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Group assignments

Group assignments

Update on Group assignments: Here are our group assignments with selected projects. I’m happy to say that everyone got their first choices. Can’t wait to see what you create for your collections!

Group 1: Ethan Edwards, Catherine Euchner, Andrea Hyatt 
Mountain Dance and Folk Festival 

Group 2: Kristen Walden, Joe Mitchell, Keira Roberson 
Black Mountain College during World War II 

Group 3: Mikayla Bennett, Kevin Stallings, Evan Bretan
Agudas Israel Synagogue 

Group 4: Timothy Harden, Zoe Hickey, Haylee Carringer 
Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville 

Remember that we are meeting in RRO 239 Friday.

Vance Birthplace Finally

Vance Birthplace Finally

Over the course of my internship at the Vance Birthplace, I have done database entry, artifact handling, retail work, cleaning, inventory, education programs, and worked with the public, and can safely say that it was enjoyable. One of the most important lessons that I learned is that in working at an understaffed and underfunded state historic site, one can expect to do a variety of jobs, and that general maintenance of the site is largely up to anyone working there, especially if the site is as small as the Birthplace. I also learned of the strangely extensive libraries that these sites have, and how extremely niche the content can be. One less pleasant thing that I learned is that many historians in the field of museum studies can disagree on what aspects of the past are important, and the Vance Birthplace is a good example of these differences of opinion clashing. The site itself was begun as a variable shrine to Zebulon Vance, who many Western North Carolinians consider a hero. This positive opinion of Vance is based primarily on his popularity in the Civil War and his help in bringing the Railroad into Asheville and many other opportunities to white Western North Carolinians. While the morality of Vance’s character is questionable, it is not for historians to question, as we are not moralists, but it is our place to question the importance of the historic  sites that we help maintain and create. Many of those who helped in the creation of the Vance Birthplace would say it is important simply because of Vance, and not because it can be used as a way to,educate the public on how a wealthy pioneer family would have lived in the early 18th century.

Vance Birthplace : Chapter Five

Vance Birthplace : Chapter Five

So far my internship at the Vance Birthplace has been going wonderfully. I have completed around 86 hours at the Birthplace, and have to say that I have enjoyed myself greatly. Lately I have been working with a website called Library Thing and continuing work on my Roving Program. Library Thing is a useful site that allows libraries to inventory  their books. It takes data on books from a variety of websites and libraries like Amazon.com and the Library of Congress, so one only needs to find the book and add their own search tags. If the book’s information cannot be found on any of those sites then it needs tt be input manually, which is not so difficult. Once we are finished putting these books online, researchers will be able to look for books on particular subjects in our small library. In doing this I learned just how many rare, unique, and even strange books a small historic site could have, and how they may be an underutilized resource for us students. My Roving Program is still going to focus upon bullet molds, but my salt gourd half of the program will also also involve the gourd ladle, depending on the preference of the individual using the program.

Voices of the Past

Voices of the Past

For any historian, from a budding undergraduate student, to a doctorate holder who has studied history most of their life, they must tackle the difficult question of whether or not a source is valid or useful. Few sources must have this question asked of them more than oral histories, for a plethora of reasons. For one, an oral history is more impromptu than most written documents, and from this a variety of problems arise. Because of the impromptu nature of an oral interview, there is greater chance that the speaker will not remember a particular event or moment in their life correctly, and thus give inaccurate information. This does not come from a desire to hide the truth, but rather it is a matter of simple human error. Another problem is that the interviewer and the person being interviewed will at times have different intentions for the interview, and will thus try to derail the overall conversation. This can make the interview a confused mess, and difficult to use. One must allow the other to guide the interview, thus allowing it to flow properly, and unless the interview is meant to be about a very particular subject, it should be the one being intinterviewed who leads the interview, as their words are the sources historians will use, and thus more important. Even if the information given is inaccurate, or jumbled, it is a useful source for the beliefs of individual people, and can thus be used as a primary source for studying historic memory or social memory. The criticisms that less professional oral history projects such as Storycorps receive are undeserved, as a proper oral history should aspire to be honest and sincere, focused more upon what individuals themselves and what they are drwn to, rather than overly specific events, which will likely be inaccurate to begin with.

