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When the MEAP Panel met in August 2019 to select the first round of projects to fund, no one anticipated having to support teams around the world during a global pandemic. Cohort 1 faced access and travel restrictions as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns and quarantine policies just as projects were set to launch in Spring 2020. Those conducting digitization work also experienced issues with equipment procurement and delivery delays. Some teams were not able to access their archives for extended periods, resulting in long delays and uncertainty as projects were forced to start and stop.

However, MEAP grantees remained committed to the work of cultural heritage preservation and responded with a range of creative solutions. Teams revised budgets and work plans, procured PPE for health safety, scheduled half days and alternate days to stagger staffing and limit interactions, and learned to effectively communicate, train, and work via Zoom. During this time, our team at MEAP was guided by principles of care and safety, ensuring that no grantees put themselves at risk to meet program deadlines. Instead, we facilitated our first round of no-cost extensions and offered limited budget increases to address Covid-specific expenses.

Our Cohort 1 grantees were resilient. Despite global and local challenges, each project team completed their proposed project, resulting in nearly 35,000 digitized objects and survey work covering over 50 distinct collections. These projects have helped document and ensure access to films in India and Uruguay; photographs from Albania and Afghanistan; human rights organizational ephemera in Argentina; and oral traditions and endangered languages in Mexico, India and Timor-Leste. These collections are also inviting new ways of understanding identity building in Barbados and economic development and migration in Brazil. Seen collectively, these materials help us all consider new ways of seeing and hearing communities around the world who have too often been left out of national archives and historical narratives.

Over the past five years, as Cohort 1 projects have been completed and published, we have learned how MEAP projects can enable circulation and invite use for these archival materials. While MEAP grants focus on the documentation and digitization stage, it is rewarding to see that these archival materials are now part of public discourse and scholarly conversation. For example, photos from the Dupree Collection (ACKU, Afghanistan) have been featured in the University of Chicago’s A History of Afghanistan in 100 Objects (Read More); The Valentim Collection of Vaihoho Sung-Poems from Timor Leste was featured in “Singing our life journeys: Rekindling the Vaihoho song-poems of Timor-Leste” in the June 2021 issue of Garland Magazine; and Bruno Witzel de Souza, Project lead of the Ibicaba Farm Archive project, received the Digital Humanities Outreach Prize at the World Economic History Congress in 2022 for his presentation, “Labor, Livelihood, and immigration in a Brazilian Plantation: the Archives of Ibicaba Farm.”

MEAP is thrilled to celebrate the completion of all Cohort 1 projects. We recognize the challenges each project team faced in working to digitize, document, and preserve these cultural heritage collections and reflect on all that our team has learned alongside them. We developed new documentation to ensure consistent metadata and preservation-quality digital files. We crafted workflows to facilitate ingest and publication. And, we worked to support the efforts of our grantees around the world who sought out creative solutions to sustain and steward cultural heritage collections. These 14 projects carved out models for MEAP projects, ensuring that unique, endangered materials are preserved and accessible and defining how the UCLA Library can sustain this work even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Explore all MEAP Cohort 1 Projects