The move accelerates to show that black people have a historyHistorians in the News
tags: Black History Month, Black History
In 1843 Noah Webster, said by some to be the founding father of American scholarship and education, was asked by black minister Amos Beman to share "some account of the origin of the African race." Of Africans, Webster replied, "there is no history, and there can be none." To be outside of history in Webster's view, was to be in a permanent state of "barbarism," without the benefit of Europe's civilizing influence.
Webster's view is no throwback. Take the 2007 example of then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy who, during a state visit to Senegal, remarked: "The tragedy of Africa is that the African has not fully entered into history." Sarkozy deemed Africa a place unaffected by change and without a capacity for progress, and thus beyond historical analysis.
Neither Webster nor Sarkozy was correct, of course. Scholars of Africa and its Diaspora -- in the 19th century and today -- have refuted the notion that black people have ever existed outside of history. Their studies explain the evolution of varied black cultures with complex political, economic and social pasts. African empires, we learn for example, were as ancient and as brilliant as any of Europe.
… Black History Month's ongoing importance is clear..
I learned this first hand while researching, with students at the University of Michigan, the life of Arabella Chapman, a free African American woman who chronicled post-Civil War life in a unique photo collection. Chapman's beautifully preserved, leather-bound photo albums from the 1890s are in our library. To bring her story to a broader public, we set our sights on Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. We got stuck, and through the Global Women of Color Write-In we learned that African American subjects like ours are under-represented in Wikipedia. We did get Chapman a page, but there was more work to do.
Enter Black History Month. This year, the Wikipedia Foundation has partnered with institutions such as Washington's Howard University to ensure that black people have a history, Wikipedia style. And, last Thursday night, a faculty-student team gathered in Howard's Moorland-Spingarn Library to create some of those missing entries.
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