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Immigration History Research Center

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News Release Jan. 25, 2001

Joel Wurl, Immigration History Research Center, (612) 625-4800,
Eugenia Smith, College of Liberal Arts, (612) 624-0812,

University of Minnesota’s Immigration History Research Center Honored with National Endowment for the Humanities Grant

The University of Minnesota has been awarded a $500,000 Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in support of the Immigration History Research Center (IHRC). The award is one of 26 challenge grants made nationwide by the NEH for the year 2000, including only eight to colleges and universities. The University received the maximum amount provided to award recipients in this year’s competition.

Funds from the grant will be used to enhance the work of the IHRC, regarded by many as the country’s leading institution for the preservation and promotion of the history of American immigration. In conveying the award to the University, NEH Chairman William Ferris remarked, “evaluators were impressed by the IHRC’s ability to sustain high quality in humanities programming and resources. In particular, they applauded the way in which the Center has brought humanities perspectives to social issues.”

The NEH Challenge Grant is a centerpiece of the IHRC’s endowment campaign, “Stories Worth Remembering, Stories Worth Telling.” The campaign seeks to provide permanent funding in four areas: 1) endowment of the Rudolph J. Vecoli Chair in Immigration History; 2) care and development of the archival collections; 3) research support; and 4) community outreach (including work with ethnic organizations and K-12 educators).

As a result of the challenge grant, contributions to the IHRC’s campaign for the next three years will be matched by federal dollars on a 4:1 basis (i.e., for every four dollars of private donations, the University will receive an additional $1 of matching money). The announcement of the challenge grant caps a momentous year for the IHRC, beginning with the move last February into its new award-winning facility, the Elmer L. Andersen Library. The IHRC’s “Documentation of the Immigrant Experience” was designated as an Official Project of Save America’s Treasures, a public-private partnership of the White House Millennium Council and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The IHRC was founded in 1965 in response to keen interest in the role of immigration in the making of America. Today the IHRC maintains a vast and diverse archive of documentation on various immigrant groups throughout the U.S. Included are diaries, memoirs, photographs, “America” letters, newspapers, pamphlets, organizational records, oral histories, and much more. The center also produces a wide array of programs and publications aimed at fostering greater understanding of the immigrant experience. “Because of the richness of its collections, its skilled and dedicated staff, and the intellectual ferment it nurtures, the center attracts researchers from all parts of the United States and abroad,” said University President Mark Yudof. Steven Rosenstone, dean of College of Liberal Arts, said, “The IHRC has for a long time been at the forefront of research on the dynamic heritage that has made this country what it is—a cultural and political mosaic created by people from every region of the world. As the nation rides the crest of another great wave of immigration, this grant makes an especially powerful statement about the current and future importance of that work.” The center’s work of documenting immigration history has been in partnership with the communities whose heritage it preserves. As IHRC friend and benefactor Alex Batinich noted, “People want to know where they come from. We’re doing this work so our history, our heritage, won’t be forgotten. It helps us understand our common bond.”

As large numbers of immigrants arrive from around the world, there are lessons to be found in the stories of those communities. Said Rudolph J. Vecoli, director of the IHRC since 1967 and the guiding force behind its many achievements, “If we look at our history, we can find answers to questions which will inform our current understanding.”

With the challenge grant multiplying private gifts, the IHRC is poised to play an even greater national leadership role in building public knowledge of immigration’s impact. “This is an exhilarating time for the center,” said Vecoli. “We are preserving a crucial chapter of the story of America just as that story is expanding and evolving all around us.”