University of Florida libraries receive $265,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant
Online resource will provide first-time access to hidden St. Augustine treasures
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — To prepare for the 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine in 2015, the University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries has been awarded $265,000 to build an online collection of hidden and fragile resources related to colonial St. Augustine.
The grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities is the largest and one of only four NEH grants in Florida this year. There are 34 nationally.
The “Unearthing St. Augustine” grant, led by project director Thomas Caswell and co-director James Cusick, will establish a specialized computer digitization lab at the Government House in St. Augustine. This two-year project will create an interactive digital collection or database consisting of 10,000 maps, drawings, photographs and documents available freely online.
Partnering with the Smathers Libraries to realize this project are the City of St. Augustine departments of heritage tourism and archaeology program, the St. Augustine Historical Society, the UF College of Design, Construction and Planning, and the Government House, which is managed by UF.
The “Unearthing St. Augustine” materials are scattered among four repositories that have been previously inaccessible to researchers worldwide. Among the important items to be “unearthed,” which date from the 16th century to present, include archival materials from the following:
- Government House — maps and overlays of the city, architectural drawings of historic structures and related government documents
- St. Augustine Historical Society — Spanish documents, transcriptions and English language translations
- City of St. Augustine archaeology program — records, photographs and site summaries for 100 excavations conducted over the past 20 years
- Herschel Shepard Collection at UF — drawings, photos and documents related to Shepard’s restoration and reconstruction of the city’s colonial buildings.
The collection will support research in a broad range of subjects: Florida and U.S. history, Spanish colonies, Native Americans, slavery, exploration, architecture and urban planning, social and economic development, missionary work, military defenses and warfare. When completed, “Unearthing St. Augustine” will not only satisfy the needs of a wide variety of researchers including historians, archaeologists, architects and historic preservationists, but the project will also help in telling St. Augustine’s unique story on a global scale.
In support of the grant, Kathleen Deagan, distinguished research curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History, wrote: “Digital access to primary materials is probably the single most important factor in stimulating new and diverse scholarship on St. Augustine’s colonial history. This is also a very timely project, in that the 450th anniversary of St. Augustine’s founding will occur in 2015, providing an opportunity to focus both public and scholarly attention on the role of Florida in our nation’s history.”
Jane Landers, professor of history at Vanderbilt University, added: “I have long recognized the international significance of St. Augustine, as well as its importance in our national history. I can attest to the unique nature of the city’s historical documents, maps, and artifacts and firmly believe they constitute a national treasure that should be made more accessible to a wider public. These records and archaeological reports document much about the material culture, economy and social and political organization of St. Augustine and its indigenous and African hinterlands.”