrilled that the collective organizing efforts of so many 19th-century black leaders who came together to advocate for educational, legal and work-place access and equality in the face of state-sponsored apathy and violence is being recognized in this way,” Foreman said in a statement.
Recognition of these pre- and post-Civil War events is something Foreman, founding faculty director for the Colored Conventions Project and Ned B. Allen professor of English at UD, believes has been often overlooked by scholars and historians. After all, these conventions were places where activists got a start in drafting many of the petitions for the bettering of their conditions.
In its citation for the project, the MLA stated that it “has been developed with the user at the forefront of its design” and is “original in its concept and content, broad in its range and in its reach, timely and thoughtfully conceived and has significant potential for expansion and further development.”

The MLA prize for the team, originally known as the MLA Prize for a Distinguished Bibliography, was expanded to its current title in order to recognize the growing use of digital tools in this line of research and bibliography.

Companies: University of Delaware

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