The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) today announced the launch of the Helen Keller Archive, the world’s first fully accessible digital archive collection, comprising more than 160,000 artifacts, dedicated to the fascinating life of Helen Keller.
The Helen Keller Archive is the largest repository of historical content about Helen Keller, whose iconic name is known in every corner of the globe for her groundbreaking work as an author, political activist, and humanitarian who played a critical role in changing public perceptions about people with disabilities.
The Archive, available at afb.org/HelenKellerArchive, was made possible thanks to Keller’s close relationship with AFB, where she worked for 44 years. At the time of her death, she bequeathed all of her belongings, including gifts from around the world, to AFB to create the Archive. Due to their fragility, many of these items were unavailable to the public until now. This momentous online project, generously supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and American Express, is also the first of its kind to be fully accessible to blind, deaf, hard-of-hearing, low vision, and deafblind audiences.
The digitized Helen Keller Archive presents an opportunity to encounter this renowned historical figure in a new, dynamic, and exciting way. For example, despite her fame, relatively few people know that Helen Keller wrote 14 books as well as hundreds of essays and articles on a broad array of subjects ranging from animals and atomic energy to Mahatma Gandhi. The Archive’s vast treasure trove of artifacts about Helen Keller includes personal letters, speeches, press clippings, scrapbooks, photographs, photograph albums, oversize materials, architectural drawings, and audio-visual materials.
“Keller was both a product of her environment and a driving force upon it, and few archival collections have the potential of providing historians with so rich a source of information on the history and direction of the United States, and indeed on attitudes to those with disabilities around the globe,” said Helen Selsdon, AFB Archivist. “Knowing this, AFB recognized the importance of disseminating this amazing resource that was both underutilized and difficult to access. Digitization was the way to achieve this goal.”
Kirk Adams, President and CEO of AFB, agrees.
“Beyond the historical value of the collection to a broad audience ranging from scholars to school children, The Helen Keller Archive represents a powerful vehicle for continuing the work begun by Keller and AFB to build a more inclusive world,” Adams said. “Harnessing the power of the collection, we can inspire educators, employers, and the public to see beyond a person’s disabilities to a more equitable society. This digitization project also presented a fantastic opportunity to show the importance of making digital collections accessible to all users.”
“Helen Keller is one of our nation’s most inspiring figures,” said NEH Senior Deputy Chairman Jon Parrish Peede. “The National Endowment for the Humanities is proud to support efforts to put this valuable archive online so that the records of the life, writing, and achievements of this iconic American are accessible to all.”
“American Express has long-believed that by preserving the lessons of the past, we can inspire a more promising future,” said Timothy J. McClimon, President of the American Express Foundation. “By sharing Helen Keller’s miraculous story in a modern and dynamic way, we hope to inspire a new generation to fight for a society where everyone’s potential is realized and nurtured.”
Fully digitizing the Helen Keller Archive is a massive, ongoing process. Please consider a donation to help preserve this national treasure.