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Doris Duke Foundation awards grant to ‘U’ Libraries

By February 3, 2015September 16th, 2023No Comments
Will support adoption, use of ‘Umbra: Search African American History’

The University of Minnesota Libraries, in partnership with Penumbra Theatre Company, received $168,750 from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to support the adoption and use of “Umbra: Search African American History.” This freely available online search tool will provide access to digital materials on African American history and culture from around the country. 

“We are excited to support the public introduction of Umbra to artists, educators, students and researchers,” said Ben Cameron, Program Director for the Arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. “Umbra pulls together important pieces of African American history and places them in the hands of a new generation. It will be a new way of storytelling and a significant step forward in documenting a major piece of our cultural history.”

Cecily Marcus
Performing Arts Archives
University Libraries

Concurrent with the development of the search tool at the University of Minnesota, the Umbra team has been working with leading repositories to addresses the challenge of inadequate access to African American history and culture as it is collected in libraries and museums and displayed online. The search tool will be tested in 2015 and its public launch is scheduled for 2016.

“In addition to increasing access to existing materials, Umbra will heighten attention on those materials that have not been digitized by repositories or remain in attics and basements,” said Wendy Lougee, University Librarian and McKnight Presidential Professor at the University of Minnesota. “We hope it will encourage individuals and organizations, from theaters to community centers to advocacy groups, to create, maintain, and sustain online archives of their own.”

About Umbra: Search African American History 

The Umbra project is a partnership between the University of Minnesota Libraries’ Givens Collection of African American Literature and Performing Arts Archives, and Penumbra Theatre Company. Cecily Marcus, curator of the Givens Collection of African American Literature and Performing Arts Archives at the University of Minnesota Libraries, is principal investigator for the grant.

The first and second phases, 2012-2015, were dedicated to research and development of the online search tool and were funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Research included a large-scale survey of archival/legacy building practices within theaters and the convening of a series of national forums with leaders from over 50 theaters, with a particular focus on African American theater and theaters of color. These discussions identified the need to bring together the vast resources that document the people, places, events, and ideas that inspire new theater productions into one place.

Currently, these materials can be hard to find, scattered across libraries, museums, and historical societies nationally. The shareable search tool — easily embedded on any website — makes them more accessible and able to provide deeper historical context for African American history, arts, and cultural expression.

Currently available online content represents hundreds of years of African American history — as it is documented in photographs, books, manuscripts, scripts, notes, maps, news stories, oral histories, music, film, and video. This content is from over 500 repositories including the University of Minnesota Libraries, Digital Public Library of America, Library of Congress, New York Public Library, and Smithsonian.

Funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation will be used in 2016 to engage users with the tool and its resources, and disseminate the tool broadly.

Mark Engebretson

Author Mark Engebretson

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