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Stephen Ward, associate professor of Afroamerican and African studies, and a student
Stephen Ward, associate professor of Afroamerican and African studies, and a student examine archived materials from the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies. The materials have been newly digitized and made available online for U-M students, faculty and staff. (Image: Lon Horwedel)

Bentley digitizes records for Afroamerican and African studies

By Lara Zielin
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The University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library has digitized the records of the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, giving online access to the department’s history as well as archival material relating to black activism and to organizations of interest to black students, faculty, and staff.

The new online database includes materials from the Black Action Movements from 1969 to 1995, as well as audio and video recordings of notable visiting scholars and activists, including Jesse Jackson and Rosa Parks, and much more.

More than 66,000 online images were created from 25 linear feet of materials including 493 audio recordings, 269 video recordings, as well as correspondence, syllabi, clippings, publicity materials, and photographs. The process took more than eight months. The funding for the digitization was provided by the Office of the Provost.

“This was a student-initiated effort, where we worked closely with the Black Student Union to make these materials more readily available,” says Bentley Director Terrence McDonald.

“This is a large and phenomenally valuable collection, a record of the development of two disciplines — African studies and African-American studies, of race relations on the campus, and of the national intellectual and political conversation about race and racism in the United States and the world. Its digital availability will make all of these histories more transparent and accessible.”

“As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies’ founding, we could not be more excited to have these essential historical documents digitized and available online to students, scholars and community members,” says Matthew Countryman, associate professor of Afroamerican and African studies, American culture and history, and chair of the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to the Black Student Union and the Bentley Historical Library.”

The digitized materials are organized into nine main subjects:

• The Black Action Movements

• Incidents of on-campus harassment and responses

• South Africa, apartheid and divestment

• Free South Africa Coordinating Committee

• Washtenaw County Coalition Against Apartheid

• United Coalition Against Racism and the Baker-Mandela Center

• The Michigamua controversy

• The Nelson Mandela Honorary Degree Petition

• Gulf War activism

Stephen Ward, associate professor of Afroamerican and African studies and the Residential College, recently used the digitized materials in his senior capstone class as his students researched topics related to Detroit and U-M from the 1960s to the present.

“From the history of the Trotter House on campus to the 1967 Detroit rebellion, the DAAS collection is an invaluable resource with a wealth of information,” says Ward. “By diving into this primary source material, the students were able to have a wonderful experience of exploration and discovery.”

Providing students access to this collection was the priority for the digitization project, says McDonald.

All U-M students, faculty and staff may access digitized material from any location, but because of copyright issues, researchers not affiliated with U-M will not be able to access all parts of the digital collections remotely.

The entirety of the collection — paper and digital — is available to unaffiliated researchers in person at the Bentley Historical Library.

Lara Zielin

Lara Zielin

LARA ZIELIN is the editorial director at U-M's Bentley Historical Library. Prior to working for the Bentley, Zielin was editorial director at U-M's College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. In addition, she is a published author of young adult fiction.

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