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Title: Columbia River Basin Ethnic History Project The River Basin
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CRBEHA Project Background
CRBEHA Project Focus
CRBEHA Web Site Sections

 


 

CRBEHA Project Background

Welcome to the Columbia River Basin Ethnic History Archive (CRBEHA), a project of Washington State University Vancouver, the Idaho State Historical Society, Oregon Historical Society, Washington State Historical Society, and Washington State University Pullman. Funded by a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (2002-2004), the collaborative project sought to create a database with thematic coherence that would engage online researchers in thinking more deeply about the significance of the rich primary resources available in museums, libraries, and historical societies. We also hoped the project would serve as a model for other institutions that wanted to share collections and stimulate public interest in and use of those collections.

The 1,200-mile long Columbia River drains a 259,000-square-mile basin that includes territory in seven states (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming, and Utah) and one Canadian province. The Columbia River Basin hosts the five institutions involved in this project and a variety of people who have migrated to this part of the Pacific Northwest over the past two hundred years.

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CRBEHA Project Focus

The story of the region’s ethnic groups has been relatively hidden, and museums, libraries, and scholars have only just begun to gather the records, images, recollections, and artifacts of these groups and to write about their histories. The CRBEHA brings together selected highlights of the ethnic collections from leading repositories in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. In addition to the digital archive, CRBEHA provides tutorials on how to research and interpret library and museum resources, and encourages public dialogue about ethnic history sources and issues in its online discussion forum. We hope that this initial effort to survey and feature collection strengths will stimulate the documentation and preservation of ethnic materials and foster a greater interest in the history and cultures of the peoples of the region.

“Ethnicity” is a fluid term that refers to one’s self-identity or association with a particular group of people who often share a common language, history, place of origin, religion, and/or customs. Ethnic identity changes from place to place and over time. Ethnic groups do not have monolithic histories but rather include a diverse range of experiences based on economic and social class, gender, race, region, age, and national legislation. Even naming an ethnic group can be problematic, since diverse members of a group often contest names applied by other members, the government, or the larger society. For purposes of this project, we have selected terms that emphasize current scholarship, place of origin or heritage, and American roots: “German Americans,” “Mexican Americans,” “Chinese Americans,” and so on.

Users of CRBEHA may wonder why Native Americans, so central to the history of the region, are not included in the collection. Early on we recognized the important work by several regional archives, such as the University of Washington, to digitize their considerable collections on American Indians. Links to some of these important resources are provided in the Browse the Archive section. CRBEHA focuses on relatively recent migrants to the region--people identified as having African, Asian, European, or Latin American heritage—whose archival documentation is less extensive.

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CRBEHA Web Site Sections

The web site is divided into four sections. Part I introduces users to the web site, a map of the region, the project partners and work team, and additional resources about Pacific Northwest ethnic history. Part II Browse the Archive takes users to the database, where selected documents, reports, records, maps, photographs, newspapers, artifacts, and oral history interviews are cataloged on CONTENT software. You may search the collection by keyword, ethnic group, institution, material type, date, or subject. Also in this section are brief historical overviews and bibliographies for each ethnic group profiled.

In the third section, Tutorials and Lesson Plans, users are introduced to methods for finding, interpreting, and teaching about primary sources found in the database. The tutorials provide online researchers the tools necessary to become their own historians. And finally, Part IV the Discussion Forum provides teachers, students, and the general public a place to talk about exciting discoveries made or dilemmas posed by items in the archive. Here we hope to launch stimulating discussions about various ethnic groups, ethnic identities and race relations, work and labor, immigration and migration, discrimination and civil rights, and family life, religion, and social customs.

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Laurie Mercier and Leslie Wykoff
Project Co-Directors
lmercier@vancouver.wsu.edu
lwykoff@vancouver.wsu.edu


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