Saying Goodbye — Jim Safley

In 2002, Kelly Schrum, the long-time director of educational projects at RRCHNM, told a student in Mason’s BA program in applied history that he should apply for a job that was opening up at the Center. That student was Jim Safley and until that moment, he had assumed he would find a job at a traditional archive or library. “I never considered a career in digital humanities given my technical inexperience, but I couldn’t turn down the prospect of working with Roy Rosenzweig,” Jim said of that moment 19 years ago.

We had recently launched the September 11 Digital Archive and right out of the gate Jim was put in charge of trying to make sense of the rapidly growing collection of digital objects being deposited into the archive and implementing standards for organizing and preserving the collection. Little did he know when he started how important that work would become. When the Library of Congress decided to make the Archive the Library’s first major acquisition of born-digital content related to the attacks of September 11, the standards Jim helped create became a template for future work by scholars working in digital collecting.

When a team of researchers at RRCHNM began work on Omeka, it was only natural that Jim would play a leading role in that effort. Since 2007, Jim has been responsible for some of the most important aspects of Omeka, work that he is justifiably very proud of. Thinking about his contributions to the Omeka project, Jim said, “I’m most proud of the planning and development work that I’ve done for Omeka because it represents an intentional, collective effort to solve common problems in the humanities. Knowing that we recognized these problems early in my career, it’s satisfying to have been a part of a mature solution that moves the field forward.”

In addition to his vital contributions to the Omeka project, Jim has been the person we have all turned to for questions about metadata and new ways to think about solutions to vexing problems. Anyone who has had the privilege of working with Jim would tell you that he is passionate about whatever he is working on, that he is unfailingly kind, and that he goes out of his way to find the good in any idea that someone comes up with.

Jim is part of a small group of RRCHNM staff and faculty who still remember working with our founder, Roy Rosenzweig. Remembering Roy, Jim says, “I owe much to Roy, not only for his passion to democratize history, but for his dedication to provide the conditions necessary to develop as a digital humanist. I could not have endured so long at the Center without the positive, collegial work culture that Roy started.”

We will miss Jim’s talents, his collegiality, and his unwavering commitment to the mission Roy first articulated in 1994. Through all the changes that have happened at RRCHNM since 2002, Jim has been a steady, constant presence. We wish him all the best and thank him for everything he has accomplished over the past 19 years.