OHIO Archives

Ohio University Libraries Archives & Special Collections

African American Studies Department Collection – Newly Processed

By Margaret Spetz, History ’25, Spring 2023 Archives Intern

Early Center for Afro-American Studies brochure, circa 1970

After processing the Horace Coleman collection, which I wrote about in this previous blog post, I spent much of my Spring 2023 semester as a Mahn Center intern processing the newly-accessioned African American Studies Department’s collection which documents the history of that department from 1969 through the present.

The collection came to the Mahn Center in eight one cubic foot records center boxes full of foldered materials that were in no discernible order or organization. My first task was to help preserve the collection, which I did by going through all of the materials, removing all of the metal fasteners to avoid oxidization, and placing the materials into newly-labelled, acid neutral folders. I then grouped folders together thematically, resulting in a collection that now comprises nine acid-neutral Hollinger boxes. During processing we condensed an 8 cubic foot collection down to 3 cubic feet. Processing a collection like this can be both daunting and monotonous, but the final product is a rewarding image of an important aspect of Ohio University’s academic history and student life.

Inside of an early Afro American Studies brochure with an introduction to the program and a list of faculty, circa 1970

In winter of 1968, OHIO students gave University President Vernon Alden a list of demands which they believed would improve education and life at the University. One of those demands was for the establishment of a course of academic study that would focus on African American history, life, and culture.  First proposed in subsequent administrative meetings as a Black Studies program, the Center for Afro-American Studies thus was officially introduced into the Ohio University curriculum in September 1969. It is one of the oldest departments of its kind in the country, having been established about a year after San Diego State University founded the very first one in the U.S.[1] Over the decades, this OHIO department has gone through several name and policy changes, but its central aim has largely stayed the same: “to promote academic excellence and social responsibility in the areas of teaching, research, and service. The department is committed to producing persons who are capable of solving problems in American (and global) society.”[2]

Flyer for a gospel music appreciation event and concert

The breadth of this collection offers a variety of perspectives of the AAS Department’s relationship within the University’s academic scheme. There are pages and pages of official administrative forms, departmental memos, and curriculum reviews which offer interesting insights into the innerworkings of University department procedures and bureaucracies that are often obscured from public view, or at least, overlooked. At the same time, the personal correspondence of faculty members, various Department-sponsored research projects, course syllabi, and cultural initiatives give us a window to the personalities, values, and priorities of the individual department members and their collective endeavors over the years.

However, my favorite parts of the collection are the items from various projects and events that AAS has sponsored over the years. Records of student publications, concerts, and local history projects are present throughout the years of the AAS Department’s existence.

The creation and evolution of OHIO’s AAS Department is a crucial part of the University’s long, progressive history of higher education. Moreover, tracing that history through this unique, new collection gives the AAS story important context in relation to—and within–local and national social and academic developments.

To see more historic newsletters from the African American Studies Department check out what has been digitized in the digital archival collections.

[1]Department Background and Mission Statement, box 1, AAS Department Background Folder, Mahn Center Archives and Special Collections, Ohio University, Athens, OH

[2] “History of African American Studies at Ohio.” Ohio University. Accessed April 17, 2023. https://www.ohio.edu/cas/african-american-studies/about/history.