Monday, June 23, 2014

Mellon Scholars Program: Exploring the African Diaspora

In a series of occasional blog posts, participants in our Mellon Scholars Internship and Workshop programs will introduce themselves, discuss their experiences at the Library Company, and share their goals for pursuing careers in the field of early African American history. This program is generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

My name is Kwasi Agyemang and though every once in a while I am fortunate to be told how unique it sounds, my name is as common as “James Smith” in Ghana. I spent my childhood in Accra, Ghana, and it led me to believe that I had a firm understanding of black identity. I grew up surrounded by black identities; everyone around me from the bus driver to the President was African. As a kid, being African was as simple as speaking a “home language” and eating jollof rice. It would be awhile before I understood the complexities of black being viewed as an other, and it wasn’t until I came back to the United States for grade school that I began to explore what it truly meant to be part of the African Diaspora.

The journey to figure out what it means to be an African and the connection to black identity has led me towards several internship and fellowship opportunities that have continually pushed me to redefine my perceptions of the Diaspora. As an undergraduate in history at George Washington University, I spent a semester interning with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. During this time, I created the first African American history tour of the U.S. Capitol, named the Philip Reid US Capitol Tour, after a 19th century enslaved artisan. After this experience, I wanted to learn more about the history of early African American identity.

Martina Dickerson. "Original and Selected 
Poetry, Etc." (Circa 1840-1846).
I came across the application for the Mellon Scholars Internship and realized the program was going to be a scholar’s paradise. I applied because I was attracted to the treasure chest collection of rare books and the diverse array of scholars that the Library Company of Philadelphia has cultivated over the centuries. I had to get in and now that I’m part of the “LCP family,” my knowledge of archival research and professional development is growing leaps and bounds. I have been able to test my archivist skills by working on the transcription of a 19th century “Friendship Album” which details the sentiments shared between free middle-class black women. Also, I am working on an independent research project that seeks to clarify the role Martin Delany, a 19th century African American global activist, played in transforming black identity. 
Martin Delany. Official Report of the Niger 
Valley Exploring Party (New York, 1861).

After my internship, I will be entering the Cooperstown Graduate Program in fall 2014 for my master’s in museum studies. I plan to focus on cultural entrepreneurship ventures that will create a sense of mutualism between businesses and cultural institutions.

Kwasi Agyemang
Mellon Scholars Intern, Summer 2014

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