Hokie tracks were clearly evident when the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Library of Medicine (NLM) recently reaffirmed their partnership.

Signing of the memorandum of understanding extending the agreement established in 2012 through 2021 took place just prior to the start of Virginia Tech’s Viral Networks workshop, which was hosted by NLM earlier this year and supported by an NEH grant.

“This collaboration will bring together scholars, scientists, librarians, archivists, curators, technical information specialists, health care professionals, cultural heritage professionals, and others in the humanities and biomedical communities in order to share expertise and develop new research agendas” read the accompanying joint press release.

The release highlighted four workshops as successful examples of the partnership, three of which were funded by NEH grants to Virginia Tech and one that included a Virginia Tech presentation.

“Virginia Tech, which is well known for its strength in bioinformatics and digital history, brings to the table a wealth of connections within these two communities and a strong track record of successful NEH grant-supported projects,” said Paula Wasley, NEH public affairs specialist.

Wasley said the NEH’s public database lists 124 grants to Virginia Tech since 1970.

Jeffrey Reznick, chief of the NLM’s History of Medicine Division, said his organization’s relationship with the university’s Department of History began with an introduction in 2012, through Brett Bobley, director of the NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities, and had since blossomed thanks to their common interests in research, teaching, and public service.

Reznick said the partnership had benefited specifically from the involvement of Virginia Tech’s E. Thomas Ewing, a history professor and an associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

“Tom Ewing’s leadership, vision, and interest and willingness to collaborate on programs for the greater good of research and education have been fundamental keys to the success of the collaboration,” Reznick said.

That relationship has also benefited the university through both the grants it has attracted and the engagement with the nonmonetary resources of the institutions.

“This partnership helps connect Virginia Tech researchers and educators to the rich resources of the world’s largest biomedical library and to the experience and expertise of its staff,” Reznick said.

Founded in 1836, the NLM, one of the 27 institutes and centers that make up the National Institutes of Health, is the world’s largest medical library. Its collection of more than 26 million items spans 10 centuries, encompasses a variety of digital and physical formats, and originates from nearly every part of the globe. The NEH was created in 1965 as an independent federal agency in support of research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected peer-reviewed proposals.

In addition to supporting the NLM-hosted Viral Networks workshop, the NEH has funded a range of history-of-medicine projects under Ewing’s leadership, including the development of data-mining methods to track the spread of the Spanish flu; two summer seminars on the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918, one in 2015 and another slated for this summer; research into the Russian flu epidemic of the late 19th century; and a national workshop on images and texts in medical history.

One of the real benefits of this flourishing partnership, Ewing said, has been the opportunity for Virginia Tech undergraduates to present their research at the National Institutes of Health and have it published through Circulating Now, the official blog of NLM’s History of Medicine Division.

“Through their research, our students learn about historic epidemics, which offer remarkable human stories and opportunities for insights into powerful social forces and deep medical challenges,” Ewing said. “The students also learn about the power of digital tools in uncovering such history. But through our collaborations with the NEH and the NLM, the students gain audiences — and they gain confidence in their scholarship.”

Written by Travis Williams