NEH Grant Fuels Reinterpretation of National Trust Historic Sites
The National Trust for Historic Preservation has won a second grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to help sustain its historic sites after the drastic economic impacts of the pandemic. Many had to lay-off staff, severely reduce operations, and some closed their doors for months to accommodate the mandates of the pandemic. This $500,000 grant will provide five historic sites owned and operated by the National Trust with a financial lifeline to help support existing staff and engage community members and humanities scholars in the development of new interpretive programs focused on Black, Indigenous, and LatinX stories at these iconic properties. The grants support the National Trust’s mission to tell the full American story and diversify the interpretation and meaning of historic sites.
“We are grateful to the NEH for this generous grant, which will at once support staff and leading-edge humanities scholarship at five historic sites. We look forward to sharing the powerful stories that this funding will allow us to tell, enabling these historic places to serve the communities that surround them more deeply and to examine and interpret shared stories.” Rena Zurofsky, Interim Vice President for Historic Sites.
The funding will be used to support:
- Shadows on the Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana was a sugar plantation before the Civil War. This property has been a National Trust site for over 50 years, and formerly focused on the stories of the Weeks family, who lived there from 1834-1958. This new grant from the NEH will widen the focus of interpretation there to tell the full story of the Shadows, which includes the history of the more than 200 enslaved people who lived and worked there. The funding will also provide resources to develop new in-depth tours for children, already a vital part of the Shadow’s work, as well as more programming and activities, both live and virtual, for children. The Shadows will hire a Museum Education Specialist to help accomplish all of these education goals and continue its collaboration with the Iberia African American Historical Society.
- Woodlawn in Alexandria, Virginia is well known as the former plantation that George Washington gifted to his step-granddaughter and nephew. Its own history tells the story of how it transitioned from a working plantation to a hotbed of anti-slavery activism, however most of the stories of the actual enslaved people at Woodlawn have been erased or repressed. With the funding from this NEH grant, Woodlawn will convene with partner organizations to better articulate this history by facilitating descendant community engagement, coordinating the integration of this information into the contemporary interpretations of the site, and distribute the results to partners, humanities scholars, and local experts. New tours and programs, an updated website, and continued work with its advisory council will be the results of this new funding.
- President Woodrow Wilson’s House in Washington, D.C. has been a National Trust site since 1961. Besides Wilson’s positive accomplishments, the Trust has not shied away from the ugly history of Wilson’s segregationist, anti-feminist, and anti-Native American policies. It has led the way in using the full history of this site to contemporize and explore the meaning of its complex narrative. With the NEH grant, Wilson House will enhance an existing research program with Howard University students. These emerging scholars will engage in further re-examination of the lasting effects of Wilson’s policies still impacting American communities today. The grant will also fund surveys, focus groups, interviews, workshops, and brainstorming labs to guide the continuing evolution of the site’s interpretation.
- Chesterwood in Stockbridge, Massachusetts was the country home and studio of the famed American sculptor, Daniel Chester French, best known for his iconic sculpture of President Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Chesterwood has been a National Trust site since 1968 and is a National Historic Landmark that is also on the African American Heritage Trail. Chesterwood is working with the Berkshire Resources for Integration of Diverse Groups Through Education (BRIDGE) in order to help tell the stories of the African Americans who likely harvested the marble for the sculpture, and the histories of those who installed and carved the final piece. Through the NEH grant, Chesterwood will engage an African American scholar to research the full story of this monument to freedom, and its other related Indigenous stories, to support expanded interpretation at the property in time for the centennial of the Lincoln Memorial in 2022.
- Cooper Molera in Monterey, California was built between 1830-1869 and was left to the National Trust in 1968. The site has a complex and layered history that is closely linked to Monterey’s role as the political and commercial capital of the Mexican territory of Alta California. The site’s deep history of LatinX, Indigenous, and women’s stories that still need to be fully interpreted. The funding from the NEH will allow Cooper Molera to digitize hundreds of thousands of its historic records that would become available to the public. In addition, the grant would help fund the position of Director of Partnerships & Interpretation, which was left unfilled during the pandemic.
This generous grant will also help to retain and fill 16 positions across these locations that were impacted by the pandemic.