Special Collections and University Archives Wins Preservation Grant to Digitize War-Related Materials

Photo from the Maida L. Riggs Collection
Photo from the Maida L. Riggs Collection

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

The “Digitizing the War Experience” project will expand access to unique historical material in SCUA’s collections created by and about members of the military service and those on the homefront. Over the past several years, SCUA has received a number of collections of personal and family papers that include noteworthy content relating to military and wartime experiences. These collections intersect in revealing ways with SCUA’s major collecting areas—UMass Amherst, New England histories and cultures, innovation and entrepreneurship, and social change—and highlight some of the 20th century’s momentous historic events through the perspectives of individuals who took part in them.

In keeping with SCUA’s mission to preserve history and inspire discovery by making historical material accessible, the goal of this project is to digitize and describe materials from more than a dozen of SCUA’s collections that contain significant content related to the major American wars of the 20th century. The digitized items, including letters, photographs, and memorabilia, will be freely available on the web in SCUA’s online repository, Credo.

Among other collections identified for digitization in this project is a quartet from World War II: the papers of Englsih professor and poet Joseph Langland, who served in the European theater and was involved in liberating the Buchenwald concentration camp; alumna and faculty member Maida Riggs, who documented her work with the Red Cross in letters and photographs; Mary Lauman, whose letters reflect on her service as a female marine; and Springfield native Herman B. Nash, whose radical political views were shaped by his military service. The project will address other experiences of war as well, including the post war occupations of Japan and Germany, Japanese-American relations, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and will include important publications and photographs from the early years of the International Center for the Disabled, which was established in 1917 to help wounded World War I veterans through vocational rehabilitation.

Staff members from SCUA will begin preparing for the project in the late summer by selecting materials to be digitized. “Digitizing the War Experience” will start during the fall. The approximately 4,000 digital objects will be available in Credo by the end of the 2017-18 academic year.