Archives Receives Grant to Digitize CCI Records

The NMU and Central Upper Peninsula Archives has received a $69,000 grant to three sets of historical documents from Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Mining Company. The material covers mining, land use, lumbering and labor activity in the upper Great Lakes region during the major industrialization period of 1890-1960.

“For archivists, this funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission is the equivalent of a National Science Foundation grant,” said Marcus Robyns (Archives, pictured at the digitization station). “It’s a very competitive process. They receive hundreds of applications.”

In the early 20th century, CCI purchased the Jackson Iron Mining Company, whose holdings included facilities at what is now Fayette Historic State Park. When the land was sold to the State of Michigan in the 1950s to create the park, about 1,200 cubic feet of company historical records that had been abandoned in buildings on site was sent to the state archives in Lansing.

“When I first arrived at NMU and began to study the region, I realized we had absolutely no historical documentation of iron mining,” Robyns said. “This was unbelievable to me. Later I traveled to the state archives to introduce myself and, during a tour of the facility, looked to my left and saw 12-foot stacks of CCI records. They weren’t being used so I spent five years negotiating for their transfer to NMU. They were shipped up in 2002.”

The digitization project will put 70,000 items online, including correspondence, maps and reports. Robyns said it is not intended to replace the original records—those will still be preserved—but rather provide scholars, students and the general public efficient access to the documents from anywhere in the world.

Robyns is the project director. The grant will enable him to purchase equipment and hire a project archivist, who will supervise two student assistants. Others involved in the award and their areas of expertise are:  John Anderton (Geography), history of land use; Krista Clumpner (Library), technical aspects of digitizing records; and Terry Reynolds of Michigan Tech University,  a recognized authority on iron mining history.

“To get the grant, we had to demonstrate the national significance of this project,” Robyns added. “We made the case of iron mining’s impact on immigration, labor issues and industrial development in the United States. There was also the societal impact of the corporate welfare programs implemented by CCI, particularly, in the planning and creation of Gwinn. CCI set up housing, community centers, pension and safety programs—all designed to create a stable workforce with less turnover and unrest.

“Our research and grants office has been terrific. This is the third major grant I’ve received here. The staff cuts through all the procedural aspects so you can focus on the grant itself.”

The year-long project will begin in April.


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Updated: January 14, 2010

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