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Democratizing Access to Traditionally Arcane Historical Sources

Democratizing Access to Traditionally Arcane Historical Sources


Anthony R. Stevens-Acevedo, Assistant Director, CUNY Dominican Studies Institute (housed at CCNY)


Sarah Aponte, Chief Librarian, CUNY Dominican Studies Institute.Between 2013 and 2016, the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute (CUNYDSI) launched two digital platforms that contribute greatly to bridging the gap (or breaking the walls) between scholars, students, and interested members of the larger public, on the one hand, and archival sources about the early centuries of formation, during the sixteenth century, of what are today the Dominican Republic and the Dominican people, on the other. One, “The Spanish Paleography Digital Teaching and Learning Tool” ( is devoted to teaching its users, at their own pace, how to decipher and read the various (and frequently cumbersome) handwriting styles prevalent in the hundreds of thousands of archival documents from the Spanish-language world of the 1500s that have made it into our times. The other, “First Blacks in the Americas / Los primeros negros en las Américas” (;, is a fully bilingual (English and Spanish) platform that presents overviews of, and a unique collection of archival documents about, the lives of the first inhabitants of black-African ancestry to reside in the Americas during modern times, and for whom a written historical record has survived in the archives: the black population that arrived first in what is today the Dominican Republic since 1492 and onwards. Both sites have been constructed by teams that brought together, during long months of planning and construction, scholars and students from CUNY DSI as well as CUNY colleges, respectively, many of them immigrants or children of immigrants.

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