Federal Funding Impact Story #8

Project: The Cybernetics Thought Collective: A History of Science and Technology Portal Project

Granting Agency: National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
Grant Program:  Humanities Collections and Reference Resources
Institutions: University of Illinois Archives, British Library, American Philosophical Society, and MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections
State: Illinois
Congressional District: 13th Illinois Congressional District
Grant Period: May 2017-2018
Award Amount: $49, 973
Institutional Match Amount: $34,976

Jobs Created:
– 1 PTE 20 hr/week position for 6 months
– 1 PTE for 20 hr/week position for 10 months.

Project Description
University of Illinois Archives, British Library, American Philosophical Society, and MIT Institute Archives & Special Collections have been awarded a grant from the NEH to develop a prototype web-portal and analysis-engine to provide access to archival material related to the development of the iconic, multi-disciplinary field of cybernetics. The grant is part of the NEH’s Humanities Collections and Reference Resources Foundations program.

“The Cybernetics Thought Collective: A History of Science and Technology Portal Project,” is a collaborative effort among four institutions that maintain archival records vital to the exploration of cybernetic history. In addition to supporting the development of a web-portal and analysis-engine, the award will enable the multi-institutional team to begin digitizing some of the archival records related to the pioneering work of U of I Electrical Engineering professors Heinz von Foerster and W. Ross Ashby, neurophysiologist Warren S. McCulloch, and mathematician Norbert Wiener.

What was the need for the grant?
The participating institutions sought federal grant funds in order to unite the personal archives of Heinz von Foerster, W. Ross Ashby, Warren S. McCulloch, and Norbert Wiener in a digital platform and thus create broader access for an international community of scholars studying the history and legacy of cybernetics.

Cybernetics, the science of communication and control systems, is generally regarded as one of the most influential scientific movements of the 20th century. At a time when postwar science had become highly compartmentalized, cybernetics epitomized the interdisciplinarity that has become emblematic of innovative research in the modern era. This project will provide greater access to the archival materials that document the rich and complex history of the “thought collective”—the scientific community of individuals exchanging thoughts and ideas about cybernetics.

What has been the primary impact of this project?
This project will draw greater visibility to the holdings of the four participating institutions. Cybernetics has influenced the development of a variety of disciplines, such as cognitive science, artificial intelligence, and computer science; being able to create broader access to archival materials that document this foundational multi-disciplinary movement will enable scholars to better study the evolution of these disciplines. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in particular, the project has spurred local interest and related initiatives to investigate the ways in which the Midwest, and central Illinois in particular, have contributed to the modern technological era.

Nationally and internationally, the project enables the four institutions to form a partnership that unites related archival material that is geographically dispersed. We hope creating online access to these digitized materials will make them more accessible to scholars who aren’t able to travel to the repositories where these materials are held.

NEH funding for this project will enable the four institutions to digitize and create access to approximately 20 cubic feet of archival material initially. The project team will use the results from the prototype analysis-engine and prototype portal development to inform future work and hopefully a second phase of the project that includes other repositories with related archival material.

Submission by: Bethany Anderson, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Federal Funding Impact Story #7

Project: Finding Common Ground: Cooperative Training for the Cultural and Emergency Response Communities


Granting Agency: National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
Grant Program: Division of Preservation and Access, Education and Training
Institution: Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC)
State: Massachusetts
Congressional District: 8th Massachusetts Congressional District
Grant Period: January 1, 2017 – December 31, 2018
Award Amount: $196,696
Institutional Match Amount: $253,096

Jobs Created:
– Project Coordinator (1 FTE for 24 months)
– Will hire instructors from the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy (number and amount of time  has yet to be determined)

Project Description
Disasters can affect and disrupt people’s lives, severely impact continuity of functions at all levels of government, and jeopardize the very existence of our nation’s humanities collections, cultural institutions, and historic sites and properties. Until recently, there was little communication, cooperation, or collaboration between the cultural heritage community and the emergency responder community in addressing cultural heritage concerns both before and after disasters.

What do we mean by the emergency responder community? They include the fire department; the police/sheriff’s department; local, county, tribal, and state emergency management officials; emergency medical technicians; the local emergency planning committee; the public works department; the mayor or community administrator’s office; and even the National Guard and the Coast Guard. By bringing both communities together to learn from each other at the local level, we can effect the inclusion of cultural heritage in municipal risk assessment, mitigation planning, response to, and recovery from a disaster. It is time that both communities come together to recognize that once life safety has been addressed following a disaster, the health and welfare of a municipality depend on the recovery and vitality of all sectors of a community, including cultural heritage.

To address these issues at the local level and to serve as a pilot at the national level, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC), the state library agency – in partnership with COSTEP MA (Coordinated Statewide Emergency Preparedness in Massachusetts), the Massachusetts Archives, the New England Museum Association, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services (DFS) – proposes a two-year, statewide, preparedness-and-response training project for cultural heritage and emergency responder personnel. The training package developed will be shared nationally with other states’ fire service and cultural heritage institutions. The partners, working closely with the project director and coordinator, will adapt, create, and present a series of five workshops on the following topics: risk assessment and mitigation, disaster planning (in two parts), disaster response, and salvage. Each of the first three workshops will be presented five times at locations across the Commonwealth.  Due to the nature of the live fire demonstration and salvage exercises, the last two sessions will be held at the two Department of Fire Services campuses in eastern and western Massachusetts. A session on the basics of preservation will be offered in an asynchronous format for all participants to complete ahead of the in-person workshops.

NEH funds will be used to hire a project coordinator; adapt and develop course materials for both the face-to-face and online presentations; present the workshops; cover consultant fees, travel, and supplies; and develop and convene train-the-trainer sessions for instructors. These sessions will introduce potential instructors to the purpose – to develop the foundation for consistent message and high-quality training – the content, and the available tools for the full course.

What was the need for the grant?
We wanted to address the problem of cultural institutions being left out of responses following disasters. By obtaining federal funds we are able to work closely with the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy to coordinate training between the cultural heritage organizations and the firefighters in an 18-month training program that will enable people from both communities in the same municipality to train and work together. The eventual impact is better communication and protection for the cultural heritage organizations and the development of the workshops into an online course to be distributed nationally.

What has been the primary impact of this project?
Eventually, we hope that this will bring the cultural heritage community and the firefighting/emergency management communities together to protect our cultural and historic patrimony before, during, and after disasters. The aim is to involve at least 200 members of the two communities to work together throughout the course as trained in the five offerings of the first three workshops (risk assessment, disaster planning I and disaster planning II (tabletop exercises) and at the two final ones (a live burn and salvage).

Submission by: Gregor Trinkaus-Randall, Preservation Specialist, Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners

Federal Funding Impact Story #4

Project: Detroit Institute of Arts Archives Assessment


Detroit Museum of Art exhibition catalog, 1886.


Granting Agency: National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
Grant Program: Humanities Collections and Reference Resources
Institution: Detroit Institute of Arts
State: Michigan
Congressional District: 13th Michigan Congressional District
Grant Period: June 20, 2016-July 31, 2017
Award Amount: $40,000
Institutional Match Amount: $40,000

Jobs Created:
– 1 PTE 28 hr/wk position for 12 months
– 3 graduate students earning 3 credits each for 5 months of experience

Project Description
Assess and establish intellectual control over a collection of 11,000 linear feet of the museum’s administrative records, dating back to its founding, including 30 years of unprocessed artists’ correspondence, acquisition records, director’s files and curators’ exhibition papers.

What was the need for the grant?
Documents within the DIA’s Research Library and Archives detail pivotal moments in the City of Detroit’s history. Most recently, they described the DIA’s role in the resolution of the City of Detroit’s 2013 bankruptcy. It was the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in U.S. history both by debt, estimated at $18 billion, and by population, over 700,000 residents. At the time, the DIA was owned by the City of Detroit. It was also the city’s most valuable asset. Following the bankruptcy filing, creditors asked for the sale of DIA art. News agencies predicted the museum would close.

During bankruptcy proceedings, the DIA’s archival records helped save the museum. During the trial, over 180,000 DIA records were digitized for court proceedings. The documents showed that most of the museum’s most important works came from non-City of Detroit support. They were used extensively during the approval of a financial agreement that would come to be known as the “Grand Bargain.”

Unfortunately, like most of the DIA’s archival records, very few of the bankruptcy documents had previously been appraised, accessioned or processed. All such activities stopped thirty years ago, following severe museum-wide budget cuts and the dissolution of the DIA’s archival team. Therefore thirty years of records, including artist correspondence, directors and curators’ papers, and acquisition documents, have not received archival treatment. Many of the museum’s earlier documents, dating back to the late 19th century, have not been processed either.

Following Detroit’s bankruptcy and its resolution, the museum has better financial stability than at any other time in its modern history. With financial stability and a bankruptcy behind it, the DIA has resumed its commitment to its archival activities.

What has been the primary impact of this project?
The holdings survey was the key to understanding the unknowns of the materials currently held in RL&A. The museum is fully committed to making its archives more available and better organized for researchers. The Project Director and DIA Archivist are now able to better strategize future use of the DIA archives upon discovering its full contents. An immediate outcome of the holdings survey is improved access to collection, in particular, those that have been “hidden.” The collections-based reports can subsequently be translated into finding aids and catalog records for better access to the local, national, and international community.

The Project Team synthesized the results of the holdings survey with the input of the Advisory Team. The combined intelligence has been used to strengthen physical and intellectual control over the collection. The holdings survey provided the evidence needed to move forward with making sound decisions for improvements in description and access, prioritizing preservation needs, informing workflows, identifying issues we were not aware of, and plan for future projects (such as a future digitizing project).
Impact 3: To date, 164 collections (approximately 8,000 cases and 4,700 cubic feet) have been identified within the Library Stacks (the library’s book storage area) Archives Stacks, the DIA’s offsite Warehouse, and various other departments within the museum including AV offices and the Photography Department. Materials in each of these locations were inventoried and compiled into a single database for ready reference with rankings to reflect housing quality, physical quality, physical access, intellectual access, and intellectual value. These rankings are to inform and prioritize for future digitization efforts.

Submission by: Danae Dracht, Project Archivist, Detroit Institute of Arts
Image Source

Federal Funding Impact Story #3

Project: Documenting Modern Living

Splash Page 3

Alexander Girard textile design floor plan, ca. 1956, on the IMA Archives Digital Archives Portal landing page (archive.imamuseum.org)

Granting Agency: National Endowment for the Humanities
Grant Program: Preservation and Access: Humanities Collections and Reference Resources
Institution: Indianapolis Museum of Art
State: Indiana
Congressional District: Indiana US District 7
Grant Period: April 2012 – May 2015
Award Amount: $190,000
Institutional Match Amount: $221,000

Jobs Created:
The largest portion of the award received from NEH went to the hiring of two full time employees–one for 18 months, and the other for 24 months.

Project Description
Digitization of the Miller House and Garden Collection, and creation of a Digital Archives Portal for delivery of content.

What was the need for the grant?
The Miller House and Garden Collection documents the design, construction, decoration, and maintenance of the iconic mid-century modern property for over 50 years. When the house and garden were gifted to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, this important archival collection also came to the museum. To assist the IMA in successfully stewarding the home and the many collections materials that came along with it, increased access and better preservation of the archival collection were key. Digitization would solve both needs, and a grant would allow for the purchase of digitization equipment and the hiring of staff to undertake the years-long process.

What has been the primary impact of this project?
This project has allowed for unprecedented access to an important mid-century design collection that documents the legacies of Daniel Urban Kiley, Eero Saarinen, and Alexander Girard. The easy availability of this material has made it possible for the Indianapolis Museum of Art to present the story of the home to the Columbus and broader Indiana  and national communities at a level of detail and accuracy that would not have been possible without the grant award. Perhaps the greatest impact that this project has had is on the country’s future architects, as architecture students from around the country have requested the high-resolution images of the home and landscape architectural drawings to further their studies. Students of interior design have similarly benefited, and will continue to do so for many decades to come.

This grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities has also had a direct impact on the lives of the two full time, temporary employees hired with the grant funds. One has gone on to further the Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives as their archivist, and the other was offered a job at a high-profile design company immediately following the grant period as a result of their work on the Documenting Modern Living project.

Submission by: Samantha Norling, Archivist, Indianapolis Museum of Art

Federal Funding Impact Story #2

Project: Preservation at the Charleston County Records Center


Granting Agency: National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
Grant Program: Preservation Assistance Grants for Smaller Institutions
Institution: Charleston County Government
State: South Carolina
Congressional District: SC 1st Congressional District
Grant Period: January 2016 – June 2017
Award Amount: $6,000

Jobs Created:
1 contract consultant job created

Project Description
Preservation needs assessment conducted by a Lyrasis consultant, along with the purchase of preservation materials to rehouse archival collections.

What was the need for the grant?
Many of the oldest, most valuable records held at the Charleston County Records Center (CCRC) were in need of preservation. Federal grant funds from the NEH aided in beginning the process of developing a preservation program through the preservation needs assessment and provided funds for rehousing materials needed to adequately preserve archival records.

What has been the primary impact of this project?
The project impacted the local citizens of Charleston County by developing a plan to ensure their records and their ancestor’s records are in good condition and accessible in the future. At the national level, this project looked at how to ensure that historical records of research interest will be preserved for future research purposes. The grant also made it possible for CCRC to purchase 150 archival boxes to rehouse historic Clerk of Court records that date pre-1950.

Submission by: Haley Doty Vaden, Records Manager, Charleston County Government