Vance Birthplace : Chapter Three

Vance Birthplace : Chapter Three

So far my internship has been going very well, and three things of note have happened. First, I have been okayed to give tours to regular visitors after Kimberly had me give her a mock tour and felt that I remembered enough to be trusted with everyday visitors. Unfortunately, I have not yet had the chance to give a tour to a regular visitor as none have wanted one while I was on duty. My second bit of news is that I will be doing what Kimberly calls a roving exhibit. Essentially I will look at two artifacts in detail and prepare a few paragraphs on each about how they would have been used in the early 1800s, and how this relates to the current day. I will be telling this information to regular visitors and try to relate it to them and their modern world. They will also be allowed to handle the artifact, or reproduction of an artifact, which further connects them to it, and through the artifact, I hope a connection with their own past and heritage is found. The overall purpose of this project will be to allow people to interact with an artifact in a way that they usually never would be allowed to. The last shard of news is that last Friday we had a school group made up of second graders, and I was deeply surprised with how well they behaved, and how much I enjoyed helping them in the candle activity they did. I further felt that they, and other school groups, are lucky as they get to not just enjoy a fun field trip, but they also get to understand further the hard work and time which went into creating some of the simplest items by preforming the candle making activity.

Vance Birthplace: Chapter 2

Vance Birthplace: Chapter 2

The ruling social class within a society usually has an interest in quieting the voices of those whom are different from itself. In the United States that has historically meant native American tribes, African-Americans, and those who are not heterosexual having the abuses and very lives covered up by ethnically European heterosexual people. In public history, there has been and can be pushback from the controlling class against stories of people that it would rather have silenced, yet as historians we must do our utmost to offer a full encompassing and unbiased story of the past to the pubic. At the Vance Birthplace, there have been strides to bring  the full story to the public, which includes the slaves owned by the Vance family, and the many African-Americans that Gov. Vance targeted with vagrancy laws to imprison and force into labor. Just a few years back, the Vance Birthplace had little to nothing to say about the slaves who lived there and worked for the Vances, now that has changed, and we have the names of nearly every slave owned by the Vance family, and some detailed information on a few. The tour itself is being reworked to be longer and more detailed, and it shall include the slave cabin and information on a few of the slaves who would have lived there. The exhibit on Gov. Vance’s life has already been changed to include the historic fact that he used vagrancy laws to incarcerate African-American men and force them into one of the most dangerous jobs possible, working upon the railroad. A great many African-American men died working to build this railroad, and many have been content to ignore their story for the sake of Gov. Vance’s pride, and the pride of Asheville.

Vance Birthplace : Chapter One

Vance Birthplace : Chapter One

I have now interned at the Vance Birthplace for 29 hours for 3 weeks, and I can safely say that it is an enjoyable experience. The first few days I read threw the tour outline and Vance family information, and familiarized myself with the grounds, which includes the pioneer’s mansion, a tool shed, loom house, smoke house, corn crib, slave cabin, and spring house. I have also been greeting visitors, which has steadily become far less awkward. In the beginning I could barely manage to tell them the services that we offer, as speaking to and in front of humans is very, very, very frightening. Yet now I can smile with an easy manner and rattle off the services while barely getting tongue tied. Doing this I am becoming more and more aware of how important bringing in visitors is for the site, as their very livelihood relies upon visitation. This week I was also able to do inventory on the different books that were at the Birthplace, and decide whether or not each one belonged. Most had good reason to be there, while a few should never have entered the building. It was quite enjoyable, and I learned that most museums and historic sites have an inventory going on at all time, as the collections change with time and new pieces and information come about. I also got the distinct pleasure of handling artifacts in the main building, some chairs which belonged in the kitchen but were being moved and the small chest used for papers and the like owned by the Vance family, and seeing the attic, which was rather gross. The most important thing that I learned, is that artifacts must be held like babies with paper skin and peppermint bones, that is to say very carefully.

