NEH Awards Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant to Virginia Center for Digital History to Develop 'Jefferson's Travels HistoryBrowser'

April 14, 2008 — The Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia has received a $49,827 Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant under the National Endowment for the Humanities' "We the People" program, which "encourages and strengthens the teaching, study, and understanding of American history and culture."

The award will fund development of VCDH's "HistoryBrowser," an interactive, Web-based platform for the visualization and dynamic manipulation of historical information. A demonstration, sample projects, and more information about the HistoryBrowser can be found online at

Under the new grant, VCDH director Scot French and director of technology Bill Ferster will partner with Monticello webmaster Chad Wollerton and archivists, librarians and content experts at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation's International Center for Jefferson Studies to develop a demonstration project focused on "Jefferson's Travels."

Students in a U.Va. digital history seminar, to be co-taught by French and Ferster in the fall, will produce research papers, digital documentaries and HistoryBrowser "visualizations" with the guidance and technical support of the instructors and project partners. A previous version of the course, focused on Jefferson's 1786 journey to England, can be found online at

An associate professor with a Ph.D. in American history, French will be responsible for historical aspects of the project. His published works include analyses of Jefferson's writings on race and slavery ("The Rebellious Slave: Nat Turner in American Memory," Houghton Mifflin, 2004) and Jefferson's relevance to later generations ("The Strange Career of Thomas Jefferson: Race and Slavery in American Memory, 1943-1993," co-authored with Edward L. Ayers, in "Jeffersonian Legacies," University of Virginia Press, 1993).

A senior scientist with a Ph.D. in instructional technology and a joint appointment in the Curry School of Education's Center for Technology and Teacher Education, Ferster will oversee the technical aspects of the project involving the HistoryBrowser Flash application and database. He has been creating award-winning technology for more than 30 years. He founded three successful high-technology companies, won an EMMY award for Technical Achievement and developed PrimaryAccess (, a technically sophisticated Flash-based and database-driven tool for K-12 students to create digital documentaries.

Now in its 10th year, VCDH is committed to advancing knowledge through the application of digital technologies to history and related fields of scholarly inquiry; designing and developing innovative applications of technology in consultation with historians and other project partners; and facilitating exchanges among educators with a shared commitment to transforming how history is taught, learned and accessed in the Digital Age.