Prepared and Archived to Succeed
UT Department of Africana Studies provides opportunities for an English major to advance her research skills and address the growing concern of the Black archival crisis. By Myron Thompson
An intern from the Department of Africana Studies is helping to facilitate new research opportunities for other students, contributing to helping solve what is becoming known as the crisis of black archives or collections. Her name is Angelica Williams, an English major, who has officially finished her archival assistantship with the Department of Africana Studies. She is attending graduate school at the University of South Carolina.
Williams started as an undergraduate research assistant and decided to continue her work with the Africana studies department through an assistantship with Assistant Professor DeLisa D. Hawkes, helping to accession the department’s vast archive documents. The plan for Williams was to not only archive the department’s decades of documentation but also to use the finding aids she has created to help Professor Hawkes in her design of a new research course helping students to navigate Black archives.
Williams’s work to help accession and record the department’s archival collection and also to create a new archival research course is a pivotal move for UT and the Africana studies department to help combat what is known in the US as “The Crisis of Black Archives,” which is a lack of recording, digitizing, and persevering historical Black documents. This crisis is acknowledged and labeled by those in Africana studies who are focused on archiving and researching along with members of the Black community. This includes other educational organizations, such as The HistoryMakers and members of the Schomburg Research Center.
According to Khalil G. Muhammad, Director Emeritus of the Schomburg Research Center from 2010 to 2015, the crisis of black collections is a crisis of democracy. “This tendency to want to disappear into the fullness of American life, whereby black collections then are subject to the gatekeeping…,” he said during a panel with The HistoryMakers.
“I think realizing how much history is contained in documents that seem really simple on first glance, correspondents and receipts, things like that…but actually reading it and getting to trace the history of the department from simple interactions to protests has been the most interesting thing,” Williams said.
Williams encourages anyone who might be interested in applying for internships at the department, emphasizing the investment the staff has in seeing students grow professionally and describing the archival work as fulfilling and allowing students the opportunity to help highlight the important aspects of history along with obscure programs at the university.
To the up-and-coming students, especially those in middle or high school that are thinking about looking into archival work or might be interested in learning more about this type of work, Williams suggests starting at your own local, public library.
“Also I would just say to pursue your own research interests, even now, whether it be books that you grab from the library or on the Internet that kinda thing, because those research skills will end up being really beneficial later on and you can already tailor your interests and know specifically what you want to pursue later on,” Williams said.
Williams plans to take her knowledge and experience to the University of South Carolina to earn her master’s degree in public history and library science. Post graduate school Williams hopes to advance in her career and to work at a special collections library or work as an archivist at a research institution. She is attending graduate school at the University of South Carolina, where she is also working with the Center for Civil Rights History and Research.