What Museums are Becoming

What Museums are Becoming

In this weeks readings we have been shown how many museums in the United States have begun, and further how these museums have changed to be what they are today. Many of the museums in the United States were began by those with one: enough money to purchase original pieces of property and artifacts, and two: the classical education that enabled them to know the past and see why it must be preserved. That is to say these early patrons of public history were coming from a position of power. These early museums became a place where those with the power could further control the narrative of the past, and then present it to the public. During my internship I have learned that the Vance Birthplace was begun in a similar fashion, as a testament to the “greatness” of Governor Vance and his family, brought about by those that loved and respected him and his story. The site was a veritable shine to him and his family, and it had little interest is giving a full depiction of his life or life in the late 1700s to early 1800s. That is beginning to change at the Vance Birthplace, as most of the historians there are more interested in life at the time, rather than the history of Vance and his family. I believe in some ways this is related to the much larger change from great man history in U.S. education, as it focuses less on individuals of “importance” and more upon the culture of the past, and how normal people lived their lives.

Vance Birthplace : Prologue

Vance Birthplace : Prologue

I interned at the Vance Birthplace Thursday from 10:00 to 2:00 and Saturday from 11:00 to 4:00. The environment is a relaxed one, and my primary job so far has been to familiarize myself with the site, read some information on giving tours and interpretation, and man the front desk to greet visitors. While this may seem strange for one who has lived most of their life in Madison County, I knew little of Zeb Vance. So I did not get to experience, as many people have, the distinct sorrow and anger of learning he was no moral hero of the age, but simply another corrupt politician willing to send hundreds of African-Americans to their deaths, albeit a talented one. That is one of the reasons I have been able to enjoy learning the ins and outs of Vance’s time as governor and early life, I had very few preconceptions. Preconceptions, I find, are one of the scholar’s greatest foes, regardless of discipline, as they can lead one to ruin while they believe themselves on the path to enlightenment. The information that I have been reading focuses a great deal upon the interaction between the scholars at a historic site, and its visitors. There is of course a practical purpose to it, as it prepares an employee or intern to deal with the public, but there is also a metaphysical side to it that makes one think about the different ways in which we as humans interact with one another on a subconscious level, and how that subconscious interaction affects the information that they share. Thinking so much about how the historic  interpreter must accommodate visitors, maked me nostalgic for a time when visitors  were of secondary importance at museums, which makes me much like the rest of the world, looking backward to a time I never experienced. As a historian, such feelings should make me feel ashamed. Greetings are terrifying, plain and simple, but I am already getting accustomed to them. Earlier today, I greeted a man and wife, who were both excited to be at the Vance Birthplace. The man claimed descent from Vance, and has been in the process of trying to prove or disprove this descent from Governor Vance. He seemed quite proud of his lineage, and the couple was ready to do the guided tour of the main building once they had looked through the exhibit and out buildings in the self-guided tour. After looking through  the exhibit the “descendent” seemed rather unhappy, and left rasping “Jesus Christ!” under his breath. The couple did not stay for the guided tour of the main house. I believe that he had bought the heroic tales of Governor Vance, Champion of the Union and North Carolina, destroyer of slavery and racial injustice, and forgot that Vance was another human, drowning in the darkness of his own soul as most humans do. Kimberly Floyd, the site manager and my mentor, is a phenomenal individual. She is able to make the internship experience into one that is far less frightening than it would be for someone of my demeanor, and has enough experience in the field to offer good advice for my concerns. She has a Bachelor’s in History, and a Master degree in Public History and Museum Studies, and has worked at the Mordecai Historic Park, Stagville Historic Site, and a few others.

