*CHICAGO, IL — In his 1925 essay “The Negro Digs Up His Past,” scholar and bibliophile Arthur Schomburg argued that, black “history has become less a matter of argument and more a matter of record. [Amongst African Americans,] there is the definite desire and determination to have a history, well documented, and administered as a stimulating and inspiring tradition for the coming generations,” he says.
Following in the footsteps of Schomburg and other archival trailblazers, Krystal Appiah is helping to preserve the African American archival record as one of seven fellows in a ground-breaking program, Increasing African American Diversity in Archives: The History Makers’ Fellowship, Mentoring, Training and Placement Institute. The Fellows are being trained and mentored with the help of an $800,000 grant awarded to The HistoryMakers in 2010 by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.The program addresses the “appalling low proportion” of African American archivists, which despite decades of effort has increased by only 1 percent in 22 years — from 1.8 percent as recorded in the Society of American Archivists (SAA)’s 1982 survey of its professionals, to 2.8 percent in 2004 as recorded by the A* Census. Harvard University Professor and pre-eminent African American scholar Henry Louis Gates has described the fellowship as “a wonderfully innovative program.”
The goal of the program is to provide African American archival collections with African American archivists and other archivists qualified and interested in working with African American collections, ultimately helping to “increase the visibility of the archival profession and African American collections through public programs/outreach efforts,” says Julieanna L. Richardson, executive director and founder of The HistoryMakers. “The richness and depth of the African American experience offers a wealth of potential for the development of [the] archival profession,” Richardson said.
As part of the program, Appiah is currently completing a nine-month archival residency at The Maryland State Archives (MSA) in Annapolis, Maryland. The Maryland State Archives, was founded in 1935 as the Hall of Records, and charged with the collection, custody, and preservation of the official records, documents, and publications of the state. The archives’ collection on African American history includes the Study of the Legacy of Slavery in Maryland Program. Over the past few months, Appiah has been data mining (i.e. searching) the Maryland State Archives for information on slaves from Kent and Queen Anne’s counties to add to the Legacy of Slavery’s new database. The new database will “[allow] users to cross-reference records about enslaved, free, and freed blacks from 1830–1880,” making it easier for researchers and others to access this history. Appiah’s work includes “writing case studies on selected individuals” with information culled from “manumission records and ship manifests.”
When she’s not culling information from manumission records and ship manifests, Appiah is helping with various outreach programs at the MSA. She recently attended the opening of the Maryland State Archives exhibit, Flee! Stories of Flight from Maryland in Black and White, at the Banneker-Douglas Museum. Appiah also participated in an OCLC webinar on ArchiveGrid, a one-stop shop for researches to search for archival collections around the world. “ArchiveGrid will allow institutions of all sizes and technological capabilities to contribute finding aids in several formats,” says Appiah. In addition to her worth with research and collections, Appiah recently was a presenter at a middle school higher education day. “I was excited to talk about my college experiences, the importance of archivists, and share information regarding the 19th century runaway slave advertisements discovered by the Legacy of Slavery project,” she said.
A native of Los Angeles, California, Appiah earned her master’s degree in Public Humanities from Brown University and a Master of Library and Information Science degree from the University of California, Los Angeles with a specialization in archival studies
The HistoryMakers is a 501 (3) (C) non-profit dedicated to recording and preserving the personal histories of well-known and unsung African Americans. To date, the organization has interviewed over 2,000 HistoryMakers, with the goal of creating an archive of 5,000 interviews (30,000 hours) for the establishment of a one-of-a-kind digital archive, and priceless educational resource. For more information, visit The HistoryMakers website at www.thehistorymakers.com and The HistoryMakers digital archive at http://www.idvl.org/thehistorymakers/. For a brief introduction to The HistoryMakers, view YouTube clip here.