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The Black Book Interactive Project

[ By: Jade Harrison ]

The Black Book Interactive Project (BBIP) is the digital component of the Project on the History of Black Writing (HBW). A collaborative research model, it increases the number of Black-authored texts available for scholarly engagement and teaching.  Founded in 2010, based on a pilot project created by then graduate student Kenton Rambsy, now a professor at the University of Texas-Arlington, BBIP has received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). Our collection features over 4,000 Black-authored texts and descriptive metadata, making it the largest digital archive of its kind. Project Manager, Jade Harrison wrote an update on the work BBIP has done this past year.

During Fall 2020, the BBIP team completed a large-scale inventory assessment of the BBIP corpus, which contained 3,159 fiction titles. The team also cleaned and organized BBIP’s vast collection of titles according to original publication title, original publication date, publication decade, author gender, author race, retrieval location, and status of the text. We have scanned 1,668 texts as PDF files, and successfully identified and confirmed 1,491 titles in the BBIP corpus awaiting digitization. One of the student digital assistants is Alejandro Rangel-Lopez.

Rangel-Lopez is a third-year Political Science and Public Administration undergraduate student.

“At BBIP, I serve as the resident “OCR expert” and aside from converting files, I train others who come along to work with me on the process. This year, my colleagues Grace, Andi and I have made great progress on processing all of our existing .pdf files into .html files. In fact, we’ve processed roughly 300+ files this summer alone. Those files we have converted should be ready to be uploaded to the Philologic interface developed by the Textual Optics Lab at the University of Chicago. For this upcoming academic year, I’m excited to continue working on OCR and reintegrating the scanning process into our workflow again, which we’ve had to do remotely due to the pandemic,” said Rangel-Lopez, BBIP Collections Assistant.

In October 2020, HBW formed a collaboration with the HathiTrust Research Center. BBIP subsequently became a flagship project for “Scholar-Curated Worksets for Re-use, Dissemination, and Analysis (SCWAReD),” funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  SCWAReD aims to create and foster scholar-curated worksets that highlight specific topics, disciplines and themes related to historically under-resourced and marginalized communities. The HBW corpus is currently the largest known digital collection of African American fiction in existence, which underscores the importance of the partnership with HTRC, the largest digital library in existence.

Brendan Williams-Childs is a second-year MFA student with an emphasis on fiction.

“Working with SCWAReD is a learning process in a good way. From a grad student perspective, it’s opened up a lens on how complicated collaborations can be but has also underscored that the sorts of projects the teams are all working on that couldn’t be done without those partnerships,” said Williams-Childs, BBIP Collections Assistant and HBW’s SCWAReD Project GRA.

In March 2021, BBIP Project Manager, Jade Harrison, along with two graduate student Collection Assistants, Brendan Williams-Childs and Ashley Simmons, created a revised metadata schema with 21 categories that account for biographical, bibliographic, historical, and literary text-specific information about Black writers and their corresponding works of fiction regardless of canonical status. We have utilized this schema to guide our efforts in finding pertinent information about critically recognized and lesser-known Black writers and texts to build “The Black Fiction Dataset.” This dataset will serve as an accessible and sustainable digital collection of searchable information about the Black authors in our corpus and their published fiction since the 19th century.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how the worksets will look and what people will create based on their research! Jade and Ashley are both working on dissertations that should be able to utilize the results of the SCWAReD collaboration, which is great, “Williams-Childs noted.

Starting July 1, 2021, new funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities – Humanities Collections and Reference Resources division supports phase III of BBIP. The goal is to complete the digitization of 2,100 additional texts, further refinement and application of metadata, and the launch of two new cohorts of the BBIP Scholars Program (2022 and 2023). Learn more about the Black Book Interactive Project here.

Starting July 1, 2021, new funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities – Humanities Collections and Reference Resources division supports phase III of BBIP. The goal is to complete the digitization of 2,100 additional texts, further refinement and application of metadata, and the launch of two new cohorts of the BBIP Scholars Program (2022 and 2023). Learn more about the Black Book Interactive Project here.

 

Jade Harrison is a third-year doctoral student in English studying late-twentieth century African American women’s literature and compliments her literary studies in the Digital Humanities. She is currently a member of the Project on the History of Black Writing (HBW) and serves as Project Manager for the Black Book Interactive Project (BBIP) at the University of Kansas.