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African Diaspora Newsletter No.9

Database Construction Workshop Report

The Harriet Tubman Resource Centre on the African Diaspora
Hosts A Database Construction Workshop

July 2-12, 2002
York University, Toronto

The Harriet Tubman Resource Centre on the African Diaspora hosted a Workshop on Database Construction and the African Diaspora, July 2-12, at York University, with the support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Innovation Trust and York University. The purpose of the Workshop was to explore issues relating to database construction on topics relating to the African diaspora. The Workshop was organized over two weeks, beginning with two days of formal presentations, followed by a week and a half of targeted workshops devoted to hands-on database construction.

On 2-3 July, there were formal presentations of database projects, followed by discussions about the technical and logistical issues raised by database construction, as well as exchanges regarding various types of sources and methodologies. Scholars dealing with different parts of Africa and African diaspora history exchanged views and ideas about the choices to be made while constructing datasets, ranging from detailed issues such as the fields to be included to broader discussions about the technologies available and the methodological and philosophical implications of their implementation. From 4-12 July, there were informal working sessions devoted to database construction. Selected projects currently underway were identified at a plenary session for the working sessions.

The Workshop was intended for graduate students and scholars studying the African diaspora, and specifically provided a hands-on approach to databases and their construction. Graduate students at York University were assigned specific projects like the Historical Atlas which is under construction, as assistants in the use and modification of existing databases and in the construction or expansion of current projects. This collaborative activity advanced the development of various projects and provided an opportunity for an exchange of expertise among the students and scholars.

One of the most critical discussions at the workshop arose from Professor Gwendolyn Midlo Hall's suggestion that a central depository or clearing house of these datebases and research tools like them be created. The possibility that the Harriet Tubman Resource Centre might fulfill this role was raised and is still under consideration.

Department of History, York University,  Toronto, Canada
Email: nigerian@yorku.ca
Fax: (416) 650-8173