Conn College celebrates Douglass Day by transcribing Colored Conventions documents
New London – At Connecticut College on Monday, Jessica McCullough transcribed minutes from a 19th-century meeting in New Haven that occurred as part of the Colored Conventions – just one document out of the many that more than a few hundred people nationwide were transcribing during the day.
Abolitionist and writer Frederick Douglass chose Feb. 14 to celebrate as his birthday, as he was born enslaved and didn't know the exact day he was born. The date now marks Douglass Day, a "collective action for Black history" run by college professors, Ph.D. students, and librarians across the country. Each year, Douglass Day focuses on a different collection of Black history.
McCullough, director of research support and curricular technology at Connecticut College, said she saw Douglass Day presented at an online conference and wanted to bring it to Conn. On Monday, participants could either transcribe historical texts or mark when women's names were used in documents, as the focus for Douglass Day this year was on what women did in the Colored Conventions.
According to the Colored Conventions Project, which is a partner in Douglass Day, the Colored Conventions were a series of state and national political meetings that African Americans held in the 1800s, marking the longest civil rights movement of the century.
Anyone can visit zooniverse.org and go to the "Transcribe Colored Conventions" project to help – not just on Feb. 14, but until the project is complete. As of early Monday evening, there were 423 volunteers and the project was 50% complete.
The transcribing involves typing out the words of 19th-century texts that were scanned and uploaded, which McCullough said will make these documents "part of this corpus of transcribed materials for scholars to search."
Students, faculty and staff, could drop into Shain Library between noon and 3 p.m. to transcribe or find names. McCullough said President Katherine Bergeron came by and transcribed for a bit. Shortly after 2 p.m., there were seven people who work at the library going through documents, including one student.
At one table, freshman Zoe Starzenski and special collections librarian Jenifer Ishee searched for the names of women in the Colored Conventions. Starzenski said she chose to specifically look at Ontario because she's from Canada. Ishee said one thing she found was that a lot of the resolutions were focused on families, and that's one way women played a role.
At another table, librarian Ben Panciera said he has transcribed Civil War, women's history, and medieval documents. Since he works with manuscripts and books, Panciera knows personally that texts "can remain inaccessible to researchers."
He said it was a little hard to tell what the pages he transcribed Monday were because they were taken out of context, but the first one he transcribed was a split over supporting or opposing Iowa's prohibition laws, and he also transcribed an 1843 article from a Buffalo newspaper.
As people worked on their computers, a Douglass Day livestream played on the projector, with speakers providing more information on the Colored Conventions and providing context to the work of the transcribers.
McCullough said this was Conn's first year participating in Douglass Day, but she thinks next year, she'll reach out to specific faculty so they can incorporate this into their courses.