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Published June 5, 2024

In her 16-year journey with Virginia Humanities, Sue Perdue, outgoing Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Director of Grants and Fellowships, has always strived to connect the past with the present in meaningful and sometimes surprising ways. 

Since joining our office in 2008, Sue has held various roles: program director; leadership team member; data systems manager; even adhoc archivist. “I’m kind of a shapeshifter,” she remarked.  

Perhaps the most salient throughline of Sue’s work at Virginia Humanities has been the theme of facilitating digital access to information that deals with the human experience. As a documentary editor for more than 30 years, “I’ve always been interested in the digital side of things,” Sue said. “So, I was always focused on systems to make things work better and more efficiently.” 

Sue Perdue presents at the 2014 Digital Humanities Workshop in Lausanne, Switzerland. She wears a bright blue blouse and matching green and blue scarf while gesturing toward a projected presentation slide.
Sue presents at the 2014 Digital Humanities Workshop in Lausanne, Switzerland

Sue’s entry point to Virginia Humanities was as the director of Documents Compass, a project that enabled scholars to more easily publish historical documents and related research online. In addition to four rounds of funding from the Mellon Foundation, Documents Compass received $2.5 million from the National Archives between 2010 and 2016 to fund a project called “Founders Online,” which consisted of uploading all of the Founding Fathers’ previously unpublished documents to a free website hosted by the Archives.  

Sue hosts a poster session with Encyclopedia Virginia at the American Historical Society Annual Meeting (2016) in Atlanta, GA.
Sue hosts a poster session with Encyclopedia Virginia at the American Historical Society Annual Meeting (2016) in Atlanta, GA

When the National Archives and Mellon funding for Documents Compass ended in 2016, Sue became the director of Discovery Virginia, the digital archive of Virginia Humanities’ 50 years of work as the state’s humanities council. Digitizing all the media related to Virginia Humanities-funded projects over the decades required painstaking attention to detail and organization and countless hours of sorting through and viewing a variety of physical media, including cassettes, CDs, and VHS tapes.  

“The objective of Discovery Virginia was to get it all processed, put online, and attached to metadata to make it accessible,” Sue said. 

While the objective might be clear, there really are no shortcuts to speed up this type of labor.  

“It’s been a very big, long-term project because we continue to unearth additional materials,” Sue affirmed. “Recently, our Virginia Folklife Program discovered a lot of media that had been sent to the Library of Virginia for long-term storage that we had never seen.”  

“I’m so aware of Virginia Humanities’ history, having processed so much of it. And yet, most of our conversations tend to focus on what’s next.”

Sue Perdue, outgoing Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Director of Grants and Fellowships

Matthew Gibson, who has served as Virginia Humanities’ executive director since 2017, says that when he started strategically restructuring the organization’s workflow, adding Sue to the leadership team just made sense.  

“I appointed Sue as Chief Information Officer in 2018 to help solidify our processes and systems,” Matthew said. “Because of her background in systems management, in making information more distilled and accessible, it was a logical choice.”  

Sue talks to legislative staff about Virginia Humanities' work in Richmond, VA as part of Advocacy Day 2015.
Sue talks to legislative staff about Virginia Humanities’ work in Richmond, VA as part of Advocacy Day 2015.

During the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginia Humanities received over $2 million in emergency relief grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to distribute to smaller nonprofits in the Commonwealth. Unlike our regular project funding, these grants offered low-barrier general operating support that was critical to the survival of nonprofits during the pandemic.  

This “inflection point,” as Sue called it, required the Grants program to implement new systems for its grantmaking that could accommodate the distribution of such a large amount of rapid-response funding. Sue’s deft implementation of these new processes led to her appointment as Director of Grants and Fellowships in 2022, following the retirement of long-time director David Bearinger. 

In reflection, Sue pointed out the irony in her role of facilitating our archives during rapid growth for our organization. 

“Sue’s work is of the highest competence and professional standard—she’s an incredible asset.”

Matthew Gibson, Executive Director

“It’s weird because, in some ways, I feel like I’m always looking back in time, while the organization is always looking forward,” Sue said. “I’m so aware of Virginia Humanities’ history, having processed so much of it. And yet, most of our conversations tend to focus on what’s next.”  

For Matthew, though, this tension was essential to her success: “Sue looked back at the past for a lot of her work, but with a very forward-thinking focus on information delivery and connectivity,” he said. 

Sue recalled an anecdote that exemplifies how impactful a digital archive like Discovery Virginia can be. “Somebody found a Folklife recording we had of an a capella gospel performance at Center Union Baptist Church, just from a Google search,” Sue recalled, “and she saw her father singing in the video, so she was able to help us identify a bunch of the congregation.”

That information is incredibly valuable, both for Virginians connected to the records and for the accessibility of Discovery Virginia. Adding it will make it easier for other community members to discover in future searches.

Sue poses with Cary Ferguson, Virginia Humanities‘ finance generalist, at her retirement lunch on 4/23/24. Photo by Nina Wilder/Virginia Humanities

This kind of “serendipity,” as Sue called it, is beneficial to both the individuals who find communal or sentimental value in the archived media for personal reasons, but also to Virginia Humanities because it helps us to better understand our past projects and bolster our existing relationships with local communities throughout the Commonwealth.  

As he reflected on his many years working with Sue, Matthew Gibson described her as being “of the highest competence and professional standard—she’s an incredible asset, and I’m sad to see her go.” As Virginia Humanities looks eagerly toward our next 50 years, we have Sue to thank for a sustainable understanding of our past that continues to evolve with us.  


We’re pleased to announce that Adam Courville has been promoted and will serve as the new director of Grants and Fellowships.

In this role, Adam will support all phases of award administration to organizations and individuals associated with Virginia Humanities Fellowships and Grants programs. 

Our work brings people together and honors our shared humanity.

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