First Impressions

First Impressions

My first impressions on the class are primarily positive. I quite enjoyed the internship selection process, as the worksheet we all filled out was private, thus keeping us from worrying about what internships our fellow students would want. I also feel that the details asked for were well thought out by the instructor, and thus gave her a good idea of what classes would be best for which students. Unfortunately I did not enjoy the readings for the second day of class, nor the discussion, as it seemed to be a rehatching of points made in Historian’s Craft; however, I afterwards remembered that not everyone has been through said class, and that even if they had, it could have been very different depending on the instructor they took it with. Luckily I received my first choice for an intership, the Vance Birthplace. I wanted it for to reasons, one pragmatic, the other less so. The first reason is that I live in Little Laurel, Madison County, thus it is the closest of the choices. The second reason, is that with my internship, I wish to learn a variety of skills that are useful in the world of public history, most notably, how to deal with groups of people. This desired goal is also one of my greatest concerns with this class, for I do not deal well with humans, essentially when they come in large groups. But when one is frightened of something, it is best to find ways to become accustomed to it, rather avoid it.

My Experiences Interning at the Western Regional Archives

My Experiences Interning at the Western Regional Archives

Beginning in the summer months of 2017, I had been given the privilege of interning at the Western Regional Archives through until the end of the subsequent fall semester. The Western Regional Archives (WRA) is a branch of the State Archives of North Carolina and serves as a government facility that collects and preserves historical materials relating to Western North Carolina. By doing so, the WRA makes the materials they gather available to the public for researchers to utilize. This function of the WRA is paramount to any number of individuals—scholars and academics who regularly perform research, those curious about local history, or someone seeking information on past relatives. As a historian and an individual who relies heavily upon the resources provided by local archives, it was a wonderful opportunity to become engaged in the processes and tasks that are necessary for its function. Over the course of my internship I was involved in the processing of new collections, projects involving older collections, and I was able to become familiar with new digital tools that can be used to help the archival process. I was also given insight into both the preservation of ephemera practiced by an archive and the bureaucratic affairs, goals, and expectations maintained by local governments. The Head Archivist of the WRA, Heather South, has provided me with the experience of a very educational and productive internship, and has been a pleasure to work with.

I had gained experience performing research at WRA prior to my internship at the establishment, primarily during the spring semester of 2017. During this time, I was able to work directly with one of the WRA’s largest and most popular collections of materials—the Black Mountain College Collection. This collection consists of over 500 boxes worth of photographs, correspondence, paperwork, interviews, booklets, and other ephemera. With the help of Heather South, we were able to sort through these materials and piece together the information that we needed to complete our project. This experience both gave me a glimpse into the functions and maintenance of an archive, but also exhibited the crucial importance of such resources. We would not have been able to complete our project without the help of Heather South and the WRA.

One of the most tedious, yet important tasks for which the Western Regional Archives is responsible is the processing, sorting through, and categorization of collections. During my time interning at the WRA, I was a part of this process for two new collections—The Advantage West Collection and the Mr. Bill Collection. Depending upon the size of the collection, this process may take a couple days up to a few weeks. This process begins when a new collection has been transported to the archives, either by the donator of the materials or through Heather meeting the donator and retrieving the materials herself. Once it has arrived, it is the responsibility of the archivists and interns to sort through the new ephemera for copies, unnecessary materials, or any documents holding personal information that cannot be shared with the public, such as Social Security numbers or bank information—a process that Heather South often referred to as “weeding”. This was especially pertinent for the Advantage West Collection, as a large number of the documents were first drafts, copies, or held the personal information of a previous employee of the company. The documents that are removed from the collection are either discarded or, in the case of sensitive personal information, shredded. A collection may require weeding through once or twice more after its initial pass, but these passes usually take place during the following steps while processing a collection.

Once weeded through the first time, a collection would be ready to sort into categories. These categories often change between collections and in accordance to the logic of those processing the materials, often depending on what the archivists deem would be important classifications that would be useful to future researchers. After placing the materials into various categories, depending on the collection, a Finding Aid needs to be constructed to make the collection more accessible and easier for researchers to utilize. I had the opportunity to engage in the process of weeding through and categorizing both the Mr. Bill and the Advantage West collections, and created a short Finding Aid for the Mr. Bill Collection.

