UVA Receives Mellon Grant to Advance The HistoryMakers Digital Archive

The University of Virginia (UVA) Library has launched a project to advance The HistoryMakers, the nation’s largest African American video oral history archive. UVA Library’s collaboration with the HistoryMakers, as well as with Carnegie Mellon University, is funded by a two-year $1,000,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to the University of Virginia. This effort will help to ensure that The HistoryMakers Digital Archive becomes a canonical research tool in the academic community.

Founded and led by Julieanna Richardson, the HistoryMakers is a national nonprofit educational organization committed to preserving, developing, and providing easy access to an internationally recognized digital archive of thousands of hours of video oral history interviews of African Americans.  Its mission is to document and mainstream African American life, history, and culture through the life stories of 5,000 African American leaders, both well-known and unsung, from a variety of disciplines. The HistoryMakers seeks to engage the world with the breadth and depth of the African American experience through wide-scale dissemination of these stories, use these stories to educate current and future generations, and preserve this collection for generations to come.

The HistoryMakers organization will collaborate with computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University and librarians and archivists at UVA to improve the utility of their digital archive, increase faculty and student engagement with the collection, and explore strategies for connecting their records to those of other archives with relevant collections.  The project, titled The HistoryMakers in Higher Education, will be led by University Librarian John Unsworth of UVA, Julieanna Richardson, and Mike Christel of Carnegie Mellon University, and will involve the work of a dozen Library faculty and staff.  Among the goals of the project are to enhance The HistoryMakers Digital Archive by drawing on other Library projects including the NEH-funded Neatline geo-referencing tool, and Social Networks and Archival Context Cooperative, also funded by the Mellon Foundation, which will begin to connect The HistoryMakers Digital Archive to the holdings of other archives.

This grant will build upon work completed under a previous grant from the Mellon Foundation to Brandeis University, also led by Unsworth, which moved the HistoryMakers Digital Archive from outdated technology to a framework hosted in the cloud with an expanded feature set and much improved search capabilities.  It also resulted in increased discoverability in libraries’ catalog systems and a growth in the subscriber base from three to fifty institutions. This new grant will broaden these outreach efforts with the goal of increasing and deepening The HistoryMakers’ engagement with faculty, librarians, and students through programs that encourage use of the Digital Archive for teaching and research.

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