Library exhibit marks 15th anniversary of Black Metropolis Research Consortium

New online exhibit highlights UChicago-based research consortium focused on Black history

How can we connect all who seek to document, share, understand and preserve Black experiences? Making these connections is the mission of the Black Metropolis Research Consortium.

Now, in celebration of its 15th anniversary, the University of Chicago Library has launched a new web exhibit exploring the history of the consortium. The exhibit highlights the BMRC’s contributions to the processing and organizing of Black historical collections, as well as the work produced by the consortium’s fellows—from books to music to photography exhibitions.

The BMRC was founded at the University of Chicago, which serves as the consortium’s host institution. The consortium aids in expanding access to its members’ holdings of materials that document African American and African diasporic history, politics and culture, with a specific focus on materials relating to Chicago. Members of this intellectual community include universities, libraries, museums, community, arts-based and government archives.

In 2003, faculty members at the University started discussing and devising ways to address a common problem: difficulty accessing African American archival materials in Chicago that were essential to their research. Among these faculty were then-UChicago faculty members Danielle Allen—a professor in Classics—and Jacqueline Goldsby, a professor in English Language and Literature and in the College.

Over the next three years, a series of meetings took place between UChicago faculty and archivists from area institutions with significant African American holdings, including the Chicago Public Library’s Vivian Harsh Research Collection, the DuSable Museum of African American History and Columbia College Chicago’s Center for Black Music Research. An active collaboration among institutions, archivists and researchers was formed to discuss the many factors that hindered accessibility to the collections.

The Black Metropolis Research Consortium was one of several multi-institution archival initiatives that emerged from these discussions, along with Mapping the Stacks—which seeks to organized uncatalogued archival collections that chronicle Black Chicago between the the 1930s and 1970s—and the Uncovering Chicago Archives Project (UNCAP), which provides open public access to online resources.

The BMRC was initiated in the spring of 2006 at a meeting of chief executives and representatives from 15 Chicago area institutions who supported the formation of a collaborative effort to make African Americanist collections more broadly accessible to researchers. The meeting was led by Allen, who at the time was also the dean of the Division of Humanities at the University of Chicago.

The BMRC was formally launched on July 1, 2006. The new UChicago Library web exhibit documents the origins of the BMRC, its efforts to aid discoverability and access to Black historical collections, and the consortium’s flagship summer short-term fellowship for scholars, artists, writers and public historians and Archie Motley Archival Internship for students.

The exhibit is curated by BMRC executive director Marcia Walker-McWilliams, PhD’12.

—Adapted from a story first published by the UChicago Library.