National Historical Publications & Records Commission

Digitizing Historical Records Projects FAQs

Digital Dissemination of Historical Records Projects

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of this program?

To make historical records of national significance more broadly available by digitizing a single collection or set of collections and publishing them on the Web. Projects may focus on the papers of major figures from American life or cover broad historical movements in politics, military, business, social reform, the arts, and other aspects of the national experience. Collaborations among repositories are encouraged.

How long have you been funding these types of projects?

Since 2006. The program stemmed from the growing movement within archives for large-scale digitization efforts. We have funded 40 digitization projects, although some projects in other funding categories have also chosen to digitize historical records as part of their overall effort to preserve or publish collections.

Can I see some examples of successful grants from the past?

We have funded projects that reflect a variety of time periods including the Civil War, World War II, the Cold War, and the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. We have also funded a variety of records formats including microfilm, photographs, maps, and audio.

There is a sample proposal available from the Announcement page. If you still have questions, contact Nancy Melley, Director for Technology Initiatives at nancy.melley@nara.gov with a few details about the project you are considering; we may have other sample proposals that you would find more helpful.

What is the difference between this category and the Publishing Historical Records program?

The distinction between these two programs is fairly straightforward. The Publishing Historical Records program is designed to create documentary editions—transcribed and annotated collections about historical figures or movements drawn from one or more collections. The Digital Dissemination program is designed to preserve and make accessible archival collections—with metadata in an EAD finding aid—on a single website or as part of a larger online archives.

What do you mean by "national significance?" How do we demonstrate it?

When we ask for the national significance of a collection we are looking for a discussion of how the collections you propose to digitize will expand understanding of United States history and culture. You will need to convince reviewers with varying degrees of knowledge about American history that the project materials are nationally significant. Do not assume that because an event or debate is familiar to you that it will be familiar to others.

Look at the books and articles that reference the collections to see how the authors were using the collections; what argument did the author support with information from the collections. Ask current researchers how they plan to use the collection, or what points they intend to support using the collection. Include a bibliography of publications that reference the collections. You may wish to ask an historian for assistance in demonstrating the connections between the materials and significant fields of study in American history. Be as specific as possible about how the materials document important events, trends, and fields. Indicate how they will be useful in ongoing debates or research.

Including usage statistics in your project narrative will also aid the reviewers in evaluating the significance of the collections.

The descriptive information for our materials is not in an EAD finding aid. Can we still apply?

Yes, but you will have to include reformatting of the finding aid into EAD in your project costs. The reformatting process should be routine and not result in rewriting of the descriptive material. If possible, you may want to do the reformatting before the start of the proposed grant period.

You may also make the case that an EAD finding aid is not an effective access tool for your materials. However, in order to link the digitized images with the existing descriptive information, you will need to have it in a structured format, such as a database.

NHPRC does not prescribe a specific approach. However, if you are deviating from established practice, you will need to explain why in your application.

We have number of great collections, but they are all relatively small. Can we propose digitizing more than one collection?

Yes. The collections should be related, however, so that outreach plans can target similar audiences. You must ensure that you have enough materials to reach a cost-effective solution, and that the collections are nationally significant.

We have a great collection, but we do not think every series needs to be digitized. Can we select the most used or most important?

Yes. Explain why you are selecting the records and justify your selection with reference to usage records, fields of studies, or practical concerns (such as copyright issues or the cost of digitizing certain formats). However, within a series, all materials should be digitized. In addition, the materials that you will digitize must already have sufficient descriptive information at the series, folder or item level to be useful to researchers. Remember, you cannot use grant funds to create descriptive information as part of these projects.

Can we exclude certain items that we do not think are interesting or valuable?

In general, no. The NHPRC is interested in supporting projects that provide researchers on the internet with access to the same materials that researchers at your facility would use. Excluding items requires you to edit the existing metadata and suggests that the collection requires further appraisal. Both issues are likely to raise serious concerns for reviewers and the Commission.

How often do you award grants for this program? How do I apply?

The NHPRC accepts applications for Digital Dissemination of Historical Records once each year.

Our application process is through Grants.gov. The easiest way to keep track of the funding deadlines is to subscribe to their Find Grant Opportunities page. We are listed as a "Sub-Agency" under the National Archives and Records Administration. You should read our Apply for a Grant page for detailed instructions on how to apply. Do not wait until the deadline date to become familiar with Grants.gov.

One important step unique to the NHPRC: you may submit your application to your State Historical Records Advisory Board (SHRAB) for their review. When you begin planning for your project, contact your SHRAB to learn about their deadlines. A list is available on the Council of State Archivists’ website. If your SHRAB is inactive, you can still apply directly to the NHPRC.

After you have completed an application, NHPRC staff will send out your application to outside reviewers and to your State Historical Records Advisory Board, who will comment on the narrative and budget of your plan. We will then send you the reviewer comments and staffquestions to clarify any unresolved matters before staff submit the application package to the Commission itself. Based on reviewers’ comments and staff recommendations, the Commission advises the Archivist of the United States, who makes the final decision on grant awards.

How much money is available for grants? How much money are we expected to contribute to the total cost of our project?

Applicants may apply for funding for one to two years. Award amounts can range from $20,000 to $150,000. The Commission expects to make as many as 7 grants in this category, for a total of up to $500,000.

Grantees must meet the cost-sharing requirements. Cost sharing can include both direct and indirect expenses, in-kind contributions, non-Federal third-party contributions, and any income earned directly by the project. The Commission ordinarily provides no more than 50 per cent of total project costs.

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