What’s in Your District?

This post was written by one of our summer interns, Micah Khater, who is a rising junior at North Carolina State University. Her experience discovering NEH-funded projects that took place at her school may inspire others to see what the NEH has supported at their own colleges and universities.

On the first day of my internship at the NEH I was directed to the “Funded Projects” section on neh.gov. Here it is possible to search previous NEH grants by year, region, institution, or name. Naturally, as a curious undergraduate, I searched for my own university to see what kinds of grants we had been awarded. I learned that since the 1970s, the NEH has awarded 91 grants to North Carolina State University (NCSU)—a strong statement about the depth and breadth of our research and scholarship in the humanities.

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The Court of North Carolina at North Carolina State University, which is a central area on campus. Photo courtesy of ABC11 News.

More about My School

NCSU was founded in 1887 as a land-grant institution with a particular focus on agriculture and, later, engineering. Even though it is known primarily for its strength in STEM, NCSU is emblematic of a new trend in research—building strong universities in all disciplines. So while NCSU is ranked among the best schools for engineering, it can also boast excellent, research-driven programs in the humanities. The NEH has encouraged our interdisciplinary initiatives that propel research in the humanities.

NCSU: Technology and the Humanities

In particular, my school has received grants from the NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities (ODH). The ODH offers grant programs that fund projects designed to study digital culture and harness new technology for research in the humanities. Programs housed in this office range from Digital Humanities Implementation Grants to Institutes for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities. These grant programs may seem complicated, but essentially they support the intersection of digital tools and humanistic exploration.


Saint Paul’s Cross in England, photo courtesy of the Virtual Paul’s Cross Project, funded by an NEH Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant.

One project I found on neh.gov from 2011 serves as a perfect example.  The NEH granted NCSU a Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant to begin research to study acoustics for sermons at St. Paul’s Cross,England’s most important public pulpit in the early modern period. Using advanced modeling and acoustic algorithms, the Virtual St. Paul’s Cross Project (in which the School of Architecture collaborated) combined the humanities, technology, and design.

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A screen shot of the architectural model software used to study what a public Paul’s Cross sermon may have looked like in 17th-century England. Photo courtesy of the Virtual Paul’s Cross Project.

What Does This Mean For You?

The NEH supports interdisciplinary initiatives nationwide, and in my case the NEH has supported many in my own backyard. The NEH looks for excellence in research, scholarship, and public outreach in the humanities, whether at a land-grant university or a small liberal arts college.

If you are interested in the grants awarded to a particular university or college (like your alma mater), please visit https://securegrants.neh.gov/publicquery/main.aspx. And, of course, constituents in your district or state—beyond university faculty—may be eligible for grant opportunities provided by the NEH. To search for grant programs, please visit http://www.neh.gov/grants.

Technology and the Humanities: the Fort Vancouver Mobile App

The NEH Office of Digital Humanities is a pivotal supporter of projects that pair technology and the humanities. Just this year, the Office gave 23 awards to new projects through the Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant – one of many ways the Office encourages the development of digital tools with a humanist purpose.

The Fort Vancouver Mobile App is one such digital tool that received a Start-Up Grant in 2011. Since then, the app has won numerous honors including the Historic Preservation Officer’s Award for media from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation and the John Wesley Powell Prize from the Society for History in the Federal Government – one of only two projects nationwide.

Creation of the App

Dr. Brett Oppegaard, an assistant professor at Washington State University, assembled a team of historians, archeologists, and academics to create a mobile device for the Fort Vancouver National Historical Site. Though it was already one of the most popular historical attractions in the Portland area, the device has completely changed the dynamic between park and visitor.

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The app connects to landmarks at Fort Vancouver and encourages user interaction.

What it Does

The app – designed to suit most smartphones – lets guests learn about the people who lived at Fort Vancouver throughout its history. It includes maps, images of archived documents, and other interactive features such as video portrayals of interesting individuals. All of these materials can be accessed through visitors’ phones as they explore the Fort’s reconstructed village and stockade.

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Visitors receive a wealth of information about the Fort from downloading the app onto their phone. Photos courtesy of The Columbian newspaper.Vancouver App 3.png

As a 19th century fur trading outpost, the Fort was a hub of commerce and attracted a number of races and cultures, giving it the nickname “New York of the Pacific.” One character in particular – a Hawaiian pastor named William Kaulehelehe – is a star of the app’s Kanuka module, which explains the rich history of the Fort’s Hawaiian community.

A Model for Future Projects

Dr. Oppegaard and others call this innovation digital storytelling, and it has struck a chord with Vancouver visitors. Tourism in the area has skyrocketed, and the app’s website has been visited over thirty thousand times. The app uses open-source technology, which means other parks interested in digital storytelling can replicate Oppengaard’s work. The Fort Vancouver Mobile App marks the beginning of an exciting new trend towards interactive – and mobile – park programming.


