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African Commemorative Fabrics: Textual and Visual Documents

Fabric Int'l Day Mothers InfantsIn September, academic librarian Emilie Songolo and digital services librarian Melissa McLimans presented Preserving African Commemorative Fabrics: The Cloth Endures, a collaborative project that collects, analyzes, and digitizes commemorative textiles from various African countries for preservation purposes. Songolo, the Bibliographer for African Studies, Social Sciences, and Francophone studies in the UW—Madison’s Memorial Library focused the presentation on the role fabric plays in African societies. McLimans, with University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Center, helped develop and digitize the fabrics to go online in a photo gallery for scholars and other interested parties.

The online collection, African Commemorative Fabrics on UWDC’s website, features machine-made textiles documenting events and individuals of historical, political, religious, economic, education, and sociological significance to African societies. According to the collection’s website, “When used as a textual and visual document, the fabric becomes a vehicle to commemorate an event or to celebrate a person’s life or achievement … In societies where a large portion of the population cannot read, the visual elements enable everyone to share in the reception and transmission of the message that is being conveyed.” These fabrics are an integral part to understanding particular African communities, and are an invaluable resource for the scholars and public alike.

The pieces in this collection were graciously donated by UW faculty, staff, students, alumni, and other individuals outside the UW.

Donations of more fabrics are accepted on a continued basis. Please contact Emilie Songolo (esongolo@library.wisc.edu; 608-265-4740) if you have a commemorative cloth to offer.

This project was funded in part by a 2013 African Studies Program Research Travel Award.

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