Dorothy Berry | Movers & Shakers 2020–Change Agents

Dorothy Berry learned about her family’s history growing up on the farm in the Missouri Ozarks homesteaded by her ancestors post-emancipation. Later, her father shared their family archive from 2003–2013 at his storefront Ozarks Afro-American Heritage Museum. This formative experience taught her that the history of black people in the Ozarks had been largely erased. "The more we researched the topic, the clearer it became to me that history, and especially Black history, can be willfully forgotten, but also willfully remembered," Berry says.

Sidsel Bech-Petersen

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Digital Collections Program Manager, Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA  

DEGREE

MA in Ethnomusicology, MLS, Indiana University, Bloomington, both 2016

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dorothy-berry.com

Photo courtesy of Dorothy Berry

Willfully Remembered

Dorothy Berry learned about her family’s history growing up on the farm in the Missouri Ozarks homesteaded by her ancestors post-emancipation. Later, her father shared their family archive from 2003–2013 at his storefront Ozarks Afro-American Heritage Museum. This formative experience taught her that the history of black people in the Ozarks had been largely erased. "The more we researched the topic, the clearer it became to me that history, and especially black history, can be willfully forgotten, but also willfully remembered," Berry says.

Now Berry digitizes archival collections and describes their content to make them easily found by search engines and showcase their value to scholars so others will remember and rediscover black history. She also works with existing collections to redescribe images and items by removing racist terms and providing context to racially charged images and the systematic erasure of black history.

For example, at Harvard, Berry is working with 2,200 items in a collection of images from blackface minstrelsy and early African American musical theater. She is developing guidelines for all institutions and professionals facing the challenge of un-erasing black history.

Berry’s impact should not be underestimated, says nominator Betts Coup, processing archivist at Houghton Library. Redescribing archival records is critical to ensure that difficult truths aren’t ignored and that the experiences of black people in the United States are recognized, Coup says. "She is a a remarkable force for positive change."

For Berry’s next project, she is working with colleagues toward a future collaboration to curate and digitize materials related to African American history in order to develop tools for instruction and scholarly interpretation. 

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