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The HistoryMakers is the nation’s largest African American video oral history archive. A 501(c)(3) non-profit educational institution, the organization is committed to preserving, developing and providing easy access to an internationally recognized archival collection of thousands of African American video oral histories. By recording the stories of both the well-known and unsung African Americans from diverse backgrounds, The HistoryMakers seeks to preserve and elevate the cultural equity of the African American community to the level of its historical record, as well as to increase the cultural understanding of present and future generations.

Americans and the world are historically ignorant of the contributions that African Americans have made, both in the United States and internationally. This has had an insidious effect on African Americans and others, and will continue to do so if not abated, by harming our understanding of our own history and our chance to humanize and broaden it. Unfortunately, many of the contributions and accomplishments of the African American community have largely been untold and unrecorded. They are “America’s Missing Stories.”  The HistoryMakers was born out of a need to correct this trend, and to give these wonderfully rich stories their rightful place in the American lexicon.

Our mission is to document, preserve, and make widely accessible, the oral history interviews of thousands of African Americans, and to establish an online database that will educate and show the breadth and depth of the accomplishments of individual African Americans across a variety of disciplines.

Our goal is to bring African American history into the mainstream – by acknowledging and celebrating those who have made significant contributions to American society. The HistoryMakers seeks to educate the world about the struggles, determination and achievements of African American life, history and culture, and to help form a more complete, and more inclusive, record of American history.

The collection is intended for a wide array of users – from youth, to adults, to institutions. Youth, especially underserved youth, benefit greatly from exposure to the role models and the stories of success that have been recorded. Adults, many of whom seek a better understanding of our society and of the role of African Americans in history, gain the ability to also influence and educate youth, colleagues, friends, and family with their knowledge. Institutions, including K-12 schools, colleges and universities, community organizations, corporations, the media, and the general public, are all users of The HistoryMakers content.

No, not in the way that The HistoryMakers has done. During the 1930’s the Works Progress Administration recorded the stories of over 2,300 former slaves in what came to be known as the WPA Slave Narratives. However, since that time there has not been any methodic, wide-scale attempt to capture the testimonies of the Black experience after slavery. Of the oral histories that do exist, access is extremely limited and consists largely of transcribed, audiocassette interviews that are ill-suited for easy transfer to today’s media formats. The HistoryMakers’ collection is unique because it combines traditional videotaped oral histories with state of the art technology.

No other African American video oral history project exists with the envisioned breadth and scope of The HistoryMakers. Of the more than 3,000 HistoryMakers interviewed for the collection, almost 700 have passed away, and the majority of them have no other extensive record of their family background, life, history, and contributions, or have never written an autobiography or had a biography written on them. Often, The HistoryMakers interview stands as their only archival record. As time moves forward and we lose more of this history, our understanding of the 20th and now 21st centuries could become increasingly fractured and forgotten. The HistoryMakers is seeking to preserve these “living libraries” for generations to come.

A HistoryMaker is an African American by descent, who has made a significant contribution in some area of American life or culture, or who has been associated with a particular movement or organization that is important to the African American community. Our HistoryMakers come from all walks of life and disciplines including: Art, Business, Civics, Education, Entertainment, Law, Media, Medicine, Military, Music, Politics, Religion, Science, Sports and Style.

We prioritize HistoryMakers based on their age and their accomplishments. Experts in certain areas, nominations and referrals have helped create a list of potential interviewees. Recommendations are also welcomed through The HistoryMakers website (https://devwww.thehistorymakers.org/nominate-a-historymaker). In some cases, we have assembled topic-focused or regional advisory boards as a way to source potential interviewees. 

For more information on The HistoryMakers interview and archival processes, see What We Do.

The first hand recounting of memories by living people about events or social conditions which they experienced in their earlier lives, taped and preserved as historical evidence. The HistoryMakers oral history interviews are well-researched, setting them apart from other oral history projects like StoryCorps. Before an interview is conducted, an extensive outline on the interviewee’s life is developed, with an emphasis on placing the subject’s life within a larger historical context.

The HistoryMakers has recorded more than 3,000 videotaped interviews, all of which have been digitized. This represents nearly 10,000 hours of videotaped interviews. In addition, 80 special events have been recorded, and more than 3,000 online biographies are featured on the website. 

The costs to produce each state-of-the art oral history interview averages $6,000 per interview.

For more information on The HistoryMakers interview and archival processes, see What We Do.

Once a HistoryMaker has been identified, nominated, or referred for inclusion in The HistoryMakers collection, the interview progresses through four distinct stages: scheduling, researching, taping, and archiving. The scheduling process involves contacting the interviewee and arranging for the interview. Our research process involves the creation of an extensive biographical outline that averages 10-3- pages in length, based on biographical and historical research. The interview is then taped by the interview team – one videographer and one interviewer – on site in the interviewee’s home or office, and sent for professional transcription after the interview is completed. Then, the interview is encoded, digitized, migrated, audit-edited and processed for inclusion in The HistoryMakers Digital Archive.

For more information on The HistoryMakers interview and archival processes, see What We Do.   

Once the interview is complete it is transferred to the production staff for digitization and migration. The archival staff creates both access and preservation files of the interview in various formats (.mp4, .flv, MPEG, QuickTime), as well as supervises the migration of the footage from one format to another. Redundant copies of the footage are stored both at The HistoryMakers and the Library of Congress – The HistoryMakers permanent repository. After the interview is digitized, each interviewee is sent a DVD copy of his/her interview.

