African American Historiography and Community History Preservation: A Position Paper

Article excerpt

When Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915 and The Journal of Negro History the following year, those acts led to the institutionalization of the study of African American history. During the remainder of the 20 century, and into the 21st the number of specialists in the field increased, and many historians contributed groundbreaking studies to the field of African American historiography. By the end of the 20th century, most major American universities offered courses on the subject, and African American history was generally recognized as a legitimate area for serious academic inquiry.

In the last quarter of the 20th century, the most serious problem facing African American historiography was that there were too few institutionalized programs for collecting and preserving African American primary historical sources. In spite of the many advances in the field, the research base of primary sources was not growing, and in time that would lead to stagnation in research and interpretative studies.

Community history represents a relatively untapped wealth of information for providing new insights into the national African American story. However, preserving community historical sources has a rather low priority for most African American communities. Most thriving inner-city organizations are usually focused on "survival" issues. Moreover, most other local and regional historical groups are small, and have limited budgets and specialized collection priorities, and are not likely to make African American history a major focus of their preservation efforts.

For more than three decades, Buffalo State College, in partnership with the Afro-American Historical Association of the Niagara Frontier, has pioneered a program that could be a model for solving what is still the most pressing problem facing African American historiography. Those organizations have assembled one of the nation's most extensive collections of primary sources on African American community history--the "Buffalo Afro-American Collection. …