Opening up African American history

June 1, 2017
Washington Monument.

University of Minnesota Libraries, in partnership with the Penumbra Theatre Company, has launched Umbra Search: African American History.

The free search tool gives everyone access to archival material across the United States. Over 400,000 pieces of African American history are now available from more than 1,000 libraries and cultural heritage institutions.

“African American history holds a central place in American history, but it’s very much in the shadows,” says Cecily Marcus, U of M Libraries. “Umbra Search builds a national corpus of African American works.”

With a growing user base of 55,000, Umbra Search covers every part of the country and features everything from oral histories and photos to handwritten letters.

Included in the materials are those of the U of M’s Givens Collection of African American Literature. It spans over 250 years, with books, plays, sheet music, magazines, pamphlets, ephemera, and the papers of African American writers and cultural institutions like Penumbra.

“By bringing together materials from all over the country, Umbra Search allows students and scholars to tell stories that have never been told before,” Marcus says.