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UMass wins grant to digitize the ‘war experience’

(Jessica Picard/ Daily Collegian)

The Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) department of the University of Massachusetts Libraries was awarded the $7,500 Preservation Grant for Veterans’ Collections, Sites and Memorials for its project, “Digitizing the War Experience” by the Massachusetts State Historical Records Advisory Board.  According to UMass News & Media Relations, the grant funds will be matched in kind by the UMass Libraries.

“We are just in the beginning phase, with five UMass Amherst undergraduates starting to scan mainly (at this point) letters, photographs and ephemera from a variety of collections relating to the major wars of the mid-twentieth century,” Caroline White, a SCUA archivist overseeing the project, said.

Robert Cox, the Head of Special Collections at the UMass Libraries, said that the grant was drafted “to make use of funds that were appropriated by the state to preserve materials relating to veterans.”

“Some of the funds have gone toward preservation of veterans’ memorials and similar brick-and-mortar projects, but we were among a handful of applicants who proposed using funds to process and digitize archival collections relating to veterans’ experiences,” Cox said.

The “Digitizing the War Experience” project will focus on unique historical material in SCUA’s collections created by and about members of the military service and those on the homefront. The major wars the project will focus on are World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

“The project gives us an opportunity to focus on the particular theme of veterans and experiences of wartime as we increase the holdings in Credo, SCUA’s online digital repository,” White commented.

The approximately 4,000 digital objects will be available in Credo by the end of the 2017-18 academic year.

“Most of the collections, though not all, involve people connected to UMass, either as alumni or as faculty, administration, staff,” White added.

Collections include the papers of Joseph Langland, a poet and former UMass English professor. Langland served in the European theater of World War II, and was involved in the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp. He was active in the early years of the Massachusetts Review and became founder the university’s Museum of Fine Arts’ Program for poets and writers.

Another featured collection from the World War II era being included in the project is the papers of alumna and faculty member Maida Riggs, who documented her work with the Red Cross in letters and photographs, and also conducted research in American frontier history. The Riggs Papers chronicle the World War II era, both in America and Europe, and present an engrossing study of the American frontier.

“We have a terrific group of students from a range of majors doing the scanning, and it’s great to be able to introduce them to archives while they do very valuable work to increase the accessibility of archival collections,” White said.

“The letters and documents – the stories – are important parts of history and it is our responsibility to preserve and share them,” Cox said.  “I am really grateful that the legislature decided to include the funding in their budget. A little goes a very long way to keeping the memories alive.”

Katherine Esten can be reached at kesten@umass.edu.

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