Fall Intern Pulls It Together: Moving Parts Toward a Whole
Update: As of November 2020, the website is live! Please visit africanamericanhorsestories.org
Post Date: December 13, 2019
Our writer for this post is Emily Libecap, who has been interning with the Chronicle. Emily brings a unique blend of digital archive experience and a passion for discovering and sharing untold stories. She is pursuing concurrent Masters of Arts degrees in Library Science and History at the University of Kentucky.
Throughout this fall semester, I have worked with the Chronicle team to ready the existing research for publication on the Chronicle website. I focused on understanding the gathered sources, learning the intricacies of the horse world, and of course, lots of writing and revising!
What’s my job? Transform research to story
My main job is to move the research previously undertaken by the Chronicle’s research team from information into finished person profiles. These person profiles anchor the research and contributed materials. One of the main purposes of the Chronicle is to restore African Americans in the horse industry to the historical record by researching and writing about them. For over two hundred years, African Americans and their contributions have either been marginalized and excluded, or, they have been written about in ways that strips them of their humanity. Therefore, my responsibility is to write about them in away that portrays a complete picture of their story.
How do I do it? My process
In order to illustrate my process, I will share how I wrote the person profile for Charles Stewart (1808 - after 1884). Throughout his life, Stewart worked as a jockey, groom, exercise rider, trainer, and stud manager.
To begin a profile, I immerse myself in the available sources in order to understand the person’s life and the surrounding historical context. These include photos, paintings, obituaries, newspaper articles, memoirs, interviews, and scholarly books and articles. The purpose of person profiles is to write their comprehensive life story, not only the story of their racing wins, or the stables they were employed by, or the famous horses they worked with. Therefore, with Charles Stewart, I chose to avoid lengthy discussions of the wealthy and influential men who enslaved him in favor for as much detail as I could find about his life and his career.
Emily explores Charles Stewart’s life story as featured in the Black Horsemen of the Kentucky Turf Exhibit at the International Museum of the Horse.
It is particularly wonderful when I am able to include sources created by the person we are studying. Charles Stewart, though he could not read or write, told his life story to a woman who recorded it for him late in his life. His memoir is the source of most of our information about him. Our project spans from enslavement to the present day, so, in some cases we are fortunate to be able to interview people who are still living. For people who lived a long time ago, like Charles Stewart, we rely on written sources. Written or spoken, these sources are valuable because they can directly communicate a person’s voice.
In many cases, though, all we have is the historical record. If I do not have many primary sources, I have to rely on contemporary or secondary sources. When these do not include certain information, I have to acknowledge these gaps. For example, we have not been able to find when exactly Charles Stewart passed away. He disappears from the historical record after his memoir’s publication in 1884.
I also have to judiciously weigh sources against each other, consider the sources’ biases, and think about the perspective of whomever wrote them. Sometimes, the sources use jargon or language that may be outdated, or frankly, offensive. For example, Annie Porter, the woman who wrote down Charles Stewart’s story unfortunately used contemporary dialect to do so. Reading it is therefore quite challenging and reminds us of the prejudice Stewart and others faced during their lives. You can read it on this online archive page.
This process is certainly not a quick one! Synthesizing disparate sources of information, resolving lingering research questions, gaining a complete and accurate understanding of a person and their time, and then putting pen to paper -- or hands to keyboard -- is not a speedy process. Writing Charles Stewart’s profile took a few hours to go from research to first draft, and further revisions suggested by the Chronicle’s editorial team took longer still.
What else is my job? Knowledge organization
My contributions have also involved advising on style and citation organization. Due to my studies in both history and library science, I genuinely enjoy organizing sources and citations. I have worked with the Chronicle staff to incorporate the citation management software Zotero into our process. This helps us share sources with each other while we write, and will help us list our sources on the finished Chronicle website.
The IMH library embraces the new era of writers who recognize African Americans for their achievements.
Usually, citations and references are an afterthought in the research and writing process. However, I am passionate about it for the following reasons. First, it is important to give credit to the writers and historians who created these existing sources. Second, we want to make it possible for other researchers who visit the Chronicle website to continue their own research. Third, the people whose stories the Chronicle preserves have been mistreated by the historical record. Their stories have been silenced, overlooked, and misused. Fighting against that legacy is a key part of the Chronicle’s work. Finally, in today’s era, where the provenance of information is often questionable, we as public historians feel it is important to demonstrate the reproducibility and reliability of our work.
As we prepare for the Chronicle’s launch, I will digitize material shared by our contributors. Our goal is to preserve them and make them available to the public. Do you have a story to share? Email [email protected] to contribute your part of history.
As you can see, the process of assimilating bits of information for the website takes attention, care, and time. Please support the ongoing maintenance of the Chronicle after its launch in 2020 by donating to the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation’s campaign for the Chronicle of African Americans in the Horse Industry.