Exploring the Constitution Across the Nation

Peter Sagal, host of NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, will be asking probing questions about the Constitution to Americans across the country on the new PBS show CONSTITUTION USA with Peter Sagal, premiering tonight.

Peter Sagal. Courtesy of Christopher Buchanan / Insignia Films.

Peter Sagal. Courtesy of Christopher Buchanan / Insignia Films.

With a grant from the NEH, Sagal explores contemporary constitutional debates about free speech in the digital age, same-sex marriage, and separation of church and state. He speaks with everyday Americans as well as legal scholars, historians, and public figures. To collect these intriguing and sometimes surprising insights, he travels on his beloved and patriotic Harley Davidson motorcycle.

The series will air every Tuesday in May. Each one-hour episode focuses on a central theme of the Constitution: “A More Perfect Union,” “It’s a Free Country,” “Created Equal,” and “Built to Last?” For more information on each episode, visit Constitution USA’s website.

The website provides video clips further resources on each of the four themes to be covered in the show. It also has games for younger audiences (take the citizenship quiz!), a summary of the show’s background and purpose, and the episodes themselves once they air.

Be sure to tune in tonight at 9 p.m. eastern time for the show’s premiere!

Illinois Humanities Council’s Challenge to Strengthen American Democracy


This month, The Illinois Humanities Council asked: how can we strengthen American democracy? Looking@Democracy is the Council’s national contest for creative media pieces that answer that important question.

The challenge—which is open to all Americans, not just to citizens of Illinois—looks for submissions that demonstrate why government is important to daily life, or how the government might be improved. The catch? Responses must be in media form. Any digital format will be accepted, including audio stories, iPhone apps, short videos, and others. As long as the political discussion is in digital form, the entries can diverge from or personalize the original question.

The Council has already received 300 submissions, and the projects are as diverse as they are creative. One is a guitar song about diversity written by fifth graders in Michigan, and another is a video produced by students in New York urging people to take action outside of social media:  “Don’t just like it, go to it.”

The challenge offers $100,000 in prize money, with $25,000 going to First Place for Best Entry. The submission deadline is April 30. Go join the discussion.

Martin Scorsese: Film Preservation and the Importance of Cinema

The NEH awarded film director Martin Scorsese with the Jefferson Lecture this year, the highest honor the federal government gives for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities. On April 1st, Scorsese gave his lecture to a full audience at the Kennedy Center. Titled “Persistence of Vision: Reading the Language of Cinema,” Scorsese spoke about the history of cinema and the movies that first inspired his love of film.

Martin Scorsese. Photo Credit: Brigitte Lacombe.

Martin Scorsese. Photo Credit: Brigitte Lacombe.

History of the Jefferson Lecture

The award, although given annually since 1972 by the National Endowment for the Humanities, has never before been received by a filmmaker. NEH Chairman Jim Leach commented on this notable decision in his opening remarks, and mentioned the increasing importance of digital humanities, and the need to acknowledge the groundbreaking and influential work of film-making.

Scorsese’s Remarks

Scorsese began his lecture with images from cinema’s infancy, including Lumières’ train footage and Thomas Edison’s video of  two cats “boxing.” He also discussed the contributions of filmmakers such as Georges Méliès, D. W. Griffith, and Stanley Kubrick. With humor and a clear gift for storytelling, Scorsese regaled the “Golden Age” of the 1950s film industry and spoke on the challenges of the 21st century.

Today’s Film Industry

Scorsese cautioned his audience that today, classical cinema is at odds with the great influx of available media; we are “overwhelmed by moving images coming at us all the time and absolutely everywhere.” In another quote, Scorsese reiterated his point:  “We’re face-to-face with images all the time in a way that we never have been before. Young people need to understand that not all images are out there to be consumed like, you know, fast food and then forgotten. We need to educate them to understand the difference between moving images that engage their humanity and their intelligence, and moving images that are just selling them something.”

The Importance of Preservation

Just as Chairman Leach encouraged digital humanities projects, Scorsese stressed the significance of preserving films. As Chairman of the World Cinema Foundation and Director of The Film Foundation, he has been instrumental in helping restore and preserve dozens of films. His lecture clearly reflected his dedication to this endeavor: “We need to say to ourselves that the moment has come, when we have to treat every last moving image as reverently and respectfully as the oldest book in the Library of Congress.” Like books, films have the ability to “tell us who we are.”

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Photo courtesy of NIcholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

For those interested in hearing the lecture in its entirety, it is available courtesy of the NEH on its website.