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December 14, 2007

Illinois State Museum Awarded Federal Grant for Oral History of Illinois Agriculture

SPRINGFIELD.  The Illinois State Museum (ISM) has received a $564,651 National Leadership Grant (NLG) from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to develop educational resources on the history of Illinois agriculture. The Illinois State Museum will partner with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) to record oral histories of Illinoisans with agricultural experiences and make them available worldwide on the internet.

Dr. Robert Warren, ISM Curator of Anthropology, is directing the two-year project. Dr. Mark DePue, ALPLM Director of Oral History, is serving as co-director.

 "Cultural institutions energize their communities by not just preserving culture, heritage, and knowledge, but by supporting life-long learning and engagement. National Leadership Grants harness the work of the best of these institutions,” said Dr. Anne-Imelda Radice, IMLS Director.  “By promoting innovation and partnerships, they allow these institutions to create national models that address the challenges of the broader library and museum communities, and help strengthen their impact.”

Forty-three NLG grants, totaling more than $18 million, were awarded this year from a pool of 213 applicants.

“The Illinois State Museum is thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and other institutions to help preserve this important component of Illinois’ rich agricultural legacy and make it accessible to a worldwide audience through the Web,” remarked Illinois State Museum Director Dr. Bonnie Styles.

The project will create an interactive Web module—the Audio-Video Barn—featuring digital oral-history interviews with people involved in various aspects of agriculture and rural life in Illinois. Some of the interviews will come from audio tapes archived in libraries at the University of Illinois-Springfield and Northern Illinois University.

Oral-history crews will also record 50 new interviews with a diverse array of people of various ages from throughout the State of Illinois. Most of the new interviews will be recorded on digital videotape so that images as well as sounds can be made available on the Web module. All of the interviews will be digitized, edited for sound quality, and transcribed.

“The Illinois State Museum crew looks forward to meeting people all over the state who have dedicated their lives to agriculture” said Robert Warren, ISM Curator of Anthropology. “We’ll sit down with them to record their life stories and agricultural experiences. When the opportunity arises, we also want to do ‘walk-and-talk’ interviews. We’ll take our video cameras out to the dairy barn at milking time and out to the corn field at harvest time to give people a sense of some of the pleasures and demands of farm life.”

“We at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library are excited about helping the Illinois State Museum record Illinois’ vibrant agricultural history ‘for the ages,” said Mark DePue, the ALPLM’s Director of Oral History. “I can’t think of another subject that is more central to Illinois’ history and identity, and considering the state’s many agribusiness industries, educational and research initiatives, plus the Chicago Board of Trade, it will continue to be central to Illinois’ story far into the future. This project will give voice to those who have lived that history, voices that too often go unheard.”   

Interviewees will be chosen from a list that currently includes more than 130 candidates. The list reflects the tremendous breadth of agriculture in Illinois, including grain farmers, beekeepers, elk and bison ranchers, dairy farmers, organic-chicken farmers, and growers of grapes, wheat, horseradish, and pumpkins. Charlyn Fargo of the Illinois Department of Agriculture and Steven Simms of the Illinois Farm Bureau contributed many names of interview candidates.

The interview recordings will be computer-indexed by theme, topic, and geographical location so Web visitors can search them for topics of special interest. Dr. Michael Frisch, Professor of History and American Studies at the State University of New York (SUNY-Buffalo), will provide expertise in the process of computer indexing.

The interactive Audio-Video Barn will give Museum and Web visitors a rich, personal view of Illinois agriculture—past, present, and future.

For more information about this project contact Dr. Robert Warren at warren@museum.state.il.us. To learn more about the project, please visit www.museum.state.il.us/avbarn.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development. National Leadership Grants help libraries and museums collaborate, build digital resources, and conduct research and demonstration projects. The selected projects are national models that will help foster individual achievement, community responsibility, and life-long learning.  To learn more about the Institute, please visit www.imls.gov.


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