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U.Va.’s William Thomas To Step Down As Director Of Virginia Center For Digital History
Randy Shifflett To Be Interim Director

May 16, 2005 -- William G. Thomas III, co-founder and director of the Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia, will step down next year to become the John and Catherine Angle Chairman in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Thomas, an expert in U.S. history since 1865 and modern Virginia history has been an associate professor in U.Va.’s Corcoran Department of History since 1996.

Crandall (Randy) Shifflett, project director of the VCDH’s Virtual Jamestown project and history professor at Virginia Tech, will serve as the interim director while a search takes place for a new director.

“With Will Thomas' departure, it is essential that the momentum of VCDH continue,” said Ed Ayers, dean of U.Va.’s College of Arts & Sciences and the center’s co-founder. “Fortunately, we have found exactly the right person for the job. Shifflett has created and overseen one of the very best historical sites on the Web, Virtual Jamestown.”

Ayers said Shifflett has worked with the staff at VCDH for several years on this massive project and “knows the operation inside and out. Shifflett will continue in the tradition of Thomas by teaching a class each semester — the History of Virginia and an exciting seminar on digital history.” 

Shifflett conceived the idea for the Jamestown Project in 1997, and it has been one of the most successful projects at the center. The project is a research-teaching-learning undertaking to explore the legacies of the Jamestown settlement and "the Virginia experiment." It was modeled

on Ayers’ Valley of the Shadow digital archive project, and has been nominated twice for the Richard W. Lyman Award for outstanding achievement in the use of information technology to advance scholarship and teaching in the humanities.

Shifflett, a history professor at Virginia Tech since 1979, also served on the board of directors for the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the Federation of State Humanities Councils and the Virginia Council for History Education. Next year, he will live in Charlottesville and hold offices at the VCDH in Alderman Library and at the University Research Park at North Fork.

U.Va.’s VCDH promotes the teaching and learning of history using digital technologies. Their research projects and programs use the Web to serve scholars and educators in universities, colleges, schools and libraries around the world. In addition to the Valley of the Shadow project, VCDH’s projects include a Geography of Slavery in Virginia, Race and Place: An African American Community in the Jim Crow South, The Dolley Madison Project and One Hundred Years of Life on the Lawn.

Since Thomas and Ayers co-founded the center in 1998, the center has evolved. “We have grown over the years,” Thomas said. “We had really only two, maybe three projects to start with, and have over the years developed six or seven more large ones. What has stayed the same, I hope and believe, is the energy and creativity of our graduate and undergraduate research assistants and how much that influences our work.”

Among the many projects Thomas oversaw during his time at the center was the Television News of the Civil Rights Era 1950-1970. The project, which was launched in February, aims to collect, digitize and present in streaming video format over the World Wide Web television news footage from the period and to make these valuable materials available to scholars, teachers and students. It now contains film footage from the nightly news from two local television stations in Virginia. This rare footage includes full speeches from Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon, the governors of the commonwealth of Virginia, and original footage of school desegregation, public meetings, local debates over civil rights matters and interviews with citizens.

Thomas said he is confident in the center’s choice of interim director. “Over the years [Shifflett] has been a tremendous project director, fundraiser, grant writer and colleague,” Thomas said. “I have valued his counsel at every step in VCDH's development.”

“We are lucky that Shifflett is willing to take on this task while we conduct a search next year for a new director for VCDH,” Ayers said.

Contact: Katherine Ward, (434) 243-0368

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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