The City Manager’s proposed FY 2017 budget includes $61,080 to convert a 0.5 FTE Research Historian position in Historic Building and Artifact Preservation to full-time. This addition was a high priority of the Livable, Green and Prospering City Focus Area Team as this position supports initiatives across City departments, economic development partners, the media, and the general public. The current 0.5 FTE position was restored to OHA’s operating budget three years ago after two full-time positions, a Public Information Officer (PIO) and a Research Historian were eliminated approximately five years ago. The position was restored at the urging of the Alexandria Archaeological Commission, Alexandria Historical Restoration and Preservation Commission, Historic Alexandria Resources Commission, and Public Records Advisory Commission.
The duties of the OHA Research Historian include working with museum directors on the development of new exhibits, educational programs, City collections and artifacts; providing accurate answers to queries on history or historic preservation to City departments such as RPCA, P&Z, BAR, and TES; providing content to economic development partners, the media, and the public; disseminating press releases and public information to promote museum attendance, heritage tourism and enhance City revenues; and developing grants, gifts and donations to support public programs and research into broad topics of Alexandria’s heritage.
The first OHA Research Historian, T. Michael Miller, served the City as a full-time employee for many years and was designated an “Alexandria Living Legend” before his retirement in 2010. During his tenure as Research Historian, he was responsible for identifying the presence of the long-forgotten Freedmen’s Cemetery underneath an operating gasoline station which now is now the site of the City’s new Contrabands and Freedmen Memorial. The second Research Historian and current incumbent in the position, Dr. Daniel Lee, holds his doctoral degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and also serves as OHA’s PIO. Over the past two years, Dr. Lee’s research has included content for the Civil War and War of 1812 commemorations, recent PBS and WETA productions, Visit Alexandria marketing programs and the current “Immigration Alexandria” project. Additionally, last year Dr. Lee submitted grants applications to the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VFH) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for a new, multi-year immigration initiative, and the City was awarded an $8,000 grant from VFH to begin the project. OHA is awaiting word on the $75,000 NEH planning application expected to be announced in June, and a supplemental implementation application to be paid over the next three years.
The workload of the OHA Research Historian has increased substantially over the past two years, well beyond the current 20 hour per week limit, as Alexandria’s historical prominence and growth in tourism has increased. In supporting the request to make this position full-time, the Livable, Green and Prospering City Focus Area Team recognized the vital contributions this position makes to maintaining Alexandria’s unusual history brand and the sustainability of economic development in the City.
Accurate historical research is the foundation for all public history programs and heritage services and is particularly important to municipal governments that operate museums and maintain regulated historic districts and historic preservation programs. The maintenance of an ongoing research program is a requirement of accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), and the Office of Historic Alexandria, including all City museums and historic sites, are accredited as one of eight municipally-operated “museum systems” in the United States.