The Hamilton Black History Database is a free public online-research resource dedicated to making information, resources, and archived materials about local Black history more accessible to the community in order to deconstruct Black historical erasure in Hamilton, Ontario.
Problems and Purpose
The Black Hamilton History Database is a digital platform created to capture and celebrate the forgotten and overlooked histories and contributions in local Black history in topics such as education, sports, health & medicine, the arts, and community organizing & activism within Hamilton, Ontario. It was set up in response to the prominence of Black historical erasure in the public memory and consciousness in the community.
In Hamilton, Black erasure is particularly significant because the city has a rich Black history that has been largely overlooked and undervalued. Despite the fact that Black people have lived on the land that is now Hamilton for over 200 years, their contributions and experiences have often been ignored or forgotten from the city's cultural and historical record. This has given way to a longstanding myth that Black people are recent immigrants to Canada and widespread misinformed beliefs that slavery did not exist in Canada.The database debunks these myths and any perceptions that the Black community is new to Hamilton instead demonstrating the integral part Black people had in Hamilton's history in shaping the community into what it is today. Giving access to otherwise lost histories, and spatializing processes of erasure, the database discloses how Euro-white and colonial nation as a whole is concealing and obscuring Black narratives.
The purpose of the database is to expand the Hamilton communities idea of Black people's place in history and continued development. The Hamilton Black History Database aims to provide a platform for Black voices and stories to be heard and shared to challenge Anti-Black narratives. The hope of this project is that by acknowledging and learning from the past, the Hamilton community can build a better future by reordering the ways in which Black people are situated in the community due to white colonial discourses and domination. By challenging Black erasure in Hamilton, the Hamilton Black History Database towards a more inclusive and accurate representation of the city's history and culture. In particular, it is essential to challenge the myth that Blackness is new to Hamilton because when the existence of Black history is denied it perpetuates the systemic inequalities and discrimination that these communities continue to face today. Furthermore, acknowledging the existence of historical Anti-Black racism in Hamilton is a crucial step toward further racial justice initiatives such as reparations and reconciliation.
The database's purpose involves promoting greater awareness and appreciation of the contributions of Black people to Hamilton's social, political, and economic development, as well as addressing the ongoing systemic inequalities and discrimination faced by Black communities in the city. Ultimately, challenging Black erasure is an important step toward building a more just and equitable community that recognizes and values the diversity of its citizens.
Background History and Context
The concept of The Hamilton Black History Database was introduced to the community during the Hamilton Black History Council 2021 annual Black History Month online conference in Hamilton. This initiative was spearheaded by the Hamilton Black History Council (HBHC) and the Afro-Canadian Caribbean Association (ACCA) community groups. This partnership was supported by McMaster’s Centre for Community-Engaged Narrative Arts which led to the support and involvement of the database's most prominent researcher behind the database, Aaron Parry. He was contacted by these community groups and was tasked to develop a one-stop-shop resource to document the rich and diverse Black history in the city, as well as to raise awareness of contributions to the development and growth of Hamilton.
The main reason for the collective initiative was to make the rich Hamilton Black history resources that are difficult to find on the internet or in libraries better able to access the community. The context of the database includes archive collections, books, local sites, newspaper articles, official documents and records, photos, videos/films, music, scholarly journal articles, and webpage articles. The aspiration of the database is to contain any format that has historical materials in it included in the database. An example of the various types of archival materials is a photocopy of a handwritten songbook and diary used by a Black choir and singing group in Hamilton in the 1930s. The information in the database is organized in four different formats within the database. Sections include period-specific history; prominent topics in Black history such as education, sports, health, medicine and the arts; Hamilton resources listed by media; and a master list of all resources.
