College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Department of English

Project Updates

The Black Book Interactive Project — July 2021 Update (revised August 2021)

During Fall 2020, the BBIP team completed a large-scale inventory assessment of the BBIP corpus, which contained 3,159 fiction titles. The team also cleaned and organized BBIP’s vast collection of titles according to original publication title, original publication date, publication decade, author gender, author race, retrieval location, and status of the text. We have scanned 1,668 texts as PDF files, and successfully identified and confirmed 1,491 titles in the BBIP corpus awaiting digitization.  

In October 2020, HBW formed a collaboration with the HathiTrust Research Center. BBIP subsequently became a flagship project for “Scholar-Curated Worksets for Re-use, Dissemination, and Analysis (SCWAReD),” funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  SCWAReD aims to create and foster scholar-curated worksets that highlight specific topics, disciplines and themes related to historically under-resourced and marginalized communities. The HBW corpus is currently the largest known digital collection of African American fiction in existence, which underscores the importance of the partnership with HTRC, the largest digital library in existence.

In March 2021, BBIP Project Manager, Jade Harrison, along with two graduate student Collection Assistants, Brendan Williams-Childs and Ashley Simmons, created a revised metadata schema with 21 categories that account for biographical, bibliographic, historical, and literary text-specific information about Black writers and their corresponding works of fiction regardless of canonical status. We have utilized this schema to guide our efforts in finding pertinent information about critically recognized and lesser-known Black writers and texts to build “The Black Fiction Dataset.” This dataset will serve as an accessible and sustainable digital collection of searchable information about the Black authors in our corpus and their published fiction since the 19th century.

Starting July 1, 2021, new funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities - Humanities Collections and Reference Resources division supports phase III of BBIP. The goal is to complete the digitization of 2,100 additional texts, further refinement and application of metadata, and the launch of two new cohorts of the BBIP Scholars Program (2022 and 2023). 

November 2020 Update:
Bringing Black Authors' Work Out of Digital Shadows - KU News, Mon, 11/23/2020 

October 2019 Update:

The BBIP Scholar Program was successfully launched at the beginning of 2019, with 14 scholars becoming active participants in the creation and use of the archive, interface and descriptive metadata catalogue. This fulfills the third primary goal for the grant, which aimed to provide a series of intensive workshops and open up the project to a larger group of scholars. 

Since the inception of the BBIP Scholar Program, we have had an opportunity to host 6 webinars here at KU, including a talk by Kim Gallon (Assistant Professor of History, Purdue University), with the final webinar scheduled for November,. These webinars are intended to introduce our scholars to the basic tenets of DH and data analysis and management. More information and recordings may be found at our BBIP Scholar Program webpage: Additionally, as part of the BBIP Scholar Program, an in-person workshop was held at the conclusion of the CLA Convention on April 13, 2019 in Raleigh, NC. The CLA post-conference workshop marked the first time the BBIP Scholars met in person to discuss their projects and also participate in a hands on workshop where they were instructed in how to access the corpus, add metadata and do general research for their team projects. 

BBIP has had an opportunity to present its findings and research at several conferences: Intentionally Digital, Intentionally Black (October 2018, University of Maryland), where Project Manager Arnab Chakraborty gave a presentation titled “The Black Book Interactive Project: Methods, Applications, refinements and Hurdles”; Black Bibliographia (April 2019, University of Delaware), where Dr. Maryemma Graham led a three part presentation titled “The Black Book as Tradition and Innovation:  From Textuality to Materiality”, with graduate students Arnab Chakraborty (English), Shelia Bonner (American Studies) and Alysha Griffin (Theater); DH Forum 2019, (October 2019, University of Kansas, organized by IDRH), where Arnab Chakraborty presented his paper titled "Rethinking Nature: Environmentalism and the Black Book", written in collaboration with Metadata librarian Erin Wolfe. A third invitation for a demonstration of the database was extended to BBIP on behalf of Yale for their November 14-15 conference titled “From Lists to Links: New Developments in Black Bibliography”, which BBIP will attend and present at.

