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Voices Spring-Summer 2004:
Click on the cover for the Table of Contents. Read the Archival Questions column, “Documentary Heritage Grants” by Nancy Johnson here.
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Volume 30

Documentary Heritage Grants by Nancy Johnson

If you’re planning an archival project and you don’t know about the Documentary Heritage Program, find out! Administered by the New York State Archives, this statewide program was established by law in 1988 “to ensure the identification, sound administration, and accessibility of New York’s historical records.” DHP is an outstanding source not only for funding but also for expertise and guidance.

DHP has targeted specific priority areas in evaluating grants. Any projects relating to records of underdocumented groups or topics will be considered, with first preference given to those targeting Latino history and culture, mental health, environmental affairs, the World Trade Center disaster, and education policy. Second priority is given to projects involving twentieth-century documentation of new population groups or of deindustrialization and economic revitalization.

Types of Projects

Grants are generally given in amounts ranging from $1,000 to $25,000 for the following types of projects:

Projects to identify, survey, and plan for the systematic collection of records relating to underdocumented subjects, institutions, or activities. These are projects to find records and plan for their preservation. The Hip Hop project discussed in this column in the last issue of Voices was undertaken with this type of DHP grant. For more information, see the New York State Archives website (www.archives.nysed.gov) and its published documentation guides, including the new Documentation Basics: A Guide to Planning and Managing Documentation Projects.

Arrangement and description of historical records. Arrangement is organization of records by an archivist so that researchers may use them effectively. Description involves creating finding aids—inventories, narrative guides, MARC (machine-readable cataloging) records—describing the contents of a collection to an interested user. For an excellent overview of this process, get the State Archives publication, Guidelines for Arrangement and Description of Archives and Manuscripts: A Manual for Historic Records Programs in New York State.

Strategic planning projects. These projects involve hiring an archivist experienced in needs assessment and strategic planning to “evaluate an existing historical records program and policies and provide a plan for achievement.” Problems are cited, solutions recommended, and priorities set. See the State Archives publication Archival Needs Assessment Guidelines and Template.

Regional documentation planning initiatives for priority topics. A new category, these ambitious projects seek to identify documentation priorities and procedures at a regional or statewide level. See the State Archives publication A Manual for Documentation Planning in New York State.

Keep in mind that a project must have a “New York focus.” The legislation that created DHP carries strict guidelines on what may not be funded, including the creation or transcription of oral histories; new video documentation; preservation work of any kind; projects involving newspapers; and item-level indexing (archivists usually describe collections of materials in groups, and DHP requires this broader type of description).

Things to Remember

Plan ahead. The deadline for DHP grants is December 1 each year (changed recently from a March deadline); guidelines are available in late summer. Give yourself enough time to think through your project, make a sensible work plan, and write your proposal.

Get help in the beginning and keep asking. Before starting an application, call the DHP staff and discuss your project. DHP encourages this interaction, and it is essential to a successful proposal. DHP also offers periodic workshops on the application process. Visit the State Archives website and get State Archives publications, which are available free of charge through the website or by emailing dhs@mail.nysed.gov. And consult the New York Folklore Society’s own invaluable guides, Working with Folk Materials in New York State: A Manual for Folklorists and Archivists and Folklore in Archives: A Guide to Describing Folklore and Folklife Materials. These are available at the New York Traditions on-line shop.

Accessibility. Accessibility is the whole point for DHP, and a clear path to public use is a must for any grant application. Ownership must also be unambiguous. It must be clearly within the rights of the grant applicant to grant access to the collection in question. Electronic accessibility—a finding aid available on the Web, a MARC record—is also an essential aspect for any project.

Original order. Especially when contemplating arrangement and description projects, you may be concerned that your collection is organized in such an idiosyncratic way that will not be “archival.” Relax. A cardinal rule for archivists is “original order.” This means respecting and maintaining the organization scheme imposed on a collection by its creator. It is then the job of the archivist to understand this scheme and explain it to users of the collection in a finding aid. An archivist will create a new organization scheme only when there is none already, or when the existing scheme is so muddled that it makes the collection impossible to use.
Archival Questions


Nancy Johnson is a freelance archivist and a member of the New York Folklore Society Board of Directors. She has worked with the society on its archives project, as well as with the Center for Traditional Music and Dance, City Lore, the Calandra Italian American Institute, and the Association for Cultural Equity/Alan Lomax Archives.Photo of Nancy Johnson

DHP is an outstanding source not only for funding but also for expertise and guidance.

This column appeared in Voices Vol. 30, Spring-Summer 2004. Voices is the membership magazine of the New York Folklore Society. To become a subscriber, join the New York Folklore Society today.

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