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UNCAP Catalogues Chicago’s African-American Historic Treasures

On December 10 The University of Chicago Library celebrated the completion of UNCAP (Uncovering New Chicago Archives Project), a cross-disciplinary initiative aimed at improving access to archival collections at cultural institutions across Chicago.  Library staff unveiled the final piece of UNCAP:  a website that allows researchers to search the contents of all collections across institutions (including the Chicago Public Library, the Chicago Defender, the DuSable Museum of African American History, and the South Side Community Art Center) to access previously hidden treasures.  These treasures include the archives of the Chicago Defender, the work of political cartoonist Chest Commodore, and the archives of the famed Chicago Review, a student-run journal founded in 1946 that published the early works of Philip Roth, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, among others.

UNCAP grew out of Mapping the Stacks (MTS), a program started by former University of Chicago English professor Jacqueline Goldsby in 2005.  MTS worked with a team of University of Chicago graduate students to identify and process archives related to African American history in Chicago from 1930 to 1970. Supported by a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Goldsby and the library created UNCAP to expand the work of MTS, with the web site providing access to descriptions of the contents of the archives at all locations.  The site allows students and researchers, scholars at the University, in the community, and around the world discover what is available by searching across all collections for relevant materials.

From the University of Chicago News Office:

UNCAP and MTS took on two major challenges: the relative paucity of archival materials related to African American history and literature, and the larger problem of “hidden archives.” Because of the labor and cost required to process archival materials, many cultural institutions are saddled with a substantial backlog of documents that are largely inaccessible to researchers.

“There are crucial, complex histories we can’t tell about mid-20th century African American history because researchers don’t know if the archives exist or not,” Goldsby said.

To tackle the problem, Goldsby hired graduate students who had expertise in African American studies. The archival staff at the UChicago Special Collections Research Center taught the students how to process historical documents: materials are inventoried, sorted, and described in detailed “finding aids” that help users understand what each collection contains.

After their training was complete, the students were let loose on box after box of letters, notes, photos, and videos at the Harsh Collection, the South Side Community Arts Center, theChicago Defender and the DuSable Museum of African American History.

UNCAP was also profiled in the Chicago Tribune today; the article can be accessed by clicking here.  To explore UNCAP please click here, and to read more from the University of Chicago News Office please click here.

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  1. UNCAP Catalogues Chicago's African-American Historic Treasures … | The African American Black Blog Directory linked to this post on December 15, 2010

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