UC researcher leads efforts to preserve the stories of Avondale
$74K NEH grant supports community conservation
University of Cincinnati researcher Anne Delano Steinert and community partners have received a $74K grant from the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH) to spearhead an initiative to help preserve the culture of the community of Avondale.
“It’s an opportunity to discover and celebrate the history of this community,” says Steinert, a research associate professor of history in UC’s College of Arts and Sciences. The development grant is intended to lay the groundwork for a future grant to fund a multi-location installation throughout Avondale.
The grant is part of the NEH’s nationwide “American Tapestry: Weaving Together Past, Present and Future” initiative.
With a population of nearly 12,000, Avondale is bordered by North Avondale, Evanston, Walnut Hills, Corryville and Clifton. It is the largest African-American community in Cincinnati.
“The grant covers creation of a team—a corps of local history researchers who will be recruited from the Avondale community,” Steinert says. “People who either live now or have lived in Avondale who want to discover and tell the stories.”
The Avondale project is not the first for Steinert in Cincinnati. An urban historian and expert in American architectural history and preservation, she is the founding board chair of the Over-the-Rhine Museum, a work-in-progress to preserve the stories of that community. She has also studied the West End extensively.
“I’ve worked a lot in the West End, which was a neighborhood that was demolished in large part because it didn’t look very valuable to outsiders—people who were just keeping track of real estate values,” Steinert says. “They failed to see the community connections, and social institutions, and network of families and love and small businesses and mutual support that existed in the West End.
“So, because none of that was articulated, or celebrated, or even recognized, it was easy to discount that neighborhood.”
Avondale is also home to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and UC’s newly developed 1819 Innovation Hub on Reading Road. With powerhouse institutions competing for limited real estate and resources, Steinert didn’t want to see happen in the West End happen in Avondale.
“In Avondale, it’s particularly a Jewish history and a Black history,” Steinert says. “Those are stories that we don’t tell very well in Cincinnati. This is a real opportunity to discover and celebrate all those—the stories of diverse people in the history of Cincinnati.”
The project got started in summer of 2021, in partnership with the Avondale branch of Cincinnati Public Library and the Avondale Development Corporation.
The team created a summer youth corps which included eighth, ninth and tenth grade students, who worked at the library under the supervision of an undergraduate UC history major. They also created a four-part history lecture series on Avondale, and binders about the community’s history now available at the library. They also created a digital archive, where people can upload documents and images to build the story.
We have historians. We have preservationists. We have all these resources to be good neighbors in Avondale.
Anne Delano Steinert, UC Research Assistant Professor
Steinert also convened a panel of Avondale stakeholders to find out what types of stories they wanted to preserve, so the vision is driven by the community itself. Going forward, the team will build a corps of lay-historians to be trained in oral history, archival researches, architectural history and more.
The partners now will spend two years building a team, researching the community, and imagining what stories the final installation might tell.
“After a year of doing the work—and getting paid to do they work—we will come together. And from what they’ve discovered, try to write some exhibit text,” Steinert says. “I don’t have any idea what the exhibit will feature, and what the text will be, but I can’t wait to see how it turns out.”
To Steinert, the project goes beyond the work of preserving a community’s history. It’s also about being neighborly. “Using the resources that we have at the University of Cincinnati—knowing that we as an institution are moving into Avondale with the 1819 Innovation Hub and the Digital Futures building—we have historians, we have preservationists. We have all these assets to be good neighbors in Avondale, and recognize and celebrate the community.”
Featured image at top: UC historian and researcher Anne Delano Steinert. Credit/Seneca Steinert