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P. Gabrielle Foreman, founding faculty director of the Colored
Conventions Project, leads volunteers in a “transcribe-a-thon” at UD’s
Morris Library on Frederick Douglass Day 2017.
The University of Delaware has received a $200,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, supporting the public-humanities Colored Conventions Project (CCP) as it continues to expand its nationwide collaborations.
CCP is an award-winning interdisciplinary project that brings decades
of early African American organizing for legal, educational and labor
justice to digital life.
From 1830 until the 1890s, already free and once captive African
Americans came together in state and national political meetings called
"Colored Conventions." Founded and hosted at UD, the CCP identifies and
transcribes hundreds of proceedings from the little-known Colored
Convention movement, making these rare documents readily accessible to
scholars and the public for the first time.
The new, three-year Mellon Foundation
grant will allow the project to expand in multiple directions, said P.
Gabrielle Foreman, CCP’s founding faculty director and UD’s Ned B. Allen
Professor of English and professor of history and Africana studies.
“The Colored Conventions Project
has benefited enormously from the collaborations and partnerships we
have and from the support that we’ve been offered from so many sources,
including our teaching partners, libraries and archives, and from
community and independent scholars,” Foreman said.
“We could not be happier than to be in the important and select
company of the projects that the Mellon Foundation generously funds.”
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
A University of Delaware volunteer transcribes minutes from a Colored Convention into the digital record.
The project, at ColoredConventions.org, works to transform teaching
and learning about the historic collective organizing effort and about
the many leaders and places involved in it. By making the conventions’
records available in one online site, documents that were once almost
impossible to locate become accessible to anyone interested in the
history of activist church, civil rights, educational and
Thousands of scholars, teachers, students and community “volunpeers”
around the country have contributed to the project by transcribing
minutes for entry into the digital archive.
With the support of the Mellon Foundation grant, the project plans to
expand its geographic reach, adding records to its database from a
wider range of locations throughout the U.S. where conventions were held.
“We now have funding for satellite programs to read and collect
records from places where we haven’t worked before,” Foreman said.
“We’re seeking to develop the best partnerships with libraries and
archives and universities in various states to expand the convention
records, to make those records accessible and to connect them to
contemporary social justice movements.”
The Colored Conventions took place in many locations—some were
national gatherings, while others were statewide—and the project aims to
collect and transcribe as many as possible, said Jim Casey, a
co-principal investigator on the Mellon Grant and national co-director
of CCP, who earned his doctorate at UD in 2017.
“The history of the Colored Conventions is so broad and so spread out
that we couldn’t possibly do all this from the University of Delaware,”
Casey said. “We’ve looked at Philadelphia, New York, Boston … but there
were communities all across the United States organizing conventions.”
A sketch depicts the 1869 National Colored Convention in
Washington, D.C., one of hundreds of 19th century African American
(Image courtesy of Jim Casey)
While developing the geographic expansion, leaders of the project are
also continuing a focus on the Philadelphia region, where many of the
earliest conventions took place, including the very first at
Philadelphia’s Mother Bethel AME Church in 1830.
The hope, Foreman said, is that
Philadelphia and the Delmarva area will form a core mid-Atlantic hub for
the project, working with new satellite partners in the Midwest and
Other initiatives being planned with support from the new grant
include outreach efforts to increasingly “put history into public view,”
Foreman said, and to enhance opportunities for the project to work with
visual and creative artists by attracting new Mellon-funded “arts
A new low-residency summer program will bring a media specialist in
digital humanities to UD this year to work with the CCP team and the
“By bringing specialists to campus, we want to share leadership
opportunities and also bring visibility to what we’re doing here,” Casey
said. “They can teach us things, and also learn from us.”
The CCP began in 2012 with an assignment Foreman gave to one of her
graduate classes, asking each student to choose a delegate from the
convention they were reading and create an online profile that included
historic images and data visualization. Students and librarians
continued as project leaders, adding digital exhibits, a robust
curriculum and transcription options on the website that became the
Colored Conventions Project.
In the years since, the project has partnered with the UD Library on
several initiatives and has reached thousands of students across the
country who engage in original research through CCP’s national teaching
"The Colored Conventions Project has provided our students and
hundreds of others at schools across the country a wonderful opportunity
to engage with historical materials both in Special Collections and in
Library-supported databases,” said Carol A. Rudisell, a librarian in the
Reference and Instructional Services Department of UD’s Library,
Museums and Press, who works with CCP. She noted that
“transcribe-a-thons” to mark Frederick Douglass Day have been held at
Morris Library, opening its doors to people who have historically felt
excluded from campus.
“Support from the Mellon Foundation
should further the growth of black public humanities and digital
scholarship, and the library is very happy to collaborate with the CCP
on this new project," Rudisell said.
CCP has been honored by the National Endowment for the Humanities,
which named it one of the 50 “essential” projects the agency has
supported, the American Studies Association and the Modern Language
Association, which awarded CCP its Prize for a Bibliography, Archive or
The generous support from the Mellon Foundation is “a wonderful
endorsement of the important work” the project accomplishes, said Lauren
Petersen, interim associate dean for the humanities in the College of
Arts and Sciences.
“This interdisciplinary project is highly collaborative—with partners
both within the University and across the nation—and serves as a model
for the public humanities as it bridges rigorous archival research,
teaching in the classroom and community building outside the classroom,”
Petersen said. “The University of Delaware extends its gratitude to the
Graduate student Allison Robinson (right), who has worked with the Colored Conventions Project, advises undergraduate volunteer Marissa Heino at the 2018 "transcribe-a-thon" at UD.
“We’re gratified to have so much support at the University of
Delaware from the College of Arts and Sciences, the UD Library, the Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Center
and others,” Foreman said. “We are particularly gratified by the
success of the graduate and undergraduate students who have been
associated with the project.”
Casey and Sarah Lynn Patterson, for example, both worked with CCP
from the start as graduate students and remain involved as national
co-directors today. With Foreman, they are co-editing the forthcoming
volume, Colored Conventions in the Nineteenth Century and the Digital
Patterson now teaches African American literature at the University
of Massachusetts Amherst. Casey is a postdoctoral research associate at
the Center for Digital Humanities and Perkins Fellow in the Humanities Council at Princeton University.
Other former students who worked with CCP are enrolled in doctoral
programs or are working in fields ranging from English and art to
computer science and biomechanics. Undergraduates in such majors as
public policy, history, German, international business and psychology
have been integral parts of the CCP team.
“We have former graduate students who are now at some of the best
institutions in the country, and we have former undergraduates who have
gone on to law schools and professional schools in a variety of
disciplines,” Foreman said. “We’re pleased that the Colored Conventions
Project has been a launching pad for these terrific students.”
Article by Ann Manser; photos by Kathy F. Atkinson and Evan Krape