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UCF Professor Advocates for Humanities in D.C.

History usually speaks for itself, but sometimes it can use a little help.

Connie Lester, a University of Central Florida associate professor of history, gave the subject a boost Monday at the annual meeting of the National Humanities Alliance in Washington, D.C.

The group gathered information at its annual Humanities Advocacy Day about extraordinary examples of work in the humanities before approaching Congress for support in next fiscal year’s budget.

Lester, one of a few invited speakers to the session, was called to discuss the UCF project she directs, RICHES (Regional Initiative for Collecting the History, Experiences and Stories) of Central Florida.

Alliance representatives from more than 100 organizations met at George Washington University to hear her talk about the 2-year-old initiative that is based in her department’s public-history program. RICHES is designed to help Central Floridians better understand the history of their region through publicly involved projects.

“There were humanities societies, the American Historical Association, university presidents and others pulling together to make the case to continue funding for the humanities,” Lester said.

The interdisciplinary RICHES initiative is bringing together different UCF departments, faculty and students with partners in the community to preserve documents, images, maps, podcasts, oral histories and other records.

“We’re building on what others have done, but we think we are adding something new,” Lester said, adding that the database eventually will be presented in digital, interactive form through the online RICHES Mosaic Interface.

The collection of projects includes: Building Blocks, which focuses on Central Florida’s business and economic history; Home Movie Archive, which preserves social and historical information on film; Surfing Florida: A Photographic History; RICHES Podcast Documentaries about local history; GLBT History Museum of Central Florida; UCF Community Veterans History Project; and Next Exit History, a phone app that contains information about historical sites.

The information in the Home Movie Archive, for example, visually shows Florida life as it was decades ago. The films include things such as someone visiting Disney World on its 1971 opening day, a pilot’s 1963 movie shot as he flew along Florida’s Atlantic coastline, and 40 years of a family’s summer vacations to various places in Florida. The UCF Film department, chaired by Stephen Schlow, began collecting donated home movies as part of the RICHES project.

Lester is also working with outside groups such as Seminole and Volusia counties, the Harry T. & Harriette V. Moore Cultural Complex in Mims, the Apopka Hope CommUnity Center and the Florida High Tech Corridor Council.

One future project, Lester said, is digitization of the Henry Sanford papers from the Sanford Museum, which are of international significance. In addition to establishing the City of Sanford along the banks of the St. Johns River and helping develop the citrus industry in Florida in the 1880s, the Connecticut native also served as minister to Belgium.

“Sanford is our pilot city for the RICHES Mosaic Interface,” Lester said. “We selected it because of its place as Central Florida’s ‘Gate City,’ and because of its history in agriculture, industry and arts.”

Some funding for RICHES has come through a National Endowment for the Humanities digital start-up grant, the Florida Humanities Council, the Winter Park Health Foundation, the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, the College of Arts & Humanities, and Academic Affairs.

Lester said the interactive website is undergoing testing and should be ready to go online sometime this fall. The system is being developed by RICHES, UCF’s Institute for Simulation and Training, and Adaptive Assessment Services.

Not only will users be able to download items, but they will also be able to upload materials to an editor for possible inclusion in the archive.

When the RICHES Mosaic Interface goes online, Lester said she expects everyone from young students to academic researchers to dive in and access the collection.