Universities Team Up With The HistoryMakers

The University of Virginia and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh will collaborate with The HistoryMakers, the nation’s largest archive of videotaped oral histories of African-American leaders, to enhance the organization’s archive, making it more accessible to ensure it remains a vital resource in the academic world. The effort is funded by a two-year, $1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The HistoryMakers is a national nonprofit educational organization committed to preserving and developing an internationally recognized digital archive of thousands of hours of video oral history interviews. The organization aims to document and mainstream African-American life, history, and culture through the stories of African-American leaders from a variety of disciplines. Currently, more than 2,800 people have been interviewed, but not all of the interviews have been digitized. The organization’s goal is to have 5,000 individual interviews in their database.

The new grant will allow The HistoryMakers to collaborate with University of Virginia librarians and archivists, as well as Carnegie Mellon University computer scientists to improve the utility of their digital archive, increase faculty and student engagement with the collection, and explore strategies for connecting their records with other relevant collections. This grant will build upon the work done with a previous grant from the Mellon Foundation that moved the archive from outdated technology to a cloud-based framework and increased the subscriber base from three to 50 institutions.

University of Virginia librarian John Unsworth will lead the new initiative. He believes that “the project is creating a unique, in-depth record of the life experiences of African-Americans in many walks of life. There is nothing remotely like it in its quality, its searchability, its breadth and depth, and its applicability to many different areas of research and teaching.”

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  1. A truly worthwhile project that will enhance historical knowledge and research efforts for generations to come. While overdue in scholarly circles, the appearance of the HistoryMakers over two decades ago has revolutionized the image of African Americans from objects to relevant subjects in the history of America.

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