Killing Two Birds with One Stone

So I’ve been thinking.  Dangerous thing, thinking.

Since I’m doing the rural side of life in my neck of the woods and several of my family members are current or former Norfolk Southern (Railroad) employees, I’m thinking it would be good to include some information in the site about NS.

Last night whilst ruminating on the subject, I came across the Teamsters Labor Union, which is one of the many unions available to NS employees, and found that they have an office in downtown Asheville.  I’m thinking I may have to give them a call and make a pit stop there soon.

I stopped by Special Collections at my home campus library again today and made it into some of the old local papers.  Talk about a treasure trove of primary source material!  Holy cow!  It was fantastic.  I found some of the most awesome information, old ads from the Great War time period, bits and pieces of articles from the day, and low and behold, a full page of photographs of troops from Asheville with an accompanying article.  Jackpot!

I was so excited that I dragged both Gene and Colin from their desks to show them my find, and they graciously came and looked at the material (something they probably already knew was there, but they did indulge my childