This post is the third in a series featuring the innovative projects/programs that our colleagues are implementing with the help of internal grants offered by the Emory University Libraries. The two internal grants are the Innovation Grant and the Mini-Grant. These are available to support innovation or the purchase of tools or training that will enrich existing library services, programs, and workflows. This post is written by Gabrielle Dudley. She received an innovation grant for creating an archives and an academic exchange program between the Rose Library at Emory University and the Spelman College Archives.
Both Emory University and Spelman College offer courses which center the critical and analytical reading of literature written by black women. In Spring 2018, Dr. Nagueyalti Warren, Professor of Pedagogy in African American Studies at Emory University taught two courses connected to this project AAS 482: Black Women Writers and AAS 483W: Reading Alice Walker. Dr. Sarah RudeWalker, Assistant Professor of English at Spelman College, taught ENG 300: The Art of Writing. The final project for each course required students to conduct original research in the papers of at least one Black woman writer held at either the Spelman College Archives or the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory University.
Each student could choose their author and topic, but were encouraged to consider topics such as the editing and writing processes, relationships with editors, and the extent of writing and support networks between writers. In preparation for this research project, students received training on the following: conducting archival research from the perspective of a literary scholar, understanding discovery tools in archives, and preparing for a research visit. In addition to these tangible research skills, students in all three courses visited both the Rose Library and Spelman College Archives to participate in hands-on activities to familiarize them with archival research and highlight interesting materials within the papers of several Black women writers.
The final component of the partnership was participation in an intellectual exchange which took the form of conference style presentations and a facilitated lunch discussion. This culminating event for the project provided students in the courses at Emory and Spelman with the opportunity to meet one another and discuss the experience of conducting archival research in papers of significant Black women writers. Each student had 5 minutes (and 5 slides) to present their research findings using the Five in Five Presentation Style.
The breakdown of the student projects are as follows:
- Toni Cade Bambara papers – 2 students
- Pearl Cleage papers – 2 students
- Lucille Clifton – 3 students
- Mari Evans papers – 3 students
- Audre Lorde papers – 7 students
- Natasha Trethewey papers – 1 student
- Alice Walker papers – 10 students
Since the culminating event was organized in a conference format, students were able to attend other presentation session and ask questions of their peers. Although some students conducted research on the same author their findings from the archival research were vastly different and expanded their understanding of the writers.
The “Writing Herself Into Existence” project was successful in introducing undergraduate students at Emory and Spelman to archival research and expanding the networks between the two schools. The formal and informal feedback from the students and faculty connected to this project was overwhelmingly positive. Students seemed to enjoy the experience much more than they initially thought and were excited for the opportunity to present their findings in a public setting. Though this project was initially conceived as a one-time engagement, there will be plans to continue the partnership with Spelman College and create opportunities to offer a similar experience to future students.