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Common Heritage Update: NEH Continues Support for Community Archives in 2018

December 14, 2017 | By Jesse Johnston

NEH’s “Common Heritage” program supports community digitization and outreach events to increase public awareness and stewardship of heritage collections held by the public. America’s cultural heritage is preserved not only in libraries, museums, archives, and other community organizations, but also in all of our homes, family histories, and life stories. The Common Heritage program aims to capture this vitally important part of our country’s heritage and preserve it for future generations. This month, we were pleased to announce the next cohort of awardees, who will be coordinating public digitization events in their communities.

The twenty-three projects that recently received funding demonstrate a considerable breadth of focus and shed light on the variety and complexity of American culture. Several concentrate on the histories of African-American and Native-American communities. In Conyers, Georgia, for example, the Conyers Rockdale Library System (PY-258596-18) will partner with the Rockdale County Genealogical Society to hold a digitization event focused on items such as family trees, personal letters, award certificates, baptism certificates, and family bible pages. In addition to preserving these items, the project addresses an imbalance in the community’s archives, in which the area’s African American community is poorly represented. Similarly, the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage (PY-258684-18) will work with the Center for African American Heritage in West Louisville to digitize heritage materials from family collections elucidating the history of African Americans in the city. Meanwhile, the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library Foundation (PY-258627-18) in Indiana would work to digitize and preserve local history materials: events will reach the area’s African American community, which represents over a quarter of Indianapolis’s population, and highlight the city’s legacy of jazz and Negro League baseball.

Additional projects will focus on historical materials from Native American communities. In cooperation with Northwestern University, the American Indian Center of Chicago (PY-258677-18) would hold digitization events to collect local history materials and conduct a complementary public outreach symposium focused on Native American history in Chicago. And in northern California, Humboldt State University (PY-258644-18) would hold two digitization days and a public symposium to discuss Native American culture, land, and sovereignty.

Common Heritage address many other humanities topics as well. Three projects will focus on local music traditions, including hip hop in Boston (PY-258672-18), Chicago’s house music (PY-258704-18), and the diverse ethnic sounds and immigration-influenced dance musics of northern Wisconsin (PY-258633-18). In New Jersey, the Perkins Center for the Arts (PY-258723-18) will work with the Burlington County Library, the Gloucester County Library, and the Homestead Youth Association, to digitize items documenting the historical and cultural foodways of rural South Jersey. A grant to Florida Gulf Coast University (PY-258570-18) will support community-level work in Clarksdale, Mississippi—known as the "home of the blues"—to create opportunities for local residents to contribute to preserving their city's history through the digitizing and archiving of historical materials. Finally, the Montana Historical Society (PY-258638-18), will seek family recipes, cookbooks, photographs of celebrations, picnics and fairs, records of homemaker clubs, and artifacts related to food preservation and preparation, in order to preserve the rich legacies of agriculture, industry, and immigration that have shaped life in rural Richland and Roosevelt counties.

The range of community histories and breadth of thematic emphasis in these projects truly represents the Common Heritage program’s goal to preserve and understand America’s cultural mosaic in all of its detail. In all, we were pleased to announce support for twenty-three projects and over $250,000 in funds awarded. We look forward to learning more about the exciting historical materials that these projects bring to light!

For a complete listing of all awards announced in Common Heritage and NEH’s other programs, please see the full press release here.

Are you working on a project that might be eligible for support through a Common Heritage grant? NEH will post new guidelines for applications to the program in 2018, and applications will be due on May 31, 2018. Details will be posted on the Common Heritage page.

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