Networking Black Print

Animated representation of select linked data from the BBP.  Based on titles, publishers, and personal names inscribed in texts listed in William Andrews, “Annotated Bibliography of Afro-American Autobiography 1760-1865,” To Tell a Free Story (Chicago:  University of Illinois Press, 1986), 333-42.

How did Black authors get their writing into print?

Which publishers accepted their work? Which printing firms manufactured these books or periodicals—using what technologies and techniques? Were visual artists hired to illustrate these works? If so, who were they and what mediums did they use? How did the final printed works circulate—through sales or as gifts, and through what distribution networks? Crucially: how many publication life cycles did these works move through across time? What can different editions of the same work tell us about African American literary history?

The discipline of Descriptive Bibliography helps answer these questions; its methods detail the physical components, identify the technological processes, and enumerate editions, giving us an account of every known instance of a literary work.

Reimagined for the digital age—as you can see in the image above—Descriptive Bibliography can help us understand how communities of publishers, printers, distributors, readers, collectors, and institutions have sustained and preserved African American literature.

The Black Bibliography Project aims to build an electronic database whose information sources and data design challenge the traditional conventions of bibliography by incorporating the values that the African American artistic, scholarly, and curatorial communities have long brought to the practice of making and preserving black texts.

While our database is still in early stages of development, this website explains our project’s rationale. It describes the data models we designed to record rare-book level metadata about Black print, and it points outwards to the Consortium we developed to support this work, and to the many related projects that have influenced our approach.