What is Douglass Day?
Despite never knowing his actual birthdate, Fredrick Douglass chose to celebrate it every February 14th. After his passing in 1895, Black communities continued to celebrate this date every year. It’s important to note that Douglass Day was in fact a literal and cultural antecedent to Black History Month, providing individuals with the time and space to reflect on past and present inquires. Recently in 2017, the Colored Conventions Project reinstated this celebratory tradition in the of form annual days reserved for acts of preserving black history.
This year the main events being held were a transcribe a-thon and a read on a-thon that both focused on the works of Anna Julia Cooper, a black feminist leader, educator, intellectual, and activist.
Following emancipation, as a former slave, Anna Julia Cooper grasped hold of every opportunity to grow her wealth of knowledge, first completing her education at St. Augustine’s Normal School and later attending Oberlin College where she operated as both an activist and student. She completed her academic endeavor with a BA and MA in mathematics. In 1892, she published her most acclaimed work, A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South. In this text, she discusses how oppressive systems and dominant forces intersect with matters of gender, race, and class. She additionally argues for black women’s centralized position in the conflict of civil rights.
What is a transcribe a-thon?
During this event, the goal is to help enhance digital archives. With the aid of tutorials, guides, and other tools, participants transcribed words from various texts, ranging from diaries to postcards.
What is a read a-thon?
Participants were provided with several short readings from Anna Cooper’s archive. After reading the text, a set of questions were presented in order to facilitate discussions in reading groups.
Link to her most well-known work:
For additional reading: Anna Julia Cooper Digital Collection, Digital Howard, MSRC
During this event we of course had food, music, and lots of fun!
I also got to speak with one of the attendees prior to the event and was able to ask them a few questions:
So, how did you hear about this event?
I got the email Khirsten sent out to everybody, and I was going to be here today.
Have you heard of anything like this before?
So, I work in digital humanities and so I work on like digital computational textual analysis so the work I do relies a lot on texts that have been transcribed before, and so I thought it was kind of a cool activity and to sort of add to that, sort of get things available for people who want to read them and if other people want to do maybe work that I do, that they can do that.
Have you ever heard of Douglass Day before?
No, I didn’t know about it all. I wish I had because a couple of weeks ago, one of the classes that I’m in talked about Fredrick Douglass.
Have you ever heard of a transcribe a thon?
No, I mean not formally. But like I said, I know that these activities have gone on to get text online or in forms that people can work with them, and so I knew that these things happen, I just had never been a part of one.
Additionally, I spoke with Professor Amy Twyning who is presently the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Literature program and also operates as the Undergraduate research coordinator. She currently holds a seminar that relates to Douglass Day:
Can you tell me a little about the seminar you have that is connected with Douglass Day?
I am involved with the Literature program: Literary Field Studies. This course is designed to give Literature majors and other students an expanded sense of what literary study is and literature's role in our world and our communities. One of the requirements of the course is that students take "field trips" and blog about them. They can choose anything that involves literature beyond the classroom. Each semester I highlight a couple of the really important events and strongly encourage students to attend these. This semester's event is, you guessed it, the Douglass Day events.
Would you like to share additional information?
I intend to create stronger links between a number of my classes and Douglass Day events in the future. Also, the class I was going to link to the events is Imagining Social Justice. My course is looking at science fiction from contemporary black women writers Rivers Solomon and Nalo Hopkinson. We are looking at these texts as representing scenarios of enslavement, disenfranchisement, and oppression of racialized subjects, how they map onto the African American history, and how they imagine scenarios of liberation. I think it is really important to continue in the efforts to preserve African American history and thought it would be a great idea to have my students get involved in the Transcribe-a-Thon. It just didn't work out because we're behind in our work.
I also contacted attendees for follow-up thoughts, feelings, and reactions concerning the event and here’s what one attendee had to say:
I really appreciated the opportunity to spend time with colleagues working towards a shared goal. One thing I especially enjoyed was the serendipity of learning about Anna Julia Cooper through the transcription of her documents - we were all getting a small glimpse into this woman’s amazing work, and it was a really wonderful way to get us invested in researching further. It was clear through her documents that Cooper was a brilliant, tenacious, fiercely compassionate person and we were all eager to learn more about her on our own after participating in the event.
Be sure to join us next Douglass Day and share in the festivities as we work to preserve black history!