Community History and Digitization Project Continues


Who gets to tell a community’s story? With the help of a recent grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the BPL will ensure that the answer is “The community members themselves.”

The NEH recently awarded the BPL $261,242 for a major investment in its Community History and Digitization Project. At this project’s core is the empowerment of community members to examine the histories that hold meaning for them and to contribute those stories to the historical narrative — in their own words. 

Funding will enable the BPL to identify, digitize, preserve, and contextualize community-based archival collections for inclusion in the Boston Research Center. To accomplish this work, BPL staff who are specialists in both community engagement and digital history and digitization will partner with community members throughout the city. Because of this grant, both new initiatives and established programs will be able to move forward. 

Staff will support Boston residents in the telling of their stories, with a focus on centering the voices of historically marginalized communities primarily in the South End, Roxbury, Chinatown, and East Boston neighborhoods. Here are just a few highlights of activities this funding will support:

  • Creation of an “Oral History Toolkit.” Developing a framework and materials for both organizations and individuals to collect and archive historical memories of a community, its people, and its spaces with guides and instructions all to be found within a backpack!
  • Neighborhood Public Art and City Equity. Collecting images, interviews, research, and documentation for the city’s public art, culminating in a comprehensive, searchable database and free mobile walking tours.
  • Chinatown Collections Inventory. Capturing stories of Chinatown residents through new surveys (written in both English and traditional Chinese script) and development of collections repositories to create a bilingual database and interactive map of Chinatown’s immigrant history.
  • Public Workshops and Programs. In tandem with the reopening of the city and the ability to gather again, Library staff will work across branches to implement programs that promote “do-it-yourself history” with an emphasis on local empowerment, enriching the Wiki presence of Boston’s underrepresented histories, and leading oral history and community archiving workshops.

Many of these initiatives under the Community History and Digitization Project had been stalled or put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this grant makes possible the full resumption of in-person, community-based activities. We would like to extend a heartfelt thank-you to the NEH for ensuring that this important community-centric program will forge ahead and highlight all of the communities in our diverse and vibrant Boston.

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