The total number of scanned books in our collection at present are approximately 1,660. Over the last year, we have identified nearly 2500 novels, comprising of three major collections: a list provided by Northwestern University librarian Kathleen Bethel comprising of approximately 2003 texts published since 1990; the Essence Bestseller List, comprising of nearly 389 novels, and lastly, 73 texts identified from the Elizabeth Schultz Rare Books Collection housed at Spencer Research Library at KU. We are currently in the process of scanning these for inclusion in our corpus.

ACLS Digital Extension Grant

In January 2018, we had applied for the ACLS Digital Extension Grant which would allow us to bring our research and outreach components together in moving to the next level of the project. Notification in April confirmed that we were one of five grants awarded. The ACLS grant for the “Black Book Interactive Project: Extending the Reach has the following goals: 1) “Add additional content to the existing digital archive (approximately 500 novels), complete the conversion to machine readable files and enrich these files with descriptive metadata”; 2) “Adopt and test a user interface to enable greater access and discoverability”; 3) “Provide a series of intensive workshops to make BBIP-ER available to a larger group of scholars, educators, and students currently outside of the digital community”.  For this grant we also identified major institutional partners, The College Language Association and the HBCU Library Alliance, while maintaining our relationship with KU Institute for Digital Research in the Humanities, The Chicago Analytics Lab, and AFRO-PWW.

June 2018 Update:
Beginning in July 2017, GRA Arnab Chakraborty (Project Manager), Christopher Peace (PhD student, KU-English) and visiting scholar Lili Wang (English Professor, Harbin Engineering University) extended the initial 15 metadata categories into 51. Having selected a representative set of 75 African American novels from the late 19th to the 20th century, the team finished the metadata for all 51 categories. Some of the fields we extended and enhanced include nature and presence of music, violence, supernatural and speculative elements; racial emphasis; profession of protagonists; book reviews; and presence of autobiographical elements. Our partner at the University of Chicago, The Chicago Text Lab, completed the digitization and OCR of nearly 450 African American novels that HBW had identified and provided access to. Recently, they have also finished a prototype of a searchable user interface based on the scanned and ocr-ed texts. The search interface has not been made public as it is still in development. It is based on Philologic, a data retrieval software toolset developed by the ARTFL Project at the University of Chicago in collaboration with The University of Chicago Library. Lastly, we presented our findings at the Digital Humanities Seminar sponsored by the Hall Center for the Humanities on April 16th, 2018. We titled our seminar “Embracing the Digital Humanities: Digital Divide or Digital Inclusion” Organized into three components, we gave detailed presentations on BBIP’s origins, lineage and legacy; the goals, accomplishments and lessons of the project; and showed examples from the interface. The presentations were made  Dr. Maryemma Graham (project director), Arnab Chakraborty ( project manager),  and Christopher Peace (graduate research assistant).​

May 2017 Update:

During the spring semester we refined our plan for generating metadata, working closely with the KU Institute for Research in the Digital Humanities to do things like brainstorm outputs for our metadata, discuss the ultimate end goals of the project, and discuss digital preservation. We invited KU's new metadata librarian into our fold as a consultant. We also hosted an XML/TEI workshop with noted DH expert Amy Earhart. From that workshop, we forged an interdisciplinary community of DH-engaged graduate students. 

January 2017 Update: 

The BBIP board of consultants met October 14 at KU. At the meeting, Amy Earhart pitched the idea of generating metadata using the XML framework for increased versatility. Further, a rough draft list of headers for metadata creation was created, and a revised project timeline was drawn up, which we are currently adhering to. Pending successful execution of the XML training, BBIP should be able to finish metadata generation for 75 novels by June. One way BBIP is ensuring that its work will conclude before the end of the grant is limiting the metadata creation to XML headers, which mostly contain bibliographical information about the book.


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