NEH Impact: Demystifying Cultural Heritage Preservation

Over the past two years, we have partnered with Common Heritage programs across the country to profile their mission–from preserving Franco-American veteran stories in Maine, to digitizing Tahoe’s history, natural beauty, and culture in Nevada, to collecting stories of the Hmong population in North Carolina. These programs, supported by the NEH, are based around public digitization events that preserve family and local history. In reporting our initial survey efforts to document the impact of select Common Heritage programs, we’ve shown how these programs surface artifacts of ethnic and migration histories that would otherwise be lost. As we continue our survey efforts, we’ve added to these impacts and found more robust evidence of how these programs are demystifying cultural heritage preservation by equipping communities with the tools, resources, and a sense of urgency to preserve their familial and community heritage.

Across three surveyed programsBowling Green State University (BGSU), Georgia College, and Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)100 percent of 46 respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that they “have a better understanding of how to preserve [their] family heirlooms for future generations.” Qualitative responses further support that participants felt the workshops were highly informative, giving respondents both a deeper appreciation of their community’s history and practical skills to preserve their family heritage. For example, participants from Georgia College and MOCA felt the workshop “[showed their community that they] have more in common,” while teaching them “how to preserve family and community records.” Others expressed “heightened awareness of resources/best practices” and excitement to ask their families about their history “using the tools/experience [they] learned here.”

Results also suggest that project directors and staff made sure to communicate the resources available to the community, including the project directors themselves. One hundred percent of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that they felt more connected to the host institution as a result of the program. One respondent from MOCA stated: “It was really great to find out about the resources available to help research historical documents, artifacts, and photos.” Another found for the first time, “community resources for history preservation.” Several others from all three programs reported the environment of the workshops were “welcoming,” “informative,” and “helpful,” and appreciated cultural preservation being a “dialogue between professionals” and their communities. Many respondents across the three programs expressed a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to learn about resources they did not previously know existed, and asked for more workshops in the future. 

Last, respondents reported a sense of urgency to preserve their family and community treasures and a sentiment that this workshop was only a starting point for them. When asked their most significant takeaway from the workshop, one participant from Georgia College stated: “Renewed sense of urgency to preserve before more is lost.” Another from MOCA took away “an urgency to back up [their] records and to do more research about [their] family background.” 

Altogether, these results paint a picture of how preservation efforts can be demystified for community members by equipping them with tools, support, and resources to be a critical participant of the process. Further, these workshops are fostering appreciation for personal family history and heritage, dialogue among community members about the importance of their shared heritage, and relationships between humanities organizations and their communities.


Photo Credit

Thumbnail image: Image courtesy of the Franco-American Collection at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College

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