For more than 150 years, Howard University has been associated with the highest caliber of scholarship on the African diaspora. Howard’s legacy as a hub for the intellectual exploration of Blackness is widely appreciated in the Africana subset of academia. Lesser known is the woman who conceived and facilitated the development of Howard’s wealth of archival resources into one of the primary centers for the study of people of African descent. The story of Dorothy Porter Wesley, a pioneer in the field of library and information science, is also the story of the triumphant beginnings of a new discipline. As a result of Porter’s vision and dedication, Black special collections began to occupy more prominent roles in their institutions, allowing engagement with historically marginalized narratives through the palpable past.
The Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, an administrative unit containing the libraries, university archives, museum, and additional special collections at Howard University is the realization of a vision from centuries past. During the Reconstruction, former Union general Otis Howard and his supporters in Washington, D.C., founded the university that bears his name.