Houghton Library, Harvard University’s largest rare books and manuscripts repository, is home to hundreds of thousands of materials relating to history across the world. Houghton’s collections related to Black history range from the 18th century through today, but have been difficult to find among all the other material.
During the 2020‒21 academic year however, library staff paused their other digital projects to focus on building the collection related to Black American history. The effort has made more primary sources by and about African Americans available digitally, along with a considerable amount of context.
The library focused on the more than 2,000 pamphlets, ephemera and other materials from the late-1700s through the early-1900s held in their collections. The items include bills of sale for enslaved people, letters from abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth and more.
Digital Collections Program Manager Dorothy Berry led the team digitizing and making the materials easier to find. The online collection, called “Slavery, Abolition, Emancipation, and Freedom: Primary Sources from Houghton Library,” was recently launched.
You can access the curated collection, which includes materials from the Early Republic through Reconstruction, online here.
Illustration: The front page of The Genius of Universal Emancipation, an “anti-slavery journal, and register of news,” published in Baltimore, July 26, 1828.