Meredith McGill, chair of the department of English at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and Jacqueline Goldsby, a professor of English, African American studies, and American studies at Yale, are developing a digital database dedicated to the study of Black-authored and Black-published books, magazines, and newspapers.
The Black Bibliography Project, funded through a $1.7 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, seeks to remedy what scholars say is a dearth of accurate, organized data about Black print. The project’s mission is to provide a central clearinghouse of information that will be easily accessible to scholars and students of literature, history, Black diaspora studies, and other fields.
The two professors said their work builds upon a history of efforts by scholars, librarians, and private collectors to identify, curate, and provide access to primary source collections of writings by Black Americans. But the project aims to go beyond collecting and curating: Drs. McGill and Goldsby want to revive the practice of descriptive bibliography – the study of books as physical objects – and apply it to Black literary studies. Descriptive bibliography explores the production and circulation of books with the goal of uncovering insights into the role of print in human history.
Professor Goldsby and McGill have been overseeing a pilot program since 2019, leading a team that includes librarians and curators from Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, graduate students from Yale and Rutgers and scholar-consultants from the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Delaware, and Princeton University. The new grant will support the project through 2025 and allow Goldsby and McGill to assemble a larger team and begin the process of connecting with library and archival repositories nationwide to feed the database.