Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

Project Motivation, Methodology, and Scholarly Contribution

In 2008, historians Sam Wineburg and Chauncey B. Monte-Sano published the results of a survey that asked two thousand high school students who they considered to be a “famous American.”  The students were asked to list 10 names, including at least five women, and to exclude Presidents and their wives.  The top three names listed by students were African Americans: Martin Luther King Jr. (listed by 67% of respondents); Rosa Parks (60%); and Harriet Tubman (44%).  “Some eighty years after [historian Carter G.] Woodson initiated Negro History Week…the prominence of African Americans at the top of our lists is the most remarkable finding of this survey,” Wineburg and Monte-Sano write.  The authors see the “fame” of King, Parks, and Tubman as a direct result of Black History Month becoming an established part of school curricula. “Black History Month still reigns as the crowning example of curricular change, recognized by school celebrations and assemblies, civic commemorations, billboard notices, and television documentaries,” Wineburg and Monte-Sano suggest.

While I am thrilled that these African American figures have emerged as some of the most famous people in American history, I worry that most people’s knowledge of black history does not extend too far beyond these iconic figures.  This concern is one of the reasons that I created the Black Quotidian.  While I have posted on Black Quotidian about Carter G. Woodson, Marting Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Harriet Tubman, this digital project also calls attention to people and events that are not commonly featured in textbooks, documentaries, or Black History Month celebrations.  Implicit in the project’s daily post structure is the belief that African-American history should not be confined to February, but rather, that it is a subject that deserves and rewards daily research, reflection, and reexamination.  Taking the ordinary aspects of African-American history seriously means recognizing the richness and diversity of black lives, cultures, and communities.  I continue to be surprised by the amazing stories that live in the archives of black newspapers, and the project enabled me to share several hundred of these stories with online audiences.  Black Quotidian changed how I think about, write about, and teach African-American history, and my hope is that the project will spark the imaginations of other scholars, teachers, and students.

This path outlines my motivations for creating Black Quotidian and the digital project’s methodology and scholarly contribution.  The first section examines the importance of exploration in doing research with digital archives.  The second section considers how the Scalar multimedia web-authoring platform encourages new approaches to scholarly communication.

Contents of this path: