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BYU’s Research and Writing Center Celebrates Douglass Day, Joins Multi-University Transcription Event

At a recent event in the Research and Writing Center, students transcribed Anna Julia Cooper’s works and correspondences in celebration of Black History Month and Douglass Day. 

PROVO, Utah (Feb. 14, 2020)—The fourteenth of February is Valentine’s Day, but it’s also the self-declared birthday of one of American history’s greatest historical figures, Frederick Douglass. This year for Frederick Douglass’ birthday, the Research and Writing Center and Harold B. Lee Library jointly held a transcription event in honor of Anna Julia Cooper, a famed academic, educator, and activist.

Associate coordinator of the Research and Writing Center Shannon Liechty brought the event to BYU. Liechty had heard about the event, which the Colored Conventions Project, Anna Julia Digital Project, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University, Princeton University Center for Digital Humanities, Penn State University’s Center for Humanities and Information, and the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts.

Liechy expressed her excitement when she discovered that the Ann Julia Cooper Transcription Event was being planned by other universities. “The library does a lot of transcribing,” she said, “but this was something that the Research and Writing Center could do to celebrate Frederick Douglass Day in a meaningful way.” Liechy explained that Cooper was an influential feminist, academic, and human rights activist.

Born into slavery in 1858 to her slave mother and slaveholder father, Cooper found herself admitted into a school for freed slaves. She distinguished herself at an early age as a gifted intellect and continued to pursue academia her whole life, eventually graduating from the Sorbonne in Paris with a doctorate degree. In addition to being an active feminist and human rights advocate, Cooper worked as a teacher, and was a prolific writer. Her most famed work is A Voice From the South: By a Black Woman of the South, published in 1892.

The purpose of the Douglass Day Transcription Event was to transcribe letters, correspondences, and other currently non-searchable works written by and to Cooper during her lifetime. “The event is a cool way to invite a wide participation to be aware of great people and things they did. Today, students can come and learn about their [Anna Cooper’s] life,” Liechy said.

Students who came to participate in the event expressed their enthusiasm for such an enriching and inclusive on-campus activity as the Douglass Day Event.

“I wanted to come to show allyship and show compassion. . . . I think it’s important to support women in academia and especially with what happened at the panel last week, I wanted to be able to be a part of something inclusive,” said BYU psychology student Maryon Rolfson.

“I transcribed a personal correspondence, a letter from I’m not sure who but it was about a local Baptist church. I think it speaks to the type of person she [Cooper] was, like the kind of community-member,” BYU English student Kenneth Butterfield said. “This would definitely be something people can do to put a gold star on their resume,” Butterfield added.

Through the Douglass Day transcription event, the Research and Writing Center showed students how the humanities can be actively used to promote shared knowledge and learning for a good cause. This Black History month students hope to be able to participate in activities that celebrate the accomplishments of our valued African American historical figures. This event is a strong step in a positive direction for the humanities and the entire university.

—Natalie Shorr (B.A. Sociology ‘22)

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