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Digital Archives Gives Access to African American History

MINNEAPOLIS — A University of Minnesota-led digital archive of African American historical materials is now free and accessible online to the public.

The university’s Umbra search includes handwritten 17th-century letters, underground hip hop albums from the 1970s and a whole of other artifacts, the Minnesota Daily reported.

Cecily Marcus, curator of the Archie Givens, Sr., Collection of African American Literature at Anderson Library, said the site was created as a central repository for researchers, teachers, students, artists and faculty to use.

It includes more than 500,000 materials from nearly 1,000 institutions. The project was led by the university, but it’s a national initiative involving several institutions, including the Smithsonian Institution and Yale University.

Marcus said nearly half of the collection’s materials are from the Digital Public Library of America. She said the site’s singular focus on African American culture and history makes it unique.

Dorothy Berry, who leads the project’s digitization process, said it gives users a well-rounded picture of black culture during a given time period.

“There’s a lot of information you might not be able to get in school,” she said.

Teachers at St. Paul’s Gordon Parks High School are already using the site in classes.

The accessibility the search provides is useful for high school students, since similar materials are usually only available at museums or libraries, said Jamie Tomlin, an English teacher at the school.

“The students are becoming digital historians,” Tomlin said.

Berry said the Umbra project will continue digitizing items.

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