The Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative had two teams of Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS) interns whose projects over the 2019-2020 academic year were “Tracking Damage to Cultural Institutions after Natural Disasters” and “Analyzing Cultural Reactions to Disaster.”
The “Tracking Damage” interns consolidated and cleaned data about cultural heritage repositories in five US states and one US territory, creating complete datasets of cultural heritage institutions in Florida, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Puerto Rico. These datasets are essential resources to assess damage to cultural institutions following a disaster. The datasets are turned into GIS coordinates to identify cultural institutions in impact priority zones, and then telephone outreach damage assessment surveys are conducted with those institutions. This allows us to share resources and guidance with institutions in need of assistance. Through the course of the internship, the interns gained: 1) skills in data acquisition and coding for digital humanities projects; 2) knowledge in disaster risk management; 3) experience in the field of cultural heritage; and 4) experience in conducting surveys.
The “Analyzing Cultural Reactions” interns conducted research about intangible cultural heritage and disasters and crises. They were each assigned an academic journal to aggregate, analyze, and categorize case studies of cultural reactions to the onslaught of disasters broadly defined. The interns worked backwards from the most present issue covering a period of roughly 10-15 years. They logged their journal findings in a dataset noting bibliographic data, region of example, descriptor/years of disaster event, UNESCO cultural practice category numer, group association/target audience, quoted description, summary description of cultural practice, and summary description of ow the cultural practice contributed to recovery. By the start of the 2020 semester, the interns had gathered a total of 120 case studies. From there, they collectively reviewed the case studies and developed a collaborative narrative with concise themes based on their findings. This effort is critical to better understanding what practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, and skills communities value in the aftermath of a major disaster and to develop effective outreach efforts that support these values. Through the course of this internship, they gained: 1.) skills in research and data acquisition; 2.) knowledge in how to analyze and interpret valued intangible cultural resources; and 3.) experience in the field of disaster studies.