The African Letters Project

Quandaries in Digital Humanities and Epistolary Research

About

Welcome to the African Letters Project (ALP). Still in its first stage, the ALP is a database consisting of descriptive metadata for letters written between Africans and Americans during the era of decolonization (roughly 1945-1994). Created by Tulane history professor Elisabeth McMahon in conjunction with the Amistad Research Center, the aim of the project is to build a globally-accessible database with indexing and full-text access to the letters.  Currently, the ALP draws letters from the collections of Maida Springer Kemp and the American Committee on Africa, both held at the Amistad Research Center. The African Letters Project has several goals: Firstly, to make accessible to African researchers archival materials located in the U.S. but relevant to studying the history of decolonization in Africa. Secondly, to create a .csv excel sheet with all of the data that can be used in a variety of digital humanities open-source software so that researchers and teachers can use the data for their own work and to teach about African nationalist movements. 

By building mapping techniques into the database of letters it will allow a network analysis of the individual relationships between Americans and Africans from the 1950s into the 1990s.  Often it is easy for historians to see the most obvious historical figures in these networks but this project will allow scholars to find the boundary spanners, the people behind the scenes who were building connections between networks and who often played important roles in nationalist history but are often removed in the larger historical narratives of African decolonization. 

 The project focuses on letters from a variety of sources ranging in their geographical origin and the letter writer’s prominence to make visible the many networks of communication active during the latter half of the twentieth century. Ultimately, the African Letters Project plans to include letters currently housed in a variety of American archives, private family collections, and African universities, archives, and museums to create a truly comprehensive database. The African Letters Project will offer new possibilities for the study and interpretation of primary source documents–in this case, correspondence–that illuminate African and American interactions during an era of great change, struggle, and hope across the African continent. 

 

 

Contact

For more information, please contact Elisabeth McMahon (emcmahon@tulane.edu).