Saying Goodbye – Megan Brett
One of the more famous presents ever to grace RRCHNM’s annual White Elephant Gift Exchange is a small statue of Chairman Mao. Year after year, the statue reappears, is generally stolen at least once, and vanishes into someone’s office or the top of a bookcase until December rolls around again. This year, the provenance and history of this statue was recorded in a bit of paper that was rolled up and stuffed into the statue’s base. Both the statue and the documentation owe their existence to long-time RRCHNM staff member who recently finished her Ph.D. in History at GMU: Megan Brett.
Megan first came into the orbit of RRCHNM when she attended a THATCamp at the urging of her father, the late George H. Brett II, an IT pioneer who had previously attended one of our THATCamps. The experience helped convince her to apply to GMU’s History PhD program, with a particular interest in digital and public history, and formally brought her to the center as a Graduate Research Assistant in 2011. She started off working on the Papers of the War Department but in the following years was tapped to also work on a host of other public history projects before eventually transitioning to being a full-time employee of the center (while continuing to pursue her Ph.D) in 2014.
In the years since she joined the center, Megan has been a key team member on many of RRCHNM’s public history and GLAM-focused projects such as the Histories of the National Mall, Local Linkages, the Omeka content management system, and the Scripto and DataScribe transcription modules for Omeka. In any particular project, she could be found doing project management, creating metadata and documentation, conducting testing and outreach, running trainings and workshops, and general cat-herding. She became a leader in efforts to make center projects more accessible, from championing the regular use of alt-text, subtitles, and transcriptions to filling out VPATs for Omeka releases. While she has a diverse skillset, it’s safe to say that she particularly excels at training others and that most of the people currently working at the center have learned to use Omeka S under her patient guidance.
In recent years, she’s put her knowledge of metadata, documentation, and Omeka to good use doing sustainability work for the center. High-profile and award-winning center projects such as the 9/11 Digital Archive, the Bracero History Archive, Children and Youth in History, Gulag: Many Days, Many Lives, the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, and Making the History of 1989 all continue to exist because of her careful stewardship and remediation. She has also consulted on projects across the center that she has not formally been involved in; whenever her expertise has intersected with other people’s work, she has always been generous in sharing her knowledge.
In spring 2022, Megan defended her dissertation, a project on “third culture kids” in the early Republic, titled Family Strategies, Kinship Networks, and National Identity for Americans Abroad: the Maury Family of Virginia and Liverpool, 1785-1840. The newly minted Dr. Megan Brett stayed on at RRCHNM for a few months to help wrap up several projects where her involvement was crucial, but has now accepted a job as the new Collections Processing and Digital Initiatives Manager with the Jefferson Library at Monticello. We wish Megan all the best in her new position and look forward to seeing how she shapes their programs in the years to come.