Haverford College and UPenn Collaborate on the Du Bois Project

UPenn professor Amy Hillier works with Haverford College students to resuscitate a seminal study of race relations: W.E.B. Du Bois’ 1899 book, The Philadelphia Negro.

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At Penn, there’s some retribution due, of sorts. “This isn’t penance, but the university didn’t do [Du Bois] right the first time,” Hillier says.

Penn sponsored Du Bois’ project and paid him—but not much. He wasn’t offered an office or a faculty position. “He was the first black Ph.D. recipient at Harvard,” Hillier says.

Du Bois was here from the summer of 1896 through December 1897. He didn’t arrive in Philadelphia to study “the Negro problem.” He thought society had the problem. The documentary includes his voice from his later years.

Hillier read The Philadelphia Negro for the first time in 1998 as a doctoral student in social welfare at Penn. A researcher with expertise in mapping—or cartography—she figured the landmark book could be made more remarkable if she recreated a map of the ward using technology.

A grant from the National Endowment for Humanities helped. The $350,000 project has also been funded by the city’s Samuel S. Fels Fund and others. It dates back to 2005, the year the Philadelphia school district began requiring a sophomore-year class in black studies.

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