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.
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.
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.
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.
This previous Monday, the first draft of Dr. Bruce and I’s Virginia Bryan website was due. Considering everything, I am quite proud of the product that we were able to come up with. It is a little rough around the edges and there is plenty left to work on, but I am pleased for the time being. I was able to incorporate a slider of three images on the front page–one of the college residence at the time, one of Virginia Bryan that leads to her page, and one of a graduating class that leads to the Student’s page. I was also able to incorporate a quote from Gertrude Ramsey on the front page.
The green of the header bar that came with the theme is far from my favorite, but I find that the manila color that I chose for the background works quite well with it and creates a more professional feel. I was also able to find a collection in Special Collections to help me with Wilma Dykeman’s page, primarily on her childhood.
After this, I will need to rewrite some sections of the website, put in citations, create a TimelineJS, and tie up some loose ends. There’s quite a bit left to do, but I am quite happy with this first draft product!
The deadline for the first draft of the Virgina Bryan website for my independent study is due on November 13th, so I have been dedicating the bulk of my time this week to it. It has been an ordeal, but now that the website has been coming together, I find that it has been worth it.
The first step of my process included writing out each page. I feel as though each page must be filled with some content in the very least before I begin editing the website. Gertrude Ramsey’s interview provided me with a wealth of information about her time attending the college and Virginia Bryan’s teaching. I am currently in the process of writing her passage. I have also contacted WLOS regarding the Gertrude Ramsey Show. I have finally received a call back to confirm what they are searching for, but have not received anything beyond that. I hope to have some of that information by the time my first draft is finished, but it may have to wait for the final draft.
Dr. Bruce has agreed to write the selection on Eileen Smith, which is a wonderful help. After a review for my plan of the website, I’ve realized just how colossal of a project this has become and all of Dr. Bruce’s help is not only appreciated, but I’m convinced I would not be able to do this without his help.
I have also decided that the TimelineJS feature will have to wait for the final draft, for time’s sake. I have a lot left to do before this website is presentable!
I am becoming nervous about the amount of work I have done on the transcriptions for the Western Regional Archives, versus the amount I have to show for it. It really is quite a long process. For every 15 minutes of audio, I have been spending anywhere between one to three hours writing and reading through the transcription. I hope to complete this process soon, but I am beginning to believe that I will need to continue this after the semester is completed. Heather needs each of these audio clips finished by the end of the year, and I intend to have this complete one way or another.
It does get frustrating transcribing Basil King’s interviews at times. He doesn’t seem to stay on topic very well. He is a distinguished artist, author, and graduate from Black Mountain College, but he also tends to fall into rambling tirades about various topics. These can range from how he is treated on the bus, how he feels as though he is an outsider in the arts world, how he has become an outlandish figure in his residential community, or how the American education system is broken. His interviewer also isn’t the best at keeping him on topic and seems to encourage these tirades. That being said, in the least, it is easier to transcribe a tirade than when they speak over one another.
It isn’t as bad as I am making it out to be, though. His interviews can also be quite interesting! At times, he mentions the curriculum at Black Mountain College, the competitive nature of the students, or what advice his teachers there gave him.
I look forward to becoming a better transcriber by the end of this project.
This week, I would like to take a closer look at the programs I am using for my internship at the Western Regional Archives and the Virginia Bryan website.
- oTranscribe is a free website that allows you to use one program to both control the audio and write on the page. This is particularly useful as it frees you from switching between programs and, most importantly, is free to use.
- Transcribe.wreally is my preferred website of the two, but charges $20 for an annual license outside of its free trial. However, this isn’t a particularly bad price, especially for the the software it provides. It allows you to slow the audio, use the Esc button to pause, allows you to rewind in two second increments, and even offers a dictate option in which you speak into the microphone and merely repeat the words from the audio. It also saves your work from your previous session automatically.
After utilizing these tools, I have been slipping my finished products into a GoogleDoc for Heather to access.
For my independent study, I have used Canva to create a logo for the website and I intend to use TimelineJS or a similar program to give a more visual option to compare the students. I haven’t quite decided how this tool will be used–either to display the times in which Bryan’s students attended the college, or to show where they went after their graduation–but I hope to incorporate this tool.
This week I have made both the transcribing for the Western Regional Archives and the creation of the website for my independent study my focuses.
The due date for the first draft of Dr. Bruce and I’s website on Virginia Bryan is a month away and I am becoming concerned about what the finished product might look like. I am having trouble finding images to decorate the website with. I also have very little done on Gertrude Ramsey, Eileen Smith, and Wilma Dykeman. I have found that Gertrude Ramsey has an interview in Special Collections that I can use for my research, but finding information on Wilma Dykeman is surprisingly difficult. Perhaps I only find it difficult because there is a copious amount of sources on her career, but little on her home life. I will take a look at Special Collections to see what I can come up with on her.
The Basil King interviews are slow going. Often, Basil King and the interviewer will speak over each other, or back away from the microphone so that they are difficult to hear, or the interviewer will begin typing as Basil King is speaking, making it difficult to hear. I hope that I am able to finish these interviews by the time the semester is over. I have plenty of work to do!
At this point during the semester and reviewing the remaining hours required, I can see the end of my internship approaching. I have been devoting more hours to transcribing the Basil King interviews, which I fear I may not finish before the end of my time at the archives. Perhaps I will volunteer there to try and finish them before the end of the year outside of an internship for college credit. I have gotten to know Heather, the other archivists, and the other interns very well over the course of my study there.
As stated previously, I spent a portion of my time this week transcribing the Basil King interview–though a smaller portion than last week. It has become a little easier, but it remains tedious. On Thursday, I was able to help Heather and another volunteer sort through a new collection, which has become somewhat a cathartic experience. It involves sorting, throwing away duplicates or unnecessary materials, and organizing a collection. I look forward to finishing out the remainder of my internship there soon!
I have also begun constructing the website for my research with Dr. Bruce. It is coming together in its own way, but I am now reminded of the frustration involved with constructing a website from scratch. In times such as this, I find myself ever grateful of Kristen’s help last semester during the construction of the website.