During the creation of Montpelier’s Mere Distinction of Colour exhibition, it became clear that in order for Montpelier’s researchers to more effectively collaborate with outside experts, the public, and each other, they needed a comprehensive collections management system that encompasses all the objects, artifacts, texts, and digital media that compose our collections. Because the process of designing the exhibition brought many voices to the table, particularly descendants, it resulted in a more inclusive and thorough exhibition and set the stage for Montpelier’s commitment to community engaged research and scholarship. The Montpelier Digital Collections Project is an initiative supported through the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop a collections management system that will allow Montpelier’s different collections to talk to each other, while making them accessible to the public. The initiative is designed to include the voices of it many stakeholders in its design, including scholars, museum professionals, collectors, genealogists, educators, volunteers, and members of Montpelier’s descendant community.

The National Endowment for the Humanities is supporting the Montpelier Digital Collections Project through a Digital Humanities Advancement Planning Grant to begin developing a comprehensive and publicly accessible collections management database. We will do this by issuing a survey to gather broad feedback about what people would like as part of this project and hosting a two and a half day workshop convening museum professionals, digital humanities scholars, members of the the Montpelier descendant community, and other representatives of various stakeholder groups.

Montpelier is partnering in this endeavor with Michigan State University’s MATRIX, a leader in digital humanities projects. MATRIX has a particular expertise in the creation of online digital databases and linked data, as demonstrated by their recent grant from the Mellon Foundation to create Enslaved.