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Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s seminal microfiche collection linked to digital texts for online exploration

Advances in the ProQuest research environment have streamlined access to a major literary collection assembled by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  Scholars and students who rely on Dr. Gates’ ground-breaking Black Literature, 1827-1940, a microfiche collection, can now quickly identify and connect to tens of thousands full-text, digitized versions of articles found through ProQuest’s Black Studies Center and Historical Black Newspapers.

"ProQuest is continually looking deep into its databases to find connections between bits of content," said Tim Babbitt, ProQuest Senior Vice-President, Platforms. "The paths aren’t always obvious, but we're committed to finding them, exposing them and allowing information in multiple formats to interact with one another to make the process of research more productive."

In the late 1980s, Dr. Gates began the development of Black Literature, opening what he called the "hermetically sealed library of African American periodical literature after a century of neglect." The collection captures novels, short stories, poems and reviews — scattered throughout 110 black periodicals and newspapers — and has been widely acclaimed for its ability to uncover early or little known works by some of history’s most influential authors.

"Several previously unknown Zora Neale Hurston stories have been discovered through the Black Literature 1827-1940 resource, including The Book of Harlem, The Country in the Woman, The Back Room, and Monkey Junk," said Dr. Gates.

These Hurston stories were found by Texas Women's University professor Dr. Genevieve West while conducting research for her book Zora Neale Hurston and American Literary Culture (2005). "These important 'lost' stories that I recovered in Black Literature 1827-1940 complicate and enrich our understanding of Hurston as a short story writer during the 1920s and 1930s," said Dr. West.

Despite the importance of the works, students' and scholars' only online access to this vast body of American literature has been a digital index, with full-text residing on microfiche. However, ProQuest used the digital index as ignition, enabling deep links that could seamlessly connect scholars to full-text, digital versions of articles archived in Black Studies Center and ProQuest Historical Black Newspapers. In fact, 27,000 works contained in Black Literature are now available for exploration through these online resources.

Among the luminaries recorded by Dr. Gates in his Black Literature, 1827-1940 and now discoverable in ProQuest are works by Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, Waring Cuney, Edythe Mae Gordon, and hundreds of others. Well-known writers, such as Hurston and poet Gwendolyn Brooks, the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize, authored works found only in these early publications and newspapers. For example, Brooks, under the tutelage of Chicago Defender columnist Langston Hughes, published 75 poems in the newspaper which are not found anywhere else. Scholars are now able to easily mine this resource and discover more gems of African American literature collected by Dr. Gates.

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05 October 2011

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