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Ohio University Libraries’ Mahn Center receives National Endowment for the Humanities Grant

Published: April 18, 2022 Author: Staff reports

Ohio University Libraries is pleased to announce that Miriam Nelson, director of the Mahn Center, Preservation and Digital Initiatives, has been awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The $50,000 grant will be used for a preservation assessment to create a roadmap for the digitization of more than 2,000 audiovisual materials from the Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis Dance Collection. The project also seeks to create additional access points to a growing digital collection of non-audiovisual materials by working with The Nikolais/Louis Foundation for Dance to collect expert-sourced metadata.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) was created as an independent federal agency in 1965 to “preserve America’s rich history and cultural heritage, and encourage and support scholarship and innovation in history, archaeology, philosophy, literature and other humanities disciplines.”

Nelson applied for and received the Humanities Collections and Reference Resources foundation grant, which can be used to identify and assess collections in the humanities that should be digitized, like the Nikolais/Louis Collection.

“Moving image and sound recordings are incredibly important forms of documentation for a performing arts collection,” Nelson said. “We need to understand which [audio-visual] format is most stable, and which will provide us the best quality image and sound when digitized.”

The Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis Dance Collection, which contains materials from 1936 to 2001, was donated to the Libraries beginning in 1999 by Louis. The collection chronicles the careers of two leaders in American modern dance.

As one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States, the NEH typically provides grants to cultural institutions such as museums, colleges, public television and radio stations, as well as libraries. The NEH grants are very competitive, with only 36 projects out of the 205 eligible applications in this application cycle being funded.

“Grants like this allow the Libraries to engage with experts to take a deep dive into very particular aspects of a single collection,” Nelson said. “This is something we may not otherwise be able to do without having to shift resources away from other priorities, such as connecting with students and faculty in the classroom.”

Highlighting the importance of collaborative partnerships at the Libraries, the grant project team of Greta Suiter, Laura Smith, Erin Wilson and Janet Carleton will be working with Scenesavers for the preservation assessment—as well as subject experts Lynn Rico, Alberto del Salz and Natasha Simon from The Nikolais/Louis Foundation for Dance. The Libraries application also received a letter of support from Sara and Ben Brumfield, the founders of the crowd-sourced transcription platform, FromThePage, which will be used to collect metadata.

Continuing to process and preserve these collections is important for conserving an important era in dance history while also highlighting the collections’ connection to Ohio University. The NEH grant helps ensure that scholars from the OHIO community and globally will be able to continue to use the collections for years to come.

“We hope this will be the first step toward finally digitizing and making widely accessible a part of the collection that has been hidden in obsolete formats,” Nelson said.

For more information, please contact Miriam Nelson nelsonm1@ohio.edu.