Conference Reinforces the Value of Moorland-Spingarn
By Damien T. Frierson, intern, Office of University Communications
The College of Arts and Sciences assembled a list of nationally recognized archivists, librarians and scholars to celebrate the legacy of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center (MSRC), and to discuss its position in the future of Africana research.
In addition to the conference’s focus on the rich intellectual heritage housed within MSRC, students, alumni and faculty sought answers to how the University would continue to support and enhance the 96-year-old repository.
Karen Jefferson, records manager for the Robert Woodruff Library at the Atlanta University Center, suggested that MSRC build relationships with peer institutions such as the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture and the Robert Woodruff Library. “You can no longer work within a silo,” she said. “There are other collections that complement your collections. You’ve got to talk to those other institutions and share what you’re doing and collaborate.”
Jessie Carney Smith, Ph.D., librarian and William and Camille Cosby Professor at Fisk University, stressed the need to capitalize on the scholars who seek out collections housed at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. “Sometimes scholars from around the world come to our campuses because they want to be close to these works so they can do their research,” she said. “We can offer them access, and possibly have them research part time and teach part time.”
Charles Johnson, Ph.D., assistant professor of History and assistant director of the South African Research and Archival Project at Howard, discussed providing greater access to MSRC’s collections in a digitized environment. In addition to allowing researchers to perform more robust searches, he explained, Howard would be able to charge institutional and individual fees for access to online collections. “Such a broad audience could generate some funding to underwrite the operations of the MSRC,” Johnson said.
MSRC is named in honor of the large personal library donations made by alumnus and University trustee Jesse E. Moorland in 1914 and attorney Arthur B. Spingarn in 1946. Dorothy B. Porter Wesley and, later, Michael R. Winston, Ph.D., expanded the collection in both holdings and structure, establishing it as a national repository of African and African-American culture. Among its nearly 7,000 holdings, the collections include the rare works and manuscripts of Frederick Douglas, W.E.B. DuBois, E. Franklin Frazier, Anna Julia Cooper, Alain LeRoy Locke and Mary Church Terrell.
In addition to Howard department’s offering course releases to faculty members working on research within the center and offering competitive fellowships to draw scholars, Dana A. Williams, Ph.D., professor and chair of the English Department at Howard, encouraged the University to continue to embrace MSRC as a part of the overall institution. “The University has to own the center,” she said. “Right now it’s a part of the campus, but it’s something that we completely take for granted.”
She also suggested developing seminars that would require students to become familiar with the center and its resources.
Courtney Javois (BA ’08), a Temple University African-American Studies graduate student, admitted that when she first arrived at Howard as an undergraduate she was not familiar with the center. However, as she matriculated she came to appreciate its uniqueness. In making MSRC more relevant to undergraduate studies, Javois noted, “Professors need to require students to use Moorland-Spingarn for their papers,” she said. “We need a cadre of students to continue the tradition and Moorland-Spingarn is in a position to do just that.”
"Members of the symposium committee, in consultation with the staff of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, will make recommendations to the Office of the Provost, the University’s Presidential Commission on Academic Renewal, President Ribeau, and the Board of Trustees. This report, to be submitted in April, will emphasize the center’s significance to academic excellence and, because of the symposium, will articulate the best thinking and planning possible to inform presidential recommendations regarding the center’s future."
—Greg Carr, Ph.D. and Dana Williams, Ph.D., co-chairs of the symposium