Digital Blackness: Googling Black History Just Got Better

Take me into the museum and show me myself, show me my people, show me soul America. – June Jordan, 1969

African American couple ca. 1950 (Photo courtesy of George Eastman Museum / Google Cultural Institute)
African American couple ca. 1950 (Photo courtesy of George Eastman Museum / Google Cultural Institute)

It’s that time again. You know, February, the month when Black churches, libraries, museums and other cultural institutions across the country host a variety of events and public programs to commemorate Black History Month. Well this year, Google has joined in the celebration with the launch of its expansive digitized collection displaying more than 5,000 works related to Black history, art, and culture via its online Cultural Institute and it’s worth EVERY click and I’m here for them all!

The collection features 80 curated digital exhibits, some of which are interactive and include video and audio clips while other images speak for themselves. Users can explore people and subjects from Frederick Douglass to Harlem Renaissance artists to even lesser known histories that we rarely hear about such as the Free Southern Theater which emerged from a Southern Black Arts Movement.

Women performers from the Free Southern Theater production "Where is the Blood of Your Fathers?" ca. 1971-1978 (Screenshot from Google Cultural Institute / physical rights of this image are retained by the Amistad Research Center).
Women performers from the Free Southern Theater production “Where is the Blood of Your Fathers?” ca. 1971-1978 (Screenshot from Google Cultural Institute / physical rights of this image are retained by the Amistad Research Center).

The collections are wide-ranging in subject matter and scope–at once a prayer and praise-song for our Blackness and a visual testament affirming our humanity– as it so vividly displays our cultural heroes as well as the everyday black person and our interpretations and explorations of Blackness through mediums such as art, literature, dance, music, even emerging technologies (see radiodee jaying, and Radio Raheem’s Boombox that is a part of the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s collection.)

Screenshot 2016-02-01 20.19.19
Katherine Dunham alongside her dance company members and actor Rex Ingram (as devil) in the Broadway production of Cabin in the Sky, which debuted in New York in 1939. (Screenshot from Google Cultural Institute. Photo by Dmitri Kessel | LIFE Photo Collection)

So what makes this project so noteworthy? TechnologyCollaboration. Digitizing collections is no small feat. As Lucy Schwartz, one of Google’s curators shared in her interview with Observer, it took them nearly a year to compile the collection. Thus, a curated project of this magnitude, expertise and detail could not have been accomplished without Google’s collaboration with over 50 institutions throughout the United States including the Smithsonian and Bancroft Library at U.C. Berkeley as well as other key repositories dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing African American history and culture like the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Amistad Research Center, Du Sable Museum, Museum of African American Art, and the Black Archives of Mid-America.

Screenshot 2016-02-01 19.53.32Going digital is an inevitable, yet time consuming and expensive endeavor, but one that many libraries, archives and historical and cultural institutions are very much interested in doing to not only increase visibility of their institution and collections, but to also create greater access to and use of their collections and to meet the information needs of their communities, both physical and online.

Features. Google Cultural Institute users not only have access to a database of images from trusted resources, users are also encouraged to become their “own curator” by creating personal collections of “art, landmarks, and historical events” and even “learn from experts” through art talks and more. Enough already, go check it out for yourself and let me know what you think!

 

 

 

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