Over the last thirty years, the field of African American literary studies has grown rapidly in size and importance. It is now a vital field of specialization in any English department of merit. And yet scholars of African-American literature still lack thorough bibliographical knowledge of many of the texts at the heart of the field; the opening of the literary canon to writers of color coincided with the decline in the practice of scholarly bibliography—the systematic study of books as physical objects. This history has produced significant unevenness in the resources available to scholars: criticism of canonical white writers is buttressed by authoritative accounts of the production and transmission of their texts, while scholars studying African-American literature are often forced to sort out complex and confusing publication histories on their own, without specialized training in print history.
The Black Bibliography Project seeks to remedy this deficiency in two ways: by creating authoritative web-based bibliographies of major African American authors and by training the next generation of scholars in principles of bibliographic description.
While the project is still at the planning stage, Jacqueline Goldsby (Yale University) and I hope to develop: a course of instruction in bibliography geared towards the specific challenges of African American publishing; a web-based tool to assist faculty and graduate students in collecting physical descriptions of books and pamphlets scattered across numerous rare book collections; and a prototype for the presentation of bibliographic description on the web, one that can accommodate both traditional bibliographic information as well as visual evidence of formats, illustrations, binding styles, printers’ locations, and networks of reception.