Heather South also educated me on the conditions that certain materials must meet in order to be accessed by researchers. She also instructed me on minor maintenance of ephemera and allowed me to sit in on seminars regarding photograph preservation. Mold is the adversary of any archivist and can appear within any collection. This occurs most frequently when documents have been stored in poor conditions, particularly within humid areas in which moisture can collect, such as basements or cellars. Mold can also spread between documents very quickly and can potentially ruin an entire collection. Because of this, it is important that an archivist or an intern identify mold within a collection either before the transportation of the documents, or during the weeding process. There are processes in which a moldy document can be salvaged, though depending on the severity of the mold, the collection may require being sent to a specific archival facility with the proper tools and freezers to eliminate the issue. The WRA does not carry the freezer or the advanced tools to eradicate extreme mold, however. Because of this, if a document or collection is not deemed of enough importance to justify the transportation between facilities that would be required to eliminate the mold, the collection may be discarded to ensure the protection of the other collections held within the archives. Because of this danger, the temperature and humidity at the WRA is heavily surveilled and regulated—though, notably, it currently does not possess the ideal tools for maintaining these environmental factors at the ideal points. The three humidifiers at the WRA must be emptied twice daily, or the humidity within the archives can become damaging to the collections. Quite often, Heather must visit the WRA facility in order to perform this task, even on the days in which the archives are closed and she is not required to work. Other than mold protection and the restoration of documents, Heather South has educated me in passing regarding the conditions of photographs, video tapes, audio tapes, and other non-paper materials.

I have also been instructed on a small number of simple procedures required by state and local government, such as the measurement of the WRA’s Digital Reach. The Digital Reach can be considered as the sheer number of individuals who had in some manner seen, commented, or shared posts created by the WRA on social media. It calculates the number of individuals who were exposed to the material and posts generated by Heather and others who maintain the social media pages. At the time in which I was shown this procedure, there was some inter-department conflict regarding how this number was calculated, as well as some accusations of number inflation directed at Heather by an archivist from another state archive. This accusation would eventually be proven incorrect, but it displayed the disputes that can occur between different branches of the same department. I have also had the opportunity to witness the interactions between local government departments that take place within the WRA facility. Most archives are not held in the same close relation to other local government agencies as the WRA. As such, this can create both an opportunity for close cooperation, as well as an environment that allows conflict between them. I have witnessed a number of disputes regarding the signing in of individuals at the check-in desk, meetings of outside organizations that take place at the facility, or interdisciplinary projects. However, these conflicts can be expected in any circumstance in which a large number of state and local government agencies, departments, and offices are held within the same building.

Over the time that I have spent interning at the WRA, I have been given two major projects. I was given the task of reading and summarizing the Barbara Dreier Correspondence boxes from the Black Mountain College Collection very early in my internship. This was a very difficult assignment, particularly during the beginning. I was very inexperienced in reading hand-written letters of varying hand-writing styles and legibility. I regret that I was only ever able to get through one box, the “A-E” category, during my time spent at the WRA. Towards the end of my internship, Heather South asked me to transcribe the Basil King interviews they had received on strict conditions along with another collection. The donator, Basil King, insisted that the collection and the interview would be donated on the condition that the interview be transcribed by the end of the year. To my eventual surprise, I found that the interview was three interviews in actuality, each over an hour long. I would find that transcribing, much like attempting to read illegible letters, was also a laborious task. I would eventually become much quicker at transcribing with much practice, and I have completed most of the task. Unfortunately, I have found that I will not be able to complete this task before the end of the semester, but I intend to volunteer with the WRA outside of my internship in order to complete this project by the end of the year.

While much of my time spent at the Western Regional Archives has entailed tedious, laborious tasks that can become mentally draining after a period of time, I have found that my internship at this facility has been an enriching experience. This is due both to the fortunate experience of working alongside Heather South, as well as experiencing the labor that goes into preparing collections for the researchers to utilize. I believe that this experience may help me in my future research, as I have much better understanding about the processes, systems, and tools used by archivists. I have also become far more grateful for the labor that archivists perform in order to prepare the resources that researchers, such as myself, often take for granted. This has been an enriching experience that I would engage in once more, given the opportunity.


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