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Topics in Literature of Americas I

Before Harlem: 19th Century African American Literature

Douglass Day Poster

#DigBLK Douglass Day Transcribe-a-thon

You are cordially invited to Frederick Douglass’ birthday party, an event at which nineteenth century African American literature and the digital humanities will take center stage. Historian Kim Gallon posits that an attention to the places where Black Studies and the Digital Humanities converge can “further expose humanity as a racialized social construction.” Furthermore, in her keynote lecture “Without Innovation: African American Lifeworlds and the Internet of Things,” literary critic Marisa Parham argues for “a consideration of what is at stake in recognizing emergent parallels between the historical lives of African Americans and how the industrialization of the Internet has enabled our growing desire to optimize every object as intelligent extension of a masterful self.” These timely provocations around what it means to be human, and the state of the humanities and the digital world, will form the framework for our analysis of nineteenth century African American literature. With these issues in mind, this course offers students an opportunity to

  • Read the work major nineteenth century African American literary figures;
  • Gain insight into the world of Black political organizing in the nineteenth century;
  • Survey the field of Black digital humanities;
  • Participate in the #DigBLK Douglas Day Transcribe-a-thon

Douglass Day is a birthday party with scholarly origins. When African American writer, activist, and editor Frederick Douglass passed away in 1895, many people saw the importance of honoring his memory. In Washington, D.C., a group led by activist and author Mary Church Terrell, observed Douglass’s birthday every February 14th as “Douglass Day.” These celebrations led to what we now know as Black History Month. Each year, during the celebration of Frederick Douglass’ birthday, the Center for Black Digital Humanities selects an online transcription project to promote as part of a day of service in his honor. Past Douglass Day events have seen thousands of participants transcribe records from collections housed in archives at major institutions like the Moorland Spingarn Research Centre and the Library of Congress. In 2021 the event drew 7600 participants from 117 different locations around the world. For Douglass Day 2023, students in this course will work closely with Archives Ontario and the Center for Black Digital Research at Penn State to facilitate a Douglass Day transcribe-a-thon at Queen’s University.


Assessments consist of:

  • Attendance and engaged participation
  • Short individual presentations and/or a larger group presentation
  • Short written assignments; and discovery meetings with the #DigBLK Douglass Day organizers
  • Participation in the Queen’s University Douglass Day Event on February 14th will be mandatory. All students are expected to be present for the Douglass Day Event. 
  • The final assignment will be reflective in nature



  • ENGL 200
  • ENGL 290

Department of English, Queen's University

Watson Hall
49 Bader Lane
Kingston ON K7L 3N6

Telephone (613) 533-2153



Queen's University is situated on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory.