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Federal Cuts are About You and Me

2017 March 16
by Sheila

Photo of the Roosevelt Arch into Yellowstone National Park, taken in 2014

We all have connections to today’s release of the President’s proposed federal budget. We also know that there will be an intense period of negotiations between the House and Senate, and then with the White House. Nothing proposed is set in stone, so now is an excellent time to contact your Congressionals to voice your displeasure with the existing proposals.

There are many disturbing cuts on the table related to our ability as citizens to expect and demand clean water, safe and well-maintained roads and airways, free public education, programs that support the health and well being of the elderly and the poor, or access to national parks. Smithsonian Magazine highlighted a few major exhibitions (King Tut!) and initiatives you might not realize were funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, one of the agencies on the chopping block. Or, you may want to read Jason Rhody’s post about how the federal budget supports local libraries, arts organizations, and museums in your neighborhood.

logos of projects funded by the NEH

RRCHNM Projects Funded by the NEH

Sometimes it is difficult to see how small cuts out of a very large federal budget affect us individually. While I generally advocate for seeing the bigger picture, others have written eloquently about that. This quick post highlights some of the ways that I am personally impacted by, and connected to, some of these proposed cuts. You may be as well.


  • Did you attend public school? I did, K-12!
    • New budget: Shift $1.4 billion to voucher and “choice” programs that do no exist in many areas of the country. Southbury & Region 15 schools are great. I don’t want them to lose any money for options that do not exist in town.
  • How many were were able to afford college because of federal financial aid programs? I was! I qualified for subsidized student loans and the federal work study program.
    • New budget: “Significantly” reduces federal work-study aid to college students.
  • Do you like visiting national parks and historic sites? I do! They are already chronically underfunded, understaffed, and need of a boost of resources.
    • New budget: Eliminates funding for the 49 National Historic Sites, slashes the Department of Interior budget for National Parks.
  • Do you ever check out books at your public library, use their free services, or do genealogy research? Do ever visit a museum, or have your children recently been on a field trip? Listen to non-commercial radio like NPR? I do!
    • New budget: Eliminates agencies that provide major sources of funding for local libraries, museums, and public events sponsored by arts and cultural organizations in your town. If we do not speak up the following agencies will be zeroed out and eliminated:
      •  National Endowment for the Arts
      • National Endowment for the Humanities
      • Institute of Museum and Library Services
      • Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports public television and radio, including PBS and NPR
  • Do you have friends who may lose their jobs, because of these cuts? Yes, I do. My college roommate works for the Pennsylvania Sea Grant program, protecting fisheries, water safety, and healthy ecology for that area. Sea Grant is on the chopping block. Another college friend works for the Environmental Protection Agency. Multiple friends work at the NEH and IMLS.

    Logos of Projects Funded by IMLS

    RRCHNM Projects Funded by IMLS

  • Will I lose my job because of these cuts? Possibly, not immediately. My job is funded with “sponsored research funds” (not by George Mason University) that come from a matrix of grants and contracts, many of which are from federal sources that come directly to the Center to create and maintain *free* and accessible online resources, offer free professional development opportunities, engage public audiences with digital history projects, and to build & support open-source software (ie, free digital tools), many also involve collaborations with libraries, archives, and museums.
  • How will cuts to the US Coast Guard effect you? My husband is retiring from the USCG this May, but we still have friends whose jobs will be immeasurably harder if proposed cuts to the agency– that already does much more with way less– are approved.
  • {Added March 17, 2017}Do you have, or had in the past, an elderly relative or neighbor who wishes to remain in the home, living independently as long as possible? I have! My grandmother was able to live alone in her home until she was 99 years old, because of programs like Meals on Wheels. It is still unclear how these cuts will come, but with Health and Human Services losing their Community Development Block Grant program to states, (some fund programs like MOW and school lunches), plus an overall cuts to the agency that will substantially cut the Older Americans Act, a major funder of MOWs.

Even with my serious concerns, I remain optimistic that there are enough Representatives and Senators who are listening to their constituents’ calls, and that these cuts, particularly to food and nutrition programs, libraries, arts and cultural organizations, and national parks, will hit close to home. But, they need to hear from each of us.

Save the NEH and Save the IMLS petitions,



Using Omeka to Design Digital Art History Projects

2017 February 22
by Sheila

Using Omeka to Design Digital Art History Projects opening slideLast week at the College Art Association 2017 conference,  I chaired and presented at an Omeka-centered panel,  “Using Omeka to Design Digital Art History Projects.” The panel demonstrated how art historians, visual resource librarians, and material culturalists are designing digital art history projects with Omeka to teach threshold concepts in the field.

The panel comprised two members of the Omeka for Art Historians working group that I convened last year at CAA 2016, as an advisors for theme and plugin development geared to the needs of art historians and visual culturalists.

Katherina Fostano, Curator of Visual Resources, and Barbara E. Mundy, Professor of Art History, from Fordham University discussed their collaboration in teaching with Omeka and Neatline in art history classes, Image Mapping with Neatline for Class Projects. Kimon Keramidas, Associate Director and Clinical Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities, at New York University, presented on “Object-Oriented Pedagogy and Digital Storytelling: The Content Management System as Nonlinear Narrative Platform”

I am so impressed with the innovative pedagogy implemented at Fordham and NYU that Omeka has been able to facilitate.

I discussed the working group’s goals, workflows, and products. All of this work was funded by a small development grant awarded by the Getty Foundation, because it was a direct outcome of ideas that Kimon and I developed following his guest lecture to RRCHNM’s Doing Digital Art History summer institute in 2014.

Below are the slides from my talk:

A Case for Digital Collections

2017 February 22
by Sheila

Collections-coverA new article I wrote, “A Case for Digital Collections” appears in the newest issue of the journal Collections. It is part of a special issue co-edited by Lauren Tilton and Brent Rogers that drew directly from our working group that discussed the intersections and divergences of public history and digital history at the National Council on Public History conference in 2015.

My favorite line: “By only publishing collections online without offering better ways to connect those collections to the many stories they can tell, museums are in danger of replicating the exhibit cases of the 19th century.”

Check it out: “A Case for Digital Collections.” Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals 12, no. 4 (2016): 381-90.

It may not be available online yet, contact me if you’re interested in a pre-print.

Collecting Quickly Online, MARAC Fall 2016

2016 November 7
by Sheila

This Saturday, I had the pleasure of participating in a Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference Fall 2016 panel organized by Meg Hogan, Lead Archivist at the Rockefeller Archive Center, titled “Crowd Archiving: Working with the Public to Capture Event-Based Social Media Materials.” Together with Jessica Douglas, an archivist at the Maryland State Archives, and Ed Summers, University of Maryland, as facilitator, we discussed different ways and challenges of capturing and saving the digital conversations and records of contemporary events quickly before they disappear.

Below are my slides

Public, First in Debates in DH

2016 July 20
by Sheila

The revised version of my blog post, “The Public is Dead. Long Live the Public” from April 2015, appears in the 2016 edition of Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Matt Gold and Lauren Klein as “Public, First.”

Debates 2016 features long-form essays and shorter pieces in six sections: Histories and Futures; DH and Methods: DH and Practices; DH and Disciplines; DH and Critics; and a forum on text analysis at scale.

Read the full text if the excerpt below grabs your attention.

As a public historian who has practiced in both analog and digital modes, I am attuned to the articles in the Chronicle and conversations—on Twitter, at meetings, and at conferences—from traditional and alt-academics who see digital and online projects as a means for sharing academic research with “the general public.” Skeptics ask why academics have lost their publics, while proponents point to popular digital humanities projects (Bender). It is important to recognize that projects and research may be available online, but that status does not inherently make the work digital public humanities or public digital humanities.Public history and humanities practices—in either digital or analog forms—place communities, or other public audiences, at their core.

Digital humanities scholars and practitioners are defined by the digital, which makes the difference in their humanities scholarship. Public historians and public humanities scholars are defined by the “public,” even when definitions of these practices are contested (National Council on Public History; Lubar). Suzanne Fischer offers a useful way of describing public history as “cracking open history as a democratic project, and doing it transparently, in public.” She also suggests that while public historians work with specific audiences on projects, they also have “a duty to serve particular communities” (“On the Vocation of Public History”). Public digital humanities, then, should be identified by the ways that it engages with communities outside of the academy as a means for doing digital humanities scholarship.

A Liberian Journey Launches

2016 March 23
by Sheila

I am very proud to announce the official launch of a project that has been in the works since 2013,  A Liberian Journey: History, Memory, and the Making of a Nation <>.

The project was developed in partnership with the Liberian Center for National Documents and Records Agency (CNDRA), the Indiana University Liberian Collections, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with generous support from the National Science Foundation.

This new digital public history site is meant to inform, raise questions, and invite stories about a transformational moment in Liberia’s past by making historical sources available for the first time in one place related to a 1926 Harvard scientific expedition to Liberia. The website features an exhibit on Chief Suah Koko, a noted woman leader in Liberia’s history; digital collections containing nearly 600 photographs, more than two hours of motion picture footage, oral histories, and documents linked to an interactive map. This effort marks the beginning of a recollection of Liberia’s lost history and for CNDRA represents a very important step in reawakening the Liberia national consciousness.

The project officially launched in Monrovia at a ceremony on Monday, March 21 with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in attendance, together with members of her cabinet and the Liberian legislature. How often does a head of state attend the launching of a digital history project?

Liberian President attends opening ceremonies

Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, attends launch ceremony at CNDRA.

In 1926, Firestone Tire and Rubber Company secured a ninety-nine year lease for nearly one million acres of land from the Liberian government to establish one of the world’s largest rubber plantations. To help the company understand the conditions and challenges it faced, Firestone sponsored a team of Harvard University scientists and physicians to conduct a four-month-long biological and medical survey. Loring Whitman, a Harvard medical student, served as the expedition’s official photographer, and his work includes the earliest known surviving motion picture footage of Liberia.

The moving images and still photographs are products of the American scientists and represent an early 20th Century colonial world view. At the same time, the footage and photographs offer a valuable historical record of the peoples, cultural traditions, and landscapes of Liberia at a time of rapid economic, cultural, and environmental change. Through this site, the project team offers these historical sources for reinterpretation and contextualization, and seeks multiple perspectives on the past by inviting Liberians to participate as content creators and historians of their lives.

A Liberian Journey homepage

This collaboration was always virtual, which is always challenging.
I worked closely with Web Developer and Designer, Ken Albers,  at RRCHNM and collaborated with the team for nearly three years over Skype, email, and phone calls to develop this digital public history and community-sourcing site that worked best for our primary audience in Liberia.

The site is designed minimally for mobile devices first, in the Omeka platform, to ensure that anyone can access the site especially in areas with limited internet connectivity. A Liberian Journey adds to the Center’s portfolio of global digital humanities projects.

Due to the Ebola crisis in 2014-15, we scaled back on developing multiple exhibits, since we planned for that to be a collaborative effort with our colleagues at CNDRA who were not able to work during that time. In the coming months, CNDRA will invite individuals to share meaningful stories and images about Liberia’s past. Additional online exhibits will combine community contributions with the Firestone expedition sources to give voice, meaning, and historical context to the lives, cultures, and histories of the Liberian people.