The aspiration for the database for years to come is for it to continuously add more resources as time progresses and is a sustainable resource for the community to be knowledgeable and participate in remembering, commemorating, and reflecting on Black history. The Hamilton Black History Database has been made available online effective February 21, 2022, and is expected to grow by its founding community group organizations and main researcher and improve for years to come.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Hamilton Black History Database is a non-profit initiative that relies on community donations and grants to support its operations. The Hamilton Black History Database is a joint venture between the Hamilton Black History Council (HBHC), Hamilton’s Afro-Canadian Caribbean Association (ACCA) and the Centre for Community-Engaged Narrative Arts (CCENA) at McMaster. Funding from these community groups was directed toward establishing and running the site.  Notwithstanding, the Hamilton Black History Database relies on a limited pool of resources, including volunteer labour and funding from academic institutions and community donations. Since this funding is limited, it impacts the platform's ability to develop and expand its resources. The platform may also be limited in its ability to hire additional staff to manage and develop the platform. The limited resources hinder the Hamilton Black History Database's ability to expand its scope and reach.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The database is only able to continue to evolve due to contributions from others. As an open-source platform anyone with access to the internet is able to contribute to making recommendations of resources they believe ought to be reflected in the database. When someone submits a recommendation it is not guaranteed in the database. Instead, those on an oversight team of databases with the capabilities to make the resource available on the platform review the recommendation for its credibility, accessibility, and its relation to Black Hamilton history.
In order to participate as a contributor to the database, one must access the database through the Hamilton Black History Council website at www.hbhc.ca. On the website, one must navigate the page to find the “submit a resource” tab and find the appropriate Google Forum. For a submission to be considered, the resource can be from or related to any period from the early Black settlement in Hamilton up until the present. Despite the Black History Database promoting participatory values, this screening process to ensure the resources are reputable and fit the purposes of the database comes at the expense of contributors' equal access to influence the resources on the database. This serves as a point of contention for the database as an open democratic resource for the Hamilton community whilst having an authoritarian oversight that decides and dictates what resources are best fit for the community that should be included in the database. However, all users of the database can submit or request a resource revision or removal which the oversight database has not disregarded to date.
Another way to participate in the Hamilton Black History Database is to volunteer. The database is run by a team of volunteers and staff who help to collect, organize, and maintain the database's content. Volunteers can contribute their skills and expertise in areas such as research, writing, editing, and data entry as a part of the oversight team. In terms of a formal requirement process, the database encourages any individual to reach out pertaining to any matters regarding the site.
Other than contributing an entry into the database or volunteering one's time, one of the most important ways that people can support and participate in the Hamilton Black History Database is by spreading the word about its existence and encouraging others to explore its resources. Contributions such as sharing the database on social media, attending events and workshops related to Black history in Hamilton, and talking to friends and family members about the database are all still effective ways to help raise awareness, enrich Black Hamilton history, and promote participation. In addition, the Hamilton Black History Database is a non-profit initiative that relies on donations and grants to support its operations. Individuals and organizations can contribute financially to support the ongoing development and maintenance of the database as means of participation.
What Went On Process, Interaction, and Participation
The Hamilton Black History Database is a collaborative effort that involves community members, academics, and local organizations, ensuring that it reflects the perspectives and experiences of the entire Hamilton Black community as possible. This collaborative approach has resulted in a diverse range of Black perspectives and experiences being represented in the database and has created a space for the sharing of community knowledge.
Community members can interact with the database by browsing its content and exploring the many stories and resources it contains or by sharing their own stories and resources. Alternatively, they can interact with the database by providing feedback through the database's website or by contacting the database team directly.
The database has democratized knowledge production by providing a platform to give voice to those who have been historically marginalized. By providing a space for Black individuals and communities in Hamilton to share their stories and experiences, the database has created a platform for the amplification of marginalized stories and voices in the public square. This has led to a greater diversity of perspectives and ideas for the Hamiltonian community to access, which can lead to more innovative and effective solutions to complex problems and communities that are more likely to be engaged in the political practices of change.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects.
Prior to the Hamilton Black History Database project, many people in Hamilton were unaware of the significant contributions and experiences of Black Hamiltonians, due to them being lost or forgotten over time or lack of documentation or representation in historical archives. This information is now available to researchers, scholars, and the wider community, ensuring that the Hamiltonians and their contributions will not be forgotten.
