Author Archives: Elena Abou Mrad

Writing a grant proposal is HARD – A few challenges and possible solutions

As I’m writing the grant proposal for the Neighborhood Stories Indexing Project, I am encountering some challenges that – I think – are not specific to my project. I’ll list them here, in the hope that my fellow grant-writers might have some answers to my questions, and that it might help them feel less alone is their process.

  1. I realized that writing about a digital project in a simple, accessible language is harder than I thought. After being immersed in three semesters of DH terminology, trying to explain an online indexing project feels like explaining technology to my parents (I know you all can relate!). I think this is a common problem in academia: we are so focused on our field, we mostly talk about it with people in our field, and it never occurs to us that the “outside world” might have some trouble understanding DH, DMPs, GIS, topic modeling, and all the terms that are very familiar to us.
    Any tips on this? I am still trying to write as if I’m explaining this project to my mom – with the added goal of getting some money for the project. Easy enough, right?
  2. Writing a grant forces you to think about EVERY phase of your project, even the ones you can’t really predict yet, or the ones you didn’t want to think about (who enjoys writing a Data Management Plan, seriously). I guess it’s also a good thing: when I wrote the proposal for the NYC Community Fridge Archive, it worked as a good roadmap for the DH Praxis class. Hopefully, once classes and the showcase are over, I’ll be able to sit with my thoughts and figure out the phases of the project I have no idea about.
  3. Writing a grant is HARD. It’s time-consuming, boring, and lonely, and it makes me appreciate everyone who’s ever won a grant because man, it is not fun to write one. I think that part of the problem is that I’m used to working on Neighborhood Stories with a team of people: having to be by myself and write about a collective effort seems weird. I know that for the actual grant proposal I’ll have the support of the Neighborhood Stories team, but this phase feels harder because I don’t have someone to share my ideas and doubts with.
  4. I realized I’m taking myself WAY too seriously. For some reason, the fact that I’m writing a grant proposal and not a paper puts so much pressure on this assignment. I wish we had had some low-stakes assignments to write parts of a proposal, so that the task to write a whole Narrative wouldn’t feel so overwhelming now. I am trying to think about this assignment as the first draft of the grant proposal, but being a perfectionist, it’s still challenging to take the pressure off the task.

With this said, I’m looking forward to the project presentations tonight. I’m sure everyone will do great!

A digital archival story with a happy ending! (plus, it’s about food)

Last weekend, as I was meal prepping for the week, I came across and episode of Proof (the America’s Test Kitchen podcast) that made me think about this class.

The episode focuses on a website that I knew nothing about, but that it’s my new obsession: The Food Timeline, created by Lynne Olver in 1999. Lynne Olver was a reference librarian with a passion for food history, who started the website to answer people’s questions about the topic.

As you can see, the website looks old-fashioned, with the typical aesthetic of late-90s Internet Explorer. Another thing you can notice immediately is that the contents are MASSIVE. Lynn Olver was the only person maintaining the website, answering people’s research requests, and collecting food history books. As of 2014, The Food Timeline served 35 million readers and answered 25 thousand questions.

But what does this website have to do with our class?

Lynne Olver dreamed of making The Food Timeline her full-time occupation after she retired, but unfortunately she passed away in 2015. Her family was left with the question of what to do with the website – and the massive collection of books and magazines that Olver had accumulated throughout the years.

Luckily, in 2020 Virginia Tech University Libraries and the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences (CLAHS) became the new home for the website and the book collection. This way, Virginia Tech students can have access to these materials and work on their preservation (including the site maintenance!).

I wanted to share this website with you all, first of all because it’s a gold mine of fun facts about food and drink. The second reason – the one related to the class – is that I find that the agreement with Virginia Tech is a good example of “postmortem” archival practices that really take into consideration the afterlife of a collection. After hearing so many stories of archival neglect, this was a breath of fresh air!

To learn the whole story, you can listen to Episode 2 of Proof, The Curious Curator of Culinary History, here!

A screenshot of the homepage of Queer Newark Oral History Project. In the center, a photograph of Newark Pride 2018. Above, navigation tabs. Below, the title of the project.

