Starr Center Receives More Than $200,000 in Grant Funding for Chesapeake Heartland Project


Chesapeake Heartland

Washington College’s Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience was awarded three major grants in support of the Chesapeake Heartland project this past summer. The grants will fund the project’s continued digitization efforts and the development of an interpretive plan to enhance user experiences within the dedicated Chesapeake Heartland website and archive.  

The institutional funding is being directed to the project from three high-profile organizations. The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded a $59,809 Preservation and Access Grant; the American Council of Learned Societies has awarded a $99,690 Digital Justice Grant; and the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority has awarded a $48,043 non-capital planning grant.  

Chesapeake Heartland: An African American Humanities Project is a collaboration between the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington College, and a diverse array of local organizations. Its mission is to preserve, digitize, interpret, and make accessible materials related to African American history and culture in Kent County, Maryland and beyond. The project, which has been funded by support from the Mellon Foundation over the past three years, seeks to delineate the Chesapeake Bay watershed as a national heartland of African American history and culture, while placing an emphasis on “community curation”—whereby individuals collect, share, and interpret the histories of their own families and communities.   

The Chesapeake Heartland team will utilize the new funding over the next two years to meet a number of goals. As part of its digitization efforts, the project will expand beyond Kent County by partnering with grassroots organizations in Caroline, Queen Anne’s, and Talbot Counties to preserve and make accessible the Eastern Shore’s proud African American history and culture. Staff will initiate a “digital repatriation” process with three major archival institutions—Maryland State Archives, Maryland Center for History and Culture, and American Antiquarian Society—which will share with the digital archive relevant items documenting Kent County’s Black history.  

“This new support allows us to take the Starr Center’s Chesapeake Heartland initiative in exciting new directions, ensuring that it will reach broad, diverse audiences; reflect the full richness and diversity of the African American experience; forge innovative models of campus/community civic engagement; and continue to break fresh ground in the public humanities,” said Adam Goodheart, director of the Starr Center. “Together, the three grants attest to the importance of Chesapeake Heartland at both the local and national levels.” 

In addition, the project team will convene an advisory committee comprised of local tradition-bearers, community leaders, scholars, public humanities professionals, and technical experts to craft inviting pathways through the Chesapeake Heartland archive. They will also welcome a Digital Justice Public History Fellow to Washington College, who will contribute their expertise to the project’s efforts, with particular attention to extending the archive’s four-century range by identifying for “digital repatriation” items in institutional repositories that chronicle this community’s history but have remained largely inaccessible.   

According to the Starr Center’s Pat Nugent, the Miller Director of Civic Engagement, the recent awards “underscore the significance of this collaboration and will support the college and community as it continues to build community curation across the region."