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Alexia Hudson

The Race to Preserve America’s Ethnohistory: Digitalizing the Diaries of a Free Black Woman

Alexia Hudson, Penn State Abington, Abington, PA (
Karsonya (Kaye) Wise Whitehead, Loyola University Maryland, Baltimore, MD (

In late 2009, a partnership was initiated between The Pennsylvania State University Libraries and Historical Society of Pennsylvania to digitally preserve the diaries of a young free Black woman named Emilie Davis. For three years (1863 to 1865), Emilie journaled nearly every day and chronicled significant Civil War-related events such as the Battle of Gettysburg, the fall of Vicksburg, and the funeral procession of President Lincoln’s body through Philadelphia. As the United States begins the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War this year, the Emilie Davis Diaries add a new voice to the discourse by representing two historically elusive groups of the era (free Blacks and women). However, her voice could have been lost forever if immediate action had not been taken to preserve and digitalize her diaries (which are believed to be the only hand-written account from a free Black woman from this time period). This poster session will highlight the critical role libraries play in preserving ethnohistory for future generations. The digital preservation process, the strategy to embed the history of free Blacks in the K-12 curriculum, and future scholarly applications will be discussed.

Presented at the American Library Association’s annual conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 23-28, 2011.