Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Sylvia Ardyn Boone Papers, 1925-2011, bulk 1961-1993

Summary Information


This collection contains the personal and professional papers of Sylvia Ardyn Boone, a scholar of Art History with a focus on African art, and the first African-American woman to receive tenure at Yale University. The collection includes manuscripts, correspondence, course materials and syllabi, research notes, printed materials, photographs, video and sound recordings, and other papers relating to professional projects. Also included are dissertation manuscripts for recipients of the Sylvia Ardyn Boone Memorial Prize at Yale.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#1659
Bib ID 11711968 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Boone, Sylvia Ardyn
Title Sylvia Ardyn Boone Papers, 1925-2011, bulk 1961-1993
Physical Description 40 linear feet (34 record cartons, 5 oversized flat boxes (box 60-64), 4 manuscript boxes, 1 tall manuscript box (box 37))
Language(s) English , French , Mende , Geez .
Access You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

Box 34 (student records and privacy matters) is restricted until 2061. Additional folder-level restrictions are marked in the container list.

All original copies of audio / moving image media are closed until reformatting. Please contact RBML regarding special-formats digital reproduction service.



This collection is arranged in 9 series.


Scope and Contents

The Sylvia Ardyn Boone Papers consist of manuscripts from Boone's graduate studies and from her several book projects, as well as research journals, correspondence, course materials and syllabi, and lecture notes. The collection also contains personal papers, including correspondence, photographs, notebooks, calendars and datebooks, and magazines and newspaper clippings. The collection also contains materials collected by Vera Wells after Boone's death, including dissertation manuscripts from the recipients of Yale's Sylvia Ardyn Boone Prize. Audiovisual materials are also present in the collection, including slides from research trips as well as video and sound recordings of interviews with Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks, and "Mrs. Du Bois" (Yolande Du Bois).

The collection as a whole presents a complex and intimate picture of Sylvia Boone's intellectual life and personality. In particular, it illuminates the challenges she faced and connections she forged as one of the few scholars of color in the academic community. Letters, memoranda, conference and research materials, as well as course materials explicitly speak about these challenges, while the papers from her work in West Africa in the early 1960s and other collected materials imply a search for deeper understanding of African culture and connection within the Pan-African and African-American community. The collection also includes papers related to Boone's work on the commemoration events for the 150th anniversary of the Amistad affair in 1989.

  • Series I: Manuscripts and Publications, 1970-1986

    This series comprises chapter drafts, revisions, and related papers for Boone's Master's thesis, doctoral dissertation, and books, dating from 1970 to 1986. Materials also include her writing proposals, publication contracts, book notes, and correspondence with publishers. The writing proposals and notes provide a reflection of her experience and identity as an African-American. The series also contains manuscript drafts by others that were collected as part of her collection.

  • Series II: Correspondence, 1961-1993

    This series contains incoming and outgoing professional and personal correspondence throughout Boone's adult life, dating from 1961 to 1993. Some correspondence is labeled by recipients. Correspondence designated "personal" consists of letters related to personal matters, greeting cards, postcards, while "professional" are letters related to Boone's work, such as letters to publishers, Yale faculty members, museum curators.

  • Series III: Professional Work, 1961-1995

    This series contains papers relating to Sylvia Boone's extensive professional activities in researching, consulting, and teaching, specifically in the field of African and Afro-American Studies and Art History, dating from 1961 to 1993. The early materials from 1961 to 1966 emphasize her work in West Africa as well as her research project in Ghana. Also included are materials from conferences she attended and Pan-African organizations that she was actively involved in. The materials from 1966 to 1970 emphasize her consulting and teaching work at various organizations and colleges.

    The bulk of the materials from 1971 onward documents her teaching and active involvement in the department of African-American Studies and department of Art History at Yale, as well as papers relating to other professional projects such as fellowships, lectures, and committees. The materials include syllabi, course proposals, exams, notes and other material relating to several courses taught by Sylvia Boone at Yale University. The series also includes other information about Boone's experience at Yale, such as pursuit of tenure and departmental correspondence. It also includes office files with Boone's original folder titles, marked "Yale Office Files."

