Unboxing and Mapping Black History in Sussex Library Legacy Collections

This summer the Library was blessed to host its first Junior Research Associate (JRA): Myisha Box (History and International Relations BA student, now in her final year). The project was supervised by Gavin Mensah Coker and Anne-Marie Angelo, with a support team in the library provided by Chloe Dobson, Danny Millum and Alice Corble.

The project’s premise was to audit and map the large amounts of documents, newsletters, magazines and journals relating to Black History and Black Studies within the Library Legacy Collection, in order to develop a new Black Studies collection theme. At present these items are distributed amongst the existing eight Legacy Collection themes, and hence are somewhat buried or more difficult to discover through browsing the catalogue. Developing the project outcomes will therefore improve discoverability and visibility of Black History within library collections and provide opportunities to celebrate these collections and improve representation and inclusion for Black students and staff at Sussex and beyond.

The project has been particularly fascinating in terms of its relevance and overlap with my own research focus on uncovering and mapping hidden racialised histories and postcolonial legacies within our library collections and learning landscapes. Myisha identified and listed approximately 300 items for the new Black Studies theme, shared her research insights with Library and Humanities colleagues, and created a brilliant poster for the annual JRA exhibition, which was shortlisted for a prize.

JRA Myisha Box with her poster: Mapping Sussex University Library’s Black History Archives

The project has been extremely successful and has identified a substantial amount of material for the new theme, including documents from organisations such as The Institute of Race Relations, Commission for Racial Equality, Race Equality Unit, Race Today, the Runnymede Trust and Black British grassroots social movements such as the Black Liberation Front, All Faiths for One Race, Counter Information Services (started by Basker Vashee), Grassroots Newspapers, and the Haslemere Committee.

It has also provoked lots of fascinating discussions around decolonisation, terminology and usage, and the appropriate use of different cataloguing standards. This is vital for inclusive professional practice, and sheds important light on the cultural, political, and ethical dimensions of how libraries organise and develop collections for diverse usage in a higher educational context.

‘It has been so rewarding getting to share in Myisha’s research journey as she has explored the often hidden Black histories held in our Library’s archives. It is particularly important that scholars of her generation are exposed to the events, incidents and narratives that many of my generation and those before us lived through – and sometimes assume are common knowledge. Projects such as these, which link students, librarians and academics across different disciplines offer a unique way of learning – and particularly so when about people and communities often marginalised. This project has helped bring those stories to the centre and I was very honoured to co-supervise Myisha in the first of what I hope is a continuing collaboration.’  (Gavin Mensah-Coker, Senior Lecturer in English Language, Department of Language Studies and Deputy Race Equality Director, School of Media, Arts & Humanities).

‘It has been a privilege to work with Myisha on this project to uncover materials relating to Black Studies in our Library Legacy collection of rare documents and ephemeral materials. She has helped us to take a huge leap forward in the important work of ensuring the selection, describing, presentation and engagement with our collections is as inclusive as possible. Her perspective on the Black Studies materials that she meticulously uncovered, examined, listed and reflected on has been essential to the creation of this collection. She has seen links between items, authors, names mentioned and events that we couldn’t possibly have realised ourselves. As a predominantly white team here in the Library, we do not feel that it is our place to speak for the Black Community, including the student body, in exposing these significant items – Myisha’s has been an important voice that we hope will be listened to.’ (Chloe Dobson, Collection Development Librarian).

There are plans for a Library exhibition to showcase some of the Black History and Black Studies collection items Myisha selected. We very look forward to seeing what Myisha goes on to do next with her excellent research skills and hope to collaborate with her further in this important work.

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