For more information on The HistoryMakers interview and archival processes, see What We Do.

The collection is intended for a wide array of users – from youth, to adults, to institutions. Youth, especially underserved youth, benefit greatly from exposure to the role models and the stories of success that have been recorded. Adults, many of whom seek a better understanding of our society and of the role of African Americans in history, gain the ability to also influence and educate youth, colleagues, friends, and family with their knowledge. Institutions, including K-12 schools, colleges and universities, community organizations, corporations, the media, and the general public, are all users of The HistoryMakers content.

Our users are worldwide and varied.

They represent 51 countries

85% have college degrees

57% are female

Race: 58%: African American; 31%: Caucasian; 3%: Asian; 2%: American Indian; 2%: Latino

Age: 22%: 50-59 years old; 19%: 40-49 years old; 15%: 30-39 years old; 7%: 25-29 years old; 9%: 20-24 years old; 11%: 15-19 years old and, 1%: under the age of 14 years old.

In K-12 schools, The HistoryMakers has partnered with schools across the country to send our HistoryMakers “Back To School” in their communities, to tell their stories to today’s students. Through exposure to their successes and achievements we provide opportunities for young people to learn from, and be inspired by, strong African American role models. This program is held on the last Friday in September of each year in over 200 schools across the nation. In addition, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive Competition allows students and teachers alike to delve more deeply into the content available in The HistoryMakers Digital Archive by incorporating the resource into their lesson plans and instruction.

In colleges and universities, The HistoryMakers has established a Higher Education Advisory Board consisting of faculty, administrators, and librarians from each of the more than fifty institutions that subscribe to The HistoryMakers Digital Archive, with committees organized around: 1) Teaching & Learning; 2) Digital Humanities; and 3) Library & Archives.

In addition, The HistoryMakers offers fellowships for faculty and students interested in using The HistoryMakers collection and The HistoryMakers Digital Archive in original research or projects. Three awards are available in 2019 and in 2020, at the following levels and subject areas:

1. Academic Research - $7,500 (open to faculty or currently enrolled graduate students who have passed their general examinations)

2, Digital Humanities - $5,000 (open to all faculty or currently enrolled students)

3. Creative Study - $5,000 (open to all faculty or currently enrolled students)

The HistoryMakers Digital Archive has already been used in classroom instruction, research, academic publishing, and even unique applications like: teaching dialects for theatrical productions; examining policing in America; identity formation; and exploring career paths.    

 

For more information on The HistoryMakers educational initiatives, see Education.

Donate, Volunteer, Nominate, and Sponsor. Individual and corporate support is critical to our continued success. The easiest way to get involved is by becoming a member, we have 3 levels of membership, with each providing access to some or all of our content.

For more information on how to support The HistoryMakers, see Get Involved.

The HistoryMakers plans to produce content out of its archives, in order to further contextualize and highlight the achievements of African Americans in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The HistoryMakers headquarters are located in Chicago’s South Loop. By appointment, The HistoryMakers will provide tours for small groups (up to 20 participants). Please feel free to contact The HistoryMakers at info@thehistorymakers.org to request and schedule a tour for your group.

There are two places to view and access the content in The HistoryMakers Archives:

1. Online, through a paid subscription to The HistoryMakers Digital Archive (https://devwww.thehistorymakers.org/become-a-member). Over 3,000 HistoryMaker biographies and sample clips are available on The HistoryMakers website. In addition, DigitalMakers ($30/Month Paid Subscribers) are also able to access the entirety of The HistoryMakers Digital Archive.

2. In the Moving Image Research Center of the Library of Congress’ James Madison Building in downtown Washington, D.C.

Moving Image Research Center

101 Independence Ave. SE

James Madison Building, LM 336

Washington, D.C. 20540-4690

(202) 707-8572 | mpref@loc.gov

Hours: Weekdays, 8:30am to 5:00pm | Closed Weekends & Federal Holidays

 

For more information on subscription rates for The HistoryMakers Digital Archive, see Become a Member.

The HistoryMakers has developed a number of major partnerships that have sustained the organization, and propelled it forward, including:

1. PBS. The HistoryMakers An Evening With… PBS series airs nationally each year. An Evening With… explores the fascinating lives of some of America’s most beloved public figures in an intimate one-on-one format, taped in front of a live audience.

2. The Library of Congress. In 2014, the Library of Congress became The HistoryMakers permanent repository – where all of the interviews recorded for The HistoryMakers Collection are housed and preserved. All of The HistoryMakers content is stored at the Library of Congress’ Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation, but is made available to view in the Moving Image Research Center of the Library of Congress’ James Madison Building in downtown Washington, D.C.

3. Carnegie Mellon University. Carnegie Mellon University’s Informedia Digital Video Library project served as the basis for the development of The HistoryMakers Digital Archive, and the university has been a significant contribute to the creation of the resource. The first collaboration between The HistoryMakers and Informedia was made possible through an Institute of Museum and Library Services Grant starting in 2003, and since that time the project development team, now housed in the university’s Entertainment Technology Center, has worked closely with The HistoryMakers – largely without funding. The HistoryMakers has also formed additional academic partnerships with over fifty academic and research libraries across the country to distribute and strengthen its content.