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

December 14, 2017
People sitting down in a gym at a common heritage event
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Northwestern University and the American Indian Center of Chicago will conduct community digitization events with a Common Heritage grant in 2018. Here, participants in a community event at the American Indian Center of Chicago.

Photo by Adam Sings In The Timber.

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.

Montana Picnic
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The Montana Historical Society will sponsor digitization days in eastern Montana with the support of a Common Heritage grant in 2018. Here, a 1921 photograph shows a group picnicking at Cross S Ranch in eastern Montana.

Image courtesy Montana Historical Society Research Center Photograph Archives, Helena, MT.

Lake Michigan photo from Saugatuck-Douglas History Center.
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Grand Valley State University and the Saugatuck-Douglas History Center will hold digitization and outreach events in 2018 with the support of a Common Heritage award. This digitized snapshot of Oval Beach on Lake Michigan illustrates the types of documentation that may be digitized during the project.

Image courtesy of the Saugatuck-Douglas History Center.

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.

Black Women in Cinema festival brochure from Indianapolis Public, c. 1980
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The Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library system will hold events funded by a Common Heritage grant in 2018. Here a 1980s brochure advertises the film festival Black Women in the Cinema, sponsored by the library and now available via

Image courtesy of the Indianapolis Public Library Foundation.

Indianapolis Public Library
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The Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library Foundation will receive a Common Heritage grant in 2018.

Photo by Serge Melki.

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!

Polish Cookbook Cover Scan
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The Folklife Center at the Perkins Center for the Arts in New Jersey will preserve community collections with a Common Heritage grant in 2018. Here, a cookbook by Anna Felcyn of Williamstown, NJ, who arrived from Poland in 1967.

Photo by Karen Abdul-Malik.

Nancy Guinn Memorial Library, outside view, Conyers, Georgia.
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In Conyers, Georgia, the Conyers Rockdale Library System will hold community scanning days with the support of a 2018 Common Heritage grant. Events may be held at the Nancy Guinn Memorial Library (shown here).

Image courtesy Conyers Rockdale Library System.

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

Street signs in Clarksdale, Mississippi
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A grant to Florida Gulf Coast University will support archiving of local history materials in Clarksdale, Mississippi, to record a more complete historical record in the "birthplace of the blues."

Photo by Clay Motley.