Project Aims to Expand Research on Obscure African American Novels

The Black Book Interactive Project at the University of Kansas is building the first searchable digital collection of previously unavailable and understudied African-American novels. The Black Book Interactive Project’s overarching goal is to create a diverse learning community where scholars and practitioners can work creatively in producing new knowledge and opportunities for teaching and research.

As the project adds more content and descriptive data, it is also expanding the user base both inside and outside the university. Among the partners participating in the project are the College Language Association, the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Library Alliance, and the University of Chicago. The University of Chicago partnership resulted in the conversion of hundreds of physical novels into a searchable archive and is leading to the development of a digital interface to facilitate user access.

Maryemma Graham, University Distinguished Professor of English, is overseeing the project, which has been supported by a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies. Dr. Graham stated that “we know that Black writing represents some of the most critical, literary, linguistic and rhetorical innovations. Digital tools now make it possible to explore these developments to make them highly visible on a larger scale. Since the use of technology is only going to expand, we see the Black Book Interactive Project as a model that can be replicated with other hidden and valuable collections, those that can easily get lost in this transition.”

Dr. Graham has been on the faculty at the University of Kansas since 1998. She is the author or editor of many books, including The Cambridge History of African American Literature (Cambridge University Press, 2011). Professor Graham is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She earned a master’s degree in English at Northwestern University and a second master’s degree in Africana studies and a Ph.D. in English at Cornell University.

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