The Collaborative Project:Building An Anti-Slavery Book Collection Focusing On Women
By Abby Tallmer
When we at AE got the idea to pursue The Collaborative Project (hereafter, TCP) requiring us to pick a subject to research and “collect” using the AE Database (or AED), I had little doubt as to what my subject would involve. I have, for some years now, had a strong interest in both women’s and African-American studies, particularly in the overlaps between the two. In undergraduate classes and in graduate school, I relentlessly pursued these areas, among others. I knew that whatever my AE TCP topic would be, it would be shaped by these interests. But how could I define or narrow these two large subject specialties into a single topic that would be manageable, meaty, and yet which would hold my concentration for a long-term period?
I flirted with, and rejected, several other topics until I came up with a subject that I felt certain would be reflected in the AE Database and which would captivate me for several months on end. (I rejected other topics specifically because they were too broad to be manageable, or because they were too obscure as to be reflected enough in the AED, or simply because I felt they would not hold my interest for the long-term.)
I picked my topic primarily by asking myself the question: what subject area would I collect in, if I had the money? Secondarily, I picked my topic by trying initial searches of this subject using the AED. I realized that if I had the money, I would collect 19th century printed materials opposing slavery and written by women, about women, or directed to women as a primary audience. Besides, as both a scholar and as a longtime Descriptive Cataloguer for a private book dealer I had handled lots of this material before, making me at least familiar with some key names, phrases, and titles which I would need to get my search going. In other words, I already had that base knowledge necessary to start building, however tentatively, a major collection.
A quick perusal of the AED confirmed that there would be much material of interest to my topic in the Database, but that it would be a challenge to weed it out. As a librarian and independent scholar I saw this as a plus: I wanted that kind of a challenge. I didn’t want a topic that just presented itself to me on a silver platter; I wanted a topic I had to work for.