Up Next

Black History

University of Minnesota launches new African-American digital archive

The database includes hundreds of thousands of materials covering years of black history

There is a new online database available through which users can find more than 400,000 digitized archival materials documenting African-American history from more than 1,000 libraries and cultural organizations.

Launched on Jan. 18, the Umbra Search African American History website was developed from a grant of nearly $225,000 that the University of Minnesota Libraries received from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR).

Just 11 days after the announcement that the University of Minnesota launched the new online database, Umbra Search estimated a user base of more than 55,000. The collection includes a wide range of articles from across the country, including multiple artistic disciplines such as music, photos, oral histories, letters and more.

The database has support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the CLIR and the University of Minnesota Libraries.

“No library is able to digitize all of its holdings, but by bringing together materials from all over the country, Umbra Search allows students and scholars to tell stories that have never been told before. Umbra Search partners have amazing collections, and now those materials can sit side by side with related content from a library on the other side of the country,” director Cecily Marcus told the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.

As the files were converted by the University of Minnesota’s Archie Givens, Sr. Collection of African American Literature, the public was able to view the digital articles through the Digital Public Library of America, the University of Minnesota’s library websites and Umbra Search, which gathers and archives African-American historical and cultural pieces from across the United States.

Research from the National History Day organization will be featured on Umbra Search throughout the year and used in high schools, undergraduate classes and around the country. Users can follow updates and daily black history facts on social media with the hashtag #UmbraSearch365. History buffs can also attend readings, movie screenings, exhibits and workshops that Umbra Search is co-sponsoring.

“By identifying and making discoverable online the impact of African-Americans in every aspect of American life, this project makes an argument about history and how we tell it,” Marcus, a co-principal investigator of the CLIR grant, Givens Collection curator and head of the University of Minnesota’s Umbra Search project, said in a press release. “The significant presence of materials documenting African-American life from over 70 collections shows us that there is no American history without African-American history. Easier access to more materials means a richer, more holistic story can be told and understood.”

Howard University, Temple University, Yale University and the Smithsonian Institution were just a few of the national partners to provide content to Umbra Search.

“Umbra Search African American History is an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to learn more about African-American history,” said Kara Olidge, executive director of the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University and Umbra Search advisory board member. “By providing access to thousands of digitized materials, Umbra Search makes it possible to do research at libraries all across the country without getting on a plane. We are honored to be a partner.”

Rhiannon Walker is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a drinker of Sassy Cow Creamery chocolate milk, an owner of an extensive Disney VHS collection, and she might have a heart attack if Frank Ocean doesn't drop his second album.