Harvard College Library

Barbara Burg Coauthors Guide to African American and
African Primary Sources at Harvard University

January 30, 2002 -- In September, Graduate students walked onto the Harvard University campus in pursuit of a graduate degree in African American Studies for the first time. Although the program is new, these students will find that African primary sources in Harvard's libraries, museums, and archival repositories are surprisingly extensive and now easily accessible due to HCL research librarian Barbara Burg's recently published Guide to African American and African Primary Sources at Harvard University, Oryx Press.

"The book intends to make primary sources more visible and easier to locate by giving detailed information about the sources in a single printed guide. It will be extremely helpful for the Afro-American Studies graduate students who often need original materials for their work. The first student who said to me, 'this is going to be so helpful, how can I get my own copy?' made all of the work worthwhile," said Burg, HCL Research Services liaison to the Department of Afro-American Studies and History department.

Barbara Burg, holds the Guide to African American and African Primary Sources at Harvard University while standing with Janice Weiner, who assisted Burg with the final stages of the guide.

The book, coauthored by Richard Newman, research officer for the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research, and Elizabeth E. Sandager, project archivist, contains a list of over 845 primary source materials and gives the description, subject headings, call number or identifying information, location, summary, and historical notes for each item. The terms "African" and "African American" are defined widely to include papers of white Abolitionists and subject headings such as Free Southern Theater. The primary sources described come in many forms: artwork, deeds, wills, diaries, engravings, maps, meeting minutes, photographs, plantation records, playbills, and sheet music. "These materials are in the HOLLIS catalog, but due to diverse styles of cataloging and generalized subject headings it would be very difficult to create a significant list of the sources without already knowing the titles or authors," said Burg.

A larger project to survey and determine key manuscripts held in special collections and archives at Harvard revealed a surprising amount of African and African American primary materials throughout Harvard. It lead Randall K. Burkett, then associate director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research to approach Lawrence Dowler, then associate librarian for public services for HCL, with the idea for the guide. Initial work began over 10 years ago by Sandager and the project soon became a partnership between the Du Bois Institute and the Harvard College Library. Sandager gathered information for the guide by visiting repositories, holding discussions with curatorial staff, searching library catalogues, and conducting on-site examination of materials.

"When the project came to me, it needed updating and editing," said Burg who took leadership of the project after obstacles in completion and publishing had left the manuscript unattended. Burg added over 100 items to the list, created the guide's index, and edited Sandager's original entries, while Newman found and confirmed Oryx Press as the publisher. Janice Weiner, staff assistant for Widener Research Services, helped prepare Burg's manuscript and served as another copy editor during the guide's final stages.

In the January 2002 issue of Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, the book is listed as an Outstanding Academic Title (OAT). According to Choice editors, titles for OAT are selected for "being of permanent value or of such topical importance that they belong in every academic library." Burg's Guide to African American and African Primary Sources at Harvard University was distinguished, in part, for it's overall excellence and originality.


This story appears courtesy of the Harvard College Library Communications Office
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