CRM Journal

Media Review

The Booker T. Washington Papers

The History Cooperative; maintained by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois; accessed on June 18-22, 2003.


My daughter, Portia, said to me, not long ago: "Papa, do you know that you have never told me much about your early life, and your children want to know more about you." Then it came upon me as never before that I ought to put something about my life in writing for the sake of my family, if for no other reason.

—Booker T. Washington, The Story of My Life and Work

Written in 1900 as Booker T. Washington's first autobiographical endeavor, The Story of My Life and Work was nearly obscured by his second and more popular autobiography, Up From Slavery, published the following year. Today, The Story of My Life and Work can be found in the 14-volume compilation of Washington's writing dating from 1860 to 1915. Originally published by the University of Illinois Press, the compilation is now available on the Internet.

"The Booker T. Washington Papers" was launched in 2000 to offer amateur and professional historians free access to the writings of this renowned African-American leader, many of which are out of print. The "Washington Papers" website was designed by Paul Arroyo of the University of Illinois and Michael Jensen of the National Academy Press, part of an electronic library of archives and collections developed by the History Cooperative—a collaboration among the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the University of Illinois Press, and the National Academy Press.

"Washington Papers" provides researchers the once rare opportunity to explore thousands of pages of primary sources with tremendous ease and flexibility. The site's designers utilize the National Academy Press's "open book" framework that allows online readers to peruse each electronic page as if simply turning the pages of an actual book. This framework also employs a chronological search feature across multiple volumes. Searching for information on Washington's initial contact with Julius Rosenwald, for example, turned up results throughout the 14 volumes—all with the click of a mouse.

This ability to easily research events, speeches, and letters from Washington's life is one of the highlights of the website. For a researcher, this feature is an incredible time-saving tool. Without it, the search for information on Rosenwald would have required hours of reading through hundreds of pages to retrieve the same information provided within a matter of minutes.

The website was designed to present the papers in a clear and straightforward style. In addition to providing access to the complete collection of volumes, the website offers original illustrations from many of the volumes, and the option to purchase bound volumes. But links are sparse. At the time of review, only three were provided: "Documenting the American South: Booker T. Washington, 1856-1915" at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; "Up From Slavery: An Autobiography" at the University of Virginia; and the National Park Service's Booker T. Washington National Monument website.

"Washington Papers" is a unique and valuable tool for the cultural historian, bringing rare primary sources on the history and culture of African Americans closer to those who use them the most: folklorists, college and university professors, students, curators, museum interpreters and educators, and genealogists. Websites like this mean no long wait for interlibrary loans, no overdue fees, and no library card required.

Shirl Spicer
North Carolina Museum of History