Sustainability, accessibility, and storytelling are at the heart of The Norman Sicily Project. Earlier this year Professor of History Dawn Hayes received a prestigious grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Humanities Collections and Reference Resources program for her project, “Documenting the Past, Triaging the Present and Assessing the Future: A Prototype for Sicily’s Norman Heritage, ca. 1061-1194.” When I received an email from Dr. Hayes congratulating me on receiving a position as a Media and Metadata Assistant to work on the project, I was ecstatic. As an aspiring media professional strongly connected to my Sicilian roots, pursuing this opportunity has been such a meaningful experience for me. I have a foundational knowledge of Sicilian history and culture because my grandparents from both sides of my family immigrated to America from the island. Coming into the project, I reflected on my own experiences visiting some of the sites that have been a part of my work. The aim of The Norman Sicily Project is to document the cultural heritage of Sicily during the Norman period (c. 1061-1194) to make at-risk monuments accessible to scholars via the internet. Dr. Hayes and her husband, Joe Hayes, the project’s chief technical architect, have gone above and beyond to achieve these goals. What leverages the project as distinctive is its emphasis on sustainability and its embrace of received knowledge from native Sicilians. Their impact is credited on the project’s site. “An enormous debt of gratitude is owed to the countless Sicilians who, in numerous ways, have helped make this project possible. We hope that this effort is a small repayment for their unfailing kindness and generosity,” writes Dr. Hayes.
Working on the project has completely expanded my perception of Sicily’s rich cultural history. In my role as a Media and Metadata Assistant, I am responsible for processing images and videos to optimize for display and usability on the web, applying metadata to the images so that visitors can interact with them and posting across social media platforms to enhance the project’s visibility. My work has provided me with an inside look into the architectural masterpieces of the Middle Ages in a region that was influenced by a number of cultures during the flourishing Norman period. After processing hundreds of the images that capture the essence of this time, I am reminded of the purpose behind my work. Cataloging the images of various churches, monasteries, castles and other monuments preserves the legacy of Sicily’s past and makes the monuments accessible to explore their future sustainability. I am drawn to the stories of the sites and I value the connection between people and places that the project bridges. I experienced this connection first hand when I began to catalog images from the project’s Geraci Siculo folder. This small town nestled in the mountains of northern Sicily is the home of my paternal grandparents and a place that holds some of my favorite childhood memories. I had the privilege of visiting Geraci years ago on a family trip where I saw some of the monuments from the project in person. Working on these sites today is a nostalgic experience that I value so much. For those who do not have ties to their heritage in the project, its impact is no less compelling. Anyone who has an interest in Sicily, medieval art and history, or the Norman Conquest can appreciate the stories within each site and expand their perspective of an island abundant with culture.