News Release

Umbra Search African American History makes Black History freely available

Umbra Search

The University of Minnesota Libraries, in partnership with the Penumbra Theatre Company, is launching Umbra Search African American History, a free and openly available online search tool at that facilitates broad access to over 400,000 digitized archival materials documenting African American history from more than 1,000 libraries, archives, and cultural heritage institutions across the United States.

“Now out of its beta and testing phase, Umbra Search builds a national corpus of African American works,” said director Cecily Marcus. “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.”

With a growing user base of more than 55,000, Umbra Search African American History features materials that touch every subject and discipline, show every part of the country, and feature everything from music to oral histories to photographs, maps, handwritten letters, and much more.

With a roster of national partners including Yale University, Temple University, Howard University, Smithsonian Institute, Umbra Search African American History is a resource for students, educators, scholars, artists, and the general public through:

  • The free site and embeddable search widget (no account or special access needed!);

  • Digitization of over 500,000 African American history materials from the University of Minnesota Libraries’ collections;

  • Support of students, educators, artists, and the public through residencies, workshops, and events locally and around the country.

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 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.”

Throughout 2017, Umbra Search will be featured by National History Day for History Day projects, and will be used in classes at Gordon Parks High School (St. Paul), by University of Minnesota undergraduates, and Twin Cities high school classrooms and around the country. As part of its launch, the #UmbraSearch365 social media campaign features new Black history content every day of the year, and Umbra Search is co-sponsoring book readings, film screenings, exhibits, and archiving workshops that celebrate African American history, culture, and art. Get involved at

Umbra Search is developed openly, and project documentation is available online. Follow @UmbraSearch or visit to learn more about upcoming events and news.

Support for Umbra Search has been provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Council on Library and Information Services, and the University of Minnesota Libraries.

About the University of Minnesota Libraries

The University of Minnesota Libraries is a strategic asset for the University and the global advancement of knowledge, providing intellectual leadership, vital collections, and essential expertise.

About the Givens Collection of African American Literature

The Archie Givens, Sr. Collection of African American Literature at the University of Minnesota Libraries is a publicly available rare book and archival collection that spans over 250 years of American culture. With books, plays, sheet music, magazines, pamphlets, ephemera, and the papers of African American writers and cultural institutions like Penumbra Theatre Company, the Givens Collection is a resource for students, educators, scholars, and the general community.