The project has provided a wealth of information about Black history in Hamilton, which can be used by educators and researchers to enhance their understanding of the city's history and Black Hamiltonian legacies. The database has also provided opportunities for new research on Black history in Hamilton, which can lead to a better understanding of the experiences and contributions of Black individuals in the city. The database has also provided opportunities for community members to participate in events and exhibits related to Black history in the city. This has helped to create a sense of community and belonging among Black Hamiltonians, who can now see their experiences and contributions represented in the city's history.
The database provides an opportunity for people to learn about Black history and culture, which is often overlooked or excluded from mainstream curriculums. The database helps to promote a more comprehensive and inclusive education system that acknowledges the contributions of all members of society. This education is essential for promoting a more informed and enlightened citizenry and combating historical erasure.
The database acknowledges the systemic racism and discrimination that Black people have faced throughout history and highlights the ongoing struggles for racial justice and equity. By doing so, it helps to combat systemic racism and discrimination. The database provides an opportunity for people to learn about the city's Black history and understand the role that Black people have played in shaping Hamilton's identity. By doing so, it helps to hold individuals, organizations, and institutions accountable for any past injustices or wrongdoings. This accountability is crucial for building trust and fostering better civic engagement and participation.
Overall, the Hamilton Black History Database has had a significant impact on the Hamilton community by challenging dominant historical Anti-Black narratives and myths, fostering community connections, and supporting research and education. Moreover, the database has helped to create a more equitable and knowledgeable community, one in which the contributions and experiences of Black individuals and communities are recognized, valued, and celebrated.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Being an online platform, the database is not accessible to everyone in the Hamilton community. The database requires internet access and technological literacy, which are not universal to all in Hamilton. This limitation hinders the Hamilton Black History Database's ability to reach a broad audience and undermines its aim of combating Black historical erasure for all of Hamilton. Moreover, the database scope is limited to Hamilton's Black history, which neglects the interconnectedness and interdependence of Black communities across the region and other oppressed groups in Hamilton's history. Another challenge in database governance is the need to ensure that the information in these databases is accurate, complete, and representative. Black history databases must be built on a foundation of reliable and verifiable information, and efforts have been made to ensure this is the case through database oversight. At the same time, this measure may come at the cost of the democratization of the platform.
One of the key strengths of the Hamilton Black History Database is its commitment to community engagement. The platform is designed to be a resource for the community, and as such, community members are encouraged to contribute their own stories and experiences to the platform. This engagement with the community ensures that the database is reflective of the experiences and contributions of Black people in contemporary Hamilton. The platform also includes a section for community feedback, which allows users to provide suggestions and feedback to the board of directors. This commitment to community engagement is a key strength of the platform, as it ensures that the database is developed and managed with the needs and interests of the community in mind. Another strength of the Hamilton Black History Database is its commitment to transparency. The platform includes information about its governance structure, including the board of directors and its members, as well as information about its funding sources. This transparency ensures that users of the platform are aware of who is responsible for its management and development, as well as where its funding is coming from. This transparency also ensures that the platform is accountable to its users and stakeholders, as they are able to provide feedback and hold the board of directors accountable for its decisions.
The Hamilton Black History Database provides access to a wide range of research materials, archives, and resources and enables a more diverse range of voices to be heard. In turn, this can help to challenge dominant narratives and perspectives and promote a more inclusive and democratic discourse. In addition, research databases like this can also help to break down hierarchies in knowledge production by providing access to materials produced by scholars and researchers from different backgrounds and disciplines. By enabling scholars, community members, and researchers to access a wide range of materials, the Hamilton Black History Database encourages a more interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to research, which can help to challenge established paradigms and promote innovation. This approach to knowledge production is particularly important in today's complex and rapidly changing world, where complex problems require interdisciplinary solutions.
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With many special thanks to Dr. Paul Emiljanowicz for providing his support, care, and assistance with the creation of this entry.