Digital Collections

Digital collections are comprised of both digitized and born-digital materials. In order to increase access and for preservation archives, museums, and libraries have created digital archives and/or digital collections. These collections and archives can help tell a story about Black life in the diaspora. Below are a selection of this type of resource. If you need help locating digital items connected to your region you may want to consult your local public library, college/university, and/or historical society.

Umbra Search African American History makes African American history more broadly accessible through a freely available widget and search tool, umbrasearch.org; digitization of African American materials across University of Minnesota collections; and support of students, educators, artists, and the public through residencies, workshops, and events locally and around the country. umbrasearch.org brings together hundreds of thousands digitized materials from over 1,000 libraries and archives across the country. Umbra Search celebrates the vital efforts of the individuals and institutions that have helped to preserve and make accessible online hundreds of thousands of pieces of African American history and culture, and we pay homage to the Umbra Society of the early 1960s, a renegade group of Black writers and poets who helped create the Black Arts Movement.

The Digital Public Library of America amplifies the value of libraries and cultural organizations as Americans’ most trusted sources of shared knowledge. We do this by collaborating with partners to accelerate innovative tools and ideas that empower and equip libraries to make information more accessible.

DPLA also has primary source sets to help understand the themes and subjects within the digital archive. A couple of interest include

  1. Samantha Gibson. Exodusters: African American Migration to the Great Plains. 2018. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, https://dp.la/primary-source-sets. (Accessed January 3, 2021.)
  2. Lakisha Odlum. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. 2016. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, https://dp.la/primary-source-sets. (Accessed January 3, 2021.)
  3. Jolie Sheffer. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. 2017. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, http://dp.la/primary-source-sets/invisible-man-by-ralph-ellison. (Accessed January 3, 2021.)
  4. Lakisha Odlum. The Watsons Go To Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. 2016. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, http://dp.la/primary-source-sets/the-watsons-go-to-birmingham-1963-by-christopher-paul-curtis. (Accessed January 3, 2021.)
  5. Melissa Strong. Beloved by Toni Morrison. 2016. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, http://dp.la/primary-source-sets/beloved-by-toni-morrison. (Accessed January 3, 2021.)

The New York Public Library Digital Collections contains 900,565 items and counting. While that is a small fraction of the Library’s overall holdings, it is representative of the diversity of our vast collections—from books to videos, maps to manuscripts, illustrations to photos, and more.

Our Story is a two and a half-year, collaborative grant funded project between the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library, Spelman College Archives, and the Digital Library of Georgia (DLG).  Through digital reformatting and a portal of publicly accessible collections on the AUC Woodruff Library’s Digital Commons and the DLG, this project will broaden access to unique publications, periodicals, theses, dissertations and photographs documenting the history of the AUC – the largest consortium of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Once completed, archives related to the following schools will be more easily discoverable throughout the world for scholarship about various aspects of African American higher education directly after emancipation of slavery through to the 21st Century:  Atlanta University, Clark College, Clark Atlanta University, Gammon Theological Seminary, Interdenominational Theological Center, Morehouse College, Morris Brown College, and Spelman College.

The Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC) is a cooperative digital library for resources from and about the Caribbean and circum-Caribbean. The dLOC partner institutions are the core of dLOC. dLOC partners retain all rights to their materials and provide access to digitized versions of Caribbean cultural, historical and research materials currently held in archives, libraries, and private collections

Archives Library Information Center, exists to provide staff and researchers ready access to the background and context information necessary to describe, organize, and access the essential evidence in NARA records. ALIC’s collection contains published materials such as books, government documents, microforms, audio and video tapes, and CD-ROMs which support management of and research in the records of the U.S. Government. Note that the National Archives has 13 regional centers, that document the histories of a specific region, check to see which NARA facility is near your community. The link takes you to a page containing a listing of material relating to Black history located at the National Archives.

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938 contains more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of former slaves.  These narratives were collected in the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) of the Works Progress Administration, later renamed Work Projects Administration (WPA).  At the conclusion of the Slave Narrative project, a set of edited transcripts was assembled and microfilmed in 1941 as the seventeen-volume Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves. In 2000-2001, with major support from the Citigroup Foundation, the Library digitized the narratives from the microfilm edition and scanned from the originals 500 photographs, including more than 200 that had never been microfilmed or made publicly available.  This online collection is a joint presentation of the Manuscript and Prints and Photographs divisions of the Library of Congress.

The Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.

Chronicling America (ISSN 2475-2703) is a Website providing access to information about historic newspapers and select digitized newspaper pages, and is produced by the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP). NDNP, a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Library of Congress (LC), is a long-term effort to develop an Internet-based, searchable database of U.S. newspapers with descriptive information and select digitization of historic pages. Supported by NEH, this rich digital resource will be developed and permanently maintained at the Library of Congress. An NEH award program will fund the contribution of content from, eventually, all U.S. states and territories.

Obsidian Collection

The Obsidian Collection is a user-friendly, virtual portal for African American culture providing access to material of historical, artistic and cultural significance gathered from around the country. These collections are made available through license agreements which  make available, in some cases for the first time, historically significant newspapers, research papers, and magazines, The Obsidian Collection cultivates exclusive relationships with member archives, and grants access to the digital collections of publications that have been in danger of being lost forever.

Google Books

Google Books has a selection of fully accessible issues Ebony, which is the flagship magazine of Johnson Publishing. Founded in 1945 by John H. Johnson, it still maintains the highest global circulation of any African American-focused magazine. Additionally, Google Books has a selection of fully accessible issues of Jet magazine.

Google Arts and Culture

Google Arts and Culture is a platform that allows museums, archives, galleries, and libraries to provide access to their collections. Additionally visitors are able to engage with art in a new way. There are several exciting collections available including the ones below

Black Cultural Archives (BCA)

Since 1981 Black Cultural Archives (BCA) has embarked on the journey to collect and preserve materials which redress the historical balance and representation of people of African and Caribbean descent in Britain. Our archive collection is now one of the most comprehensive collections that document the history and cultural heritage of Black Britain.

Originating as a community archive amassed over many years, the archive has been transformed into a professional archive that meets international quality standards and houses over 50 sq metrics of archival materials across two sites. With the support of Heritage Lottery Fund, archivists and trained volunteers continue to catalogue, contextualise and expand the archive collection. Our unique archive collection differs from conventional, traditional archives as it remains rooted in the community that created it.

Gordon Parks Foundation

Gordon Parks was one of the seminal figures of twentieth century photography. A humanitarian with a deep commitment to social justice, he left behind a body of work that documents many of the most important aspects of American culture from the early 1940s up until his death in 2006, with a focus on race relations, poverty, Civil Rights, and urban life. Parks was also a celebrated composer, author, and filmmaker who interacted with many of the most prominent people of his era—from politicians and artists to celebrities and athletes. THE GORDON PARKS FOUNDATION permanently preserves the work of Gordon Parks, makes it available to the public through exhibitions, books, and electronic media and supports artistic and educational activities that advance what Gordon described as “the common search for a better life and a better world.” The Foundation is a division of the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation.

Black Digital Humanities Projects & Resources

A comprehensive listing of Black digital humanities projects, resources, events, and anything else. This listing was developed by The Colored Conventions Project, which is a collaborative project that brings 19th- century Black organizing to digital life through convention records and exhibits.

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