Colored Conventions Project names UI professor an American Teaching Partner

UI professor and author, Leslie Schwalm, was recently named a North American Teaching Partner with the Colored Conventions Project for her work in the Iowa portion of the project.

Proceedings for the Iowa State Colored Convention in 1868 were recorded in this text. (Contributed/

Lauren White, News Reporter

After working on a project to uncover what may be unknown histories of the African American communities in the U.S., a University of Iowa professor is being recognized for her efforts.

UI professor, historian, and author Leslie Schwalm was recently named as a North American Teaching Partner with the Colored Conventions Project — a group of scholars who work to highlight the history of colored conventions and interpreting it through online exhibits.

Schwalm was named a North American Teaching Partner for her work in Iowa’s portion of the project and her commitment to exposing women’s history in its whole truth. The Colored Conventions Project aims to make their restored history available to teachers, Schwalm said. 

“We know women were involved in these conventions, but they were never officially recorded,” Schwalm said. “The goal is to uncover how and where exactly women contributed to this part of history.” 

Alongside the UI Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio head Tom Keegan, Schwalm began co-directing the project’s Iowa satellite in November 2017. 

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The project is collective, Schwalm said, so the pair worked with librarians, faculty, undergraduate, and graduate students across the state of Iowa. The goal is to recover and create accessibility of the Civil Rights that African American women and men in Iowa advocated for at the eight conventions they organized between 1857 to 1895, Schwalm said. 

“The university has been a huge supporter of the project financially and by giving it a physical home,” Schwalm said. 

The satellite project’s start prompted Schwalm to later create a course — Making Change Making History: Iowa’s Black Activists and Digital History. The class includes studying the Colored Conventions Project of Iowa to increase student awareness and engage them with the project and website, Schwalm said.

“This course is new, but I had a fabulous time teaching it last spring. The students were excited to learn the history and the skills and continue to be invested in the project,” Schwalm said. “It helps to understand that black Iowans are a big part of Iowa’s history.” 

Keegan said the goal of the project is to maintain respect for the content that’s excavated and disclose a hidden part of history. 

“I think the entire project is a success if that history can be brought to light,” Keegan said. “[Schwalm] is great. We all love working with her and she is incredibly talented, hardworking, and knowledgeable. We love working and connecting across educational fields. She is a wonderful visionary.” 

Gabrielle Foreman, founding faculty director of the Colored Conventions Project, said the program is delighted to have Schwalm and Keegan at the helm of the Iowa team, which is the project’s first satellite partner. 

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Foreman said that working with a dedicated scholar and a digital studio head at a leading university in the country was a perfect choice.

“It’s no surprise that an award-winning scholar like Dr. Schwalm would organize a team that confirmed ongoing black activism in national and statewide Civil Rights efforts based in Iowa,” Foreman said. “We are thrilled by the implications of these finds in what many consider to be an unexpected place.”

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