  • Series IV: Personal Papers, 1960-1992

    This series includes personal files of Sylvia A. Boone, dating from 1960 to 1992. Materials include diploma, class materials, personal notebooks, calendars, financial and academic records, and various newspaper and magazine clippings reflecting her personal interests.

  • Series V: Sylvia Ardyn Boone Prize, 1998-2011

    This series comprises manuscripts of dissertations that have been awarded the Sylvia Ardyn Boone Prize at Yale, as well as correspondence to Vera Wells regarding this award, dating from 1998 to 2011.

  • Series VI: Audio-Visual, 1974-1993

    This series contains VHS tapes, film and audio reels, and audiocassettes of events and interviews. Some items may be commercial.

  • Series VII: Slides, 1959-1991

    This series contains a large number of slides, mainly professionally shot images of African art in museums. It also contains many images of African women with a focus on hairstyles and clothing, and some images of African architecture.

  • Series VIII: Printed Materials, 1951-1975

    This series comprises printed materials such as periodicals, pamphlets, books, brochures, maps, guides, newspaper clippings, and other publications collected by Boone, dating from 1951 to 1975, including maps and guides related to her travels to West Africa. Most of the print materials and publications are related to neo-colonialism, law, politics, governments, social welfare, literature, art and culture in West African countries and the materials were mainly used for Boone's research projects.

  • Series IX: Photographs and Memorabilia, 1961-1974

    This series comprises photographs and memorabilia that Boone collected, dating from 1961 to 1974. The photographs depict Sylvia A. Boone's travels to West Africa, including the buildings, streets, people, aesthetics, and culture in Ghana, Senegal, and other West African countries. Additional photographs include her family and friends, and photographic postcards she collected. Also included in the series is a hairpin she used. Additional photographs may be found in Series III: Professional Work, Series IV: Personal Papers, and Series VII: Slides.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

Box 34 (student records and privacy matters) is restricted until 2061. Additional folder-level restrictions are marked in the container list.

All original copies of audio / moving image media are closed until reformatting. Please contact RBML regarding special-formats digital reproduction service.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Sylvia Ardyn Boone Papers; Box and Folder (if known); Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.


Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

2012.2013.M145: Source of acquisition--Vera Wells. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--5/17/2013.

2014.2015.M140: Source of acquisition--Vera Wells. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--6/8/2015.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Box 1-37: Processed by Rachel Finn, Pratt Institute '13 (MLS) and Emily Hawk, Columbia University (PhD student), under supervision of Carolyn Smith, archivist. Finding aid written by Emily Hawk in June 2019. Whenever possible, folders created and labeled by Sylvia Boone have been maintained with Boone's handwritten title. The titles of these folders are preceded with "Personal File," "Office File," or "File." Though the contents of these particular folders usually match Boone's title, in some cases the contents do not match. Most of the materials from Box 1-37 are bulk dated from 1970s to 2000s.

Box 38-65: Processed by Yingwen Huang, 2021. Some original folders are retained due to notes written on them. In the case where materials were not in folders before processing, archivist grouped materials and files with same and/or similar contents together, and devised a chronological folder-level arrangement. Some duplicative materials found in the boxes were interfiled in the previously processed boxes. Most of the materials in Box 38-65 are the early materials bulk dated from 1950s to 1970s, as well as materials related to the Amistad Commemoration from 1989 to 1990s. Small amount of printed materials were sent to mold remediation after processing.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Brochures Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Clippings (Information Artifacts) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Contracts Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Correspondence Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Course materials Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Doctoral Dissertations Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Drafts (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Ephemera (general object genre) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Journals Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Manuscripts (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Memorabilia Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Newsletters Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Newspapers Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Pamphlets Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Periodicals Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Personal papers Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Photographic postcards Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Photographic prints Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Posters Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Programs (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Reports Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Resume Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Sound recordings Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Student records Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Video recordings (physical artifacts) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Videocassettes Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
color slides Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
symposia (conferences) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Africa -- Maps Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Africa, West -- Description and travel Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
African American college teachers Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
African American newspapers Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
African American social workers Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
African American women Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
African Americans Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
African literature Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
African-American Institute. Women's Africa Committee Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
African-American literature and culture Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Afro-Asian Peoples' Solidarity Conference Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Angelou, Maya Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Art -- History Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Art historians Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Art, African Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Art, Mende Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Arts -- Sierra Leone Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Blassingame, John W., 1940-2000 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Brooks, Gwendolyn, 1917-2000 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Busselle, Rebecca, 1941- Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Carter, John Randolph, 1941- Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Conference proceedings Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Dance -- Africa Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Du Bois, W. E. B (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Feminine beauty (Aesthetics) in art Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Ghana -- Description and travel Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Ghana -- Social conditions Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Ghana Academy of Sciences Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Goffen, Rona, 1944-2004 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Menil Foundation Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Metro, Judy Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Moore, Carlos Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Organization of African Unity Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Pan-Africanism Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Sande Society Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Tabmen, George W. W. Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Thompson, Robert Farris Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Travel -- Guidebooks Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
University of Ghana Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Volta River (Ghana) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Windom, Alice, 1936- Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Women in art Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Women social workers Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
X, Malcolm, 1925-1965 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Yale University Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

