NEH's first digital humanities grant, in 1967: Support of a Conference to Explore Potential Application of Computer Science to the Advancement of Research in the Humanities.
NEH's first digital humanities grant, in 1967: Support of a Conference to Explore Potential Application of Computer Science to the Advancement of Research in the Humanities.photo by Chris Flynn / National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
NEH's first digital humanities grant, in 1967: Support of a Conference to Explore Potential Application of Computer Science to the Advancement of Research in the Humanities.
A 1978 fellowship that allowed Noam Chomsky to refine and expand his theories of universal grammar.
The 1976 Grant that brought the blockbuster "Treasures of Tutankhamun" exhibit to six American cities.
A 1976 media grant to Marlon Brando and James beck for a project on "The First Americans."
Grants to On the Waterfront screenwriter Budd Schulberg for the Watts Writer's Workshop.
A fellowship to support The Origins and Development of Early Florentine Painting for Bruce M. Cole at the University of Rochester.
A 1969 Education grant to Altona Johns and composer Undine Smith Moore for a course on "The Black Man in American Music."
A 1973 fellowship to Harold Bloom for research relating to his acclaimed work, The Anxiety of Influence.
A 1973 fellowship to Elie Wiesel for a history of a typical East European Jewish community pre-WWII.
A 1974 Education grant to Dr. Andries van Dam at Brown University: An Experiment in Computer Based Education Using Hypertext.
NEH's first digital humanities grant, in 1967: Support of a Conference to Explore Potential Application of Computer Scie
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photo by Chris Flynn / National Endowment for the Humanities
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See Early National Endowment for the Humanities Grants to Marlon Brando, Noam Chomsky and Elie Wiesel

Sep 29, 2015

When the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) was established exactly 50 years ago—the act that created the agency was signed on Sept. 29, 1965—it was with the mission of supporting scholarship in the humanities.

Back then, it was a little bit harder than it is today to keep track of applications and grants. When people like Noam Chomsky, Marlon Brando and Elie Wiesel applied to the NEH for support for projects, the agency was still using a system of so-called "McBee cards" to manage the database. The series of holes around the cards' edges corresponded to certain characteristics; the holes were punched into a different shape to mark whether that characteristic applied to the data on the card; then, using a needle that went through the holes, the cards could be automatically sorted to separate out those that did or did not meet the test.

Before the days of Excel and Google Docs, McBee cards did the trick—and, unlike their computerized descendants, the physical cards are fascinating to look at. Ahead of its anniversary, the NEH has digitized the McBee cards that were used to keep track of applications and grants during the first decades of the agency's existence. Those records—the originals of a few of which can be seen above—date all the way back to the very first NEH grant ever, a 1966 gift of $14,000 to support a conference of papyrologists.

The rest of the database can be searched here.

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