Queer Newark Oral History Project


Queer Newark Oral History Project is a community-based and community-directed initiative supported by Rutgers University-Newark. I discovered this project in Spring 2020, at the CUNY event The Social Backend: Community-Driven Digital Archives and Exhibits. Prof. Mary Rizzo of Rutgers University talked about the way she mobilized her students in creating community-based archival projects, including Queer Newark.

Founded in the summer of 2011, the project preserves the histories of LGBTQ people and communities in Newark, NJ through oral history. The team of Queer Newark Oral History Project records interviews, transcribes them, and makes them available online. The project also has an analog component, which involves archiving documents and artifacts about Queer Newark in a permanent archival facility (Dana Library at Rutgers University. The Queer Newark Oral History Project is not based on crowdsourcing, which is probably a good way to ensure the quality of the recording and transcribing of the interviews. The local community can get involved by volunteering to interview members of the LGBTQ community, transcribe the interviews, assist with the website development and the design of promotional materials. One element I appreciated was the collaboration between the academic community and the local community not only for the oral history work but also through a walking tour and a podcast.


The project started as a way to tell the stories of the often-invisible queer population of Newark, thus connecting this queer history to the history of the city. As Darnell Moore explains:

“The making of history is not a project that is relegated only to those in the academy, those who do the work of observing our lives and attending to our voices from a distance. History is made through the living and the telling of our lives. It is made when we lift up our individual and collective lives.”

Darnell Moore, November 12, 2011

The creators of Queer Newark identified a gap in the local history of the city and decided to launch this effort to collect queer histories. By bringing these stories to the light, Queer Newark stresses the importance and relevance of LGBTQ Newarkers in the life of their city.


The intended audience for Queer Newark is community members, activists, scholars, artists, or anyone interested in Queer Newark. The project has a strong focus on transcribing the interviews and digitizing the artifacts in their collections, to ensure that the Queer histories they collect are easily searchable and accessible from these different communities.


The project founders are:

  • Darnell Moore is a queer activist and writer and the first chair of the City of Newark’s Advisory Commission on LGBTQ Concerns
  • Beryl Satter, a history professor at Rutgers University-Newark
  • Christina Strasburger, the administrator of the Departments of History and African American and African Studies at Rutgers University-Newark.

The diversity of the creators’ bios reflects the intersecting interests of Queer Newark:

  • LGBTW activism
  • Establishing a relationship between institutions (the City of Newark and Rutgers University) and the local communities
  • The attention to marginalized and vulnerable communities
  • Using the academic knowledge of history and experience in historical research to serve the local communities.


The website has a very simple and intuitive structure, which makes it easy to navigate and to find information. The main technology that Queer Newark uses is digital audio recording, which makes it easy to gather the stories and share them online. The audio interviews are accompanied by:

  • a PDF file with the transcript
  • metadata such as date, location, and people responsible for the recording.
  • Tags about the topics of the recording
  • Bibliographical information about the interviewee
  • Photograph of the interviewee


Queer Newark’s most impressive achievement was creating a community around a shared goal: collecting and preserving LGBTQ history in Newark. This requires enormous skills in organization, community outreach, public programming, and of course the capacity to create lasting and meaningful relationships with collaborators and the community. Apart from that, I admired the project’s commitment to accessibility and ease of use: with their simple and light design and the use of transcriptions and tags, Queer Newark ensures that these interviews can reach a diverse audience.

Inspiration for future projects

Queer Newark is a great example of how a community-based archive should work. Before even starting with the project, Moore and Satter understood the importance of building a community around the archive. They brought together Newark’s LGBTQ activists, high school students, artists, church leaders, professors, administrators, and university staff to discuss how to develop the project. I love this approach because archives often start with a top-down perspective that does not recognize the agency and the decision-making power of the community they intend to serve. Another element I appreciated was how Queer Newark mobilizes residents and trains them to become interviewers: this way, the community gets tighter and its members can learn how to communicate across gender, race, socioeconomic status, or age.