Sylvia Ardyn Boone (1940-1993) was an African-American art historian specializing in African art, particularly focusing on the Mende people of Sierra Leone, female imagery, standards of beauty, and masks.

Sylvia Ardyn Boone was born on September 30, 1940, in New York City to John Russell Boone and Alice Mabel Boone. Her parents were from North Carolina and she had three siblings: John Daniel Boone, J. Herbert Boone, and Edgar Strauss Boone. Sylvia graduated from the A.B. Davis High School. She later studied social science and English at Brooklyn College and received her bachelors in 1960. After graduating from college, she joined the work camp at Operation Crossroads Africa. She later went on to study at the Columbia School of Social Work and received her M.S.W. in 1962. She worked at several social welfare institutions in New York dedicated to social causes, community needs and services. She also studied, worked, and traveled in Europe, Central America, and West Africa.

After her graduation from Columbia, she began working in Conakry, Guinea, at the Ministries of Education and Information, the Office of the President, and Radio Guinea. In 1963, she became the Research fellow at the Ghana Academy of Sciences for the Ford Foundation-sponsored research project "Survey of Contemporary Ghana." She also studied and taught at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana and received a Certificate in African Studies in 1965. It was during this time her interests in anti-imperialism, neocolonialism, African nationalism, and Pan-Africanism grew. She also actively participated in various organizations and conferences in West Africa at the time, such as the Fourth Afro-Asian Peoples' Solidarity Conference, Summit Conference of the Organization of African Unity, Seminar for Youth Leaders of Africa, Council of African Organizations, Ghana Young Pioneers, and the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY).

In 1966, she returned to New York and began working with the Women's Africa Committee at the African-American Institute where she was a lecturer and a consultant with the Community Service Program teaching Congolese women about leadership. At the same time, she was also teaching African American Studies and African literature courses at various colleges such as CUNY Richmond College and Hunter College, Mary Rogers College, NYU, New School for Social Research, University of California Berkeley, Hamilton College, and Timothy Dwight College.

In 1970, she started as a visiting lecturer with the African-American Studies Program at Yale University. She also began studying Art History in 1971 and received her M.A. in 1973, upon the completion of her thesis, The Sande Society Mask "Bundu". She completed her Ph.D. in Art History, and her doctoral dissertation, Sowo Art in Sierra Leone: The Mind and Power of Woman on the Plane of the Aesthetic Disciplines, received the Blanshard Prize in 1979. Subsequently, Boone was appointed to the Department of History of Art and was promoted in 1988, becoming the first African-American woman to receive tenure at Yale.

Boone was also an author and activist. She published West African travels: a guide to people and places (1974), Radiance from the Waters: Ideals of Feminine Beauty in Mende Art (1986), and Images of women in African art in Artist and influence (1988), among other works.

Her other professional activities included participating in the United Nations Institute for Training and Research in 1979 and the corresponding UN Seminar on Creative Women in Changing Societies in Oslo, Norway, 1980. She also contributed to the organization of the 150th commemoration anniversary of the 1839 Amistad Affair, which included a series of celebration and educational events held in Connecticut in 1989.

Boone died in Connecticut at the age of 52, on April 27, 1993.