The University of Minnesota will be able to digitize its rare collection of 16th-century slave-trade maps and other African-American artifacts — and post them online for the first time — thanks to a $225,000 grant.
The two-year project will give the public a chance to search nearly half a million historical documents, images and recordings that, until now, have only been accessible within the U’s library walls, sometimes tucked away in boxes.
“This takes the University of Minnesota materials and puts them all over the world so that they can be read,” said Cecily Marcus, a U librarian who is heading the project.
The U has been the repository of one of the nation’s largest collections of African-American literature, known as the Givens Collection, for three decades. But the grant goes even further, Marcus said, by allowing the U bring to light hidden treasures from throughout its library system. Some of the archives, for example, document the experience of African-American soldiers in World War I, and the founding of historically black YMCAs and theaters. They’re the type of things, she noted, that “have often been ignored in the historical record.”
The U project was one of 18 selected, out of 166 applicants, to receive a grant this year from the Council on Library and Information Resources.
The project is part of an even more ambitious enterprise, called Umbrasearch.org, that the U embarked on two years ago. In addition to its own collection, the U is assembling an online database to allow anyone to search African-American collections around the country, in partnership with dozens of other universities and museums, including the Smithsonian.
The goal, Marcus said, is to create a kind of “one-stop shopping” for research into the African-American experience. “We are talking to colleagues all over the country about the collections that they have.” It’s both a work in progress and a call to action, she said. “It says this is critical material. How can we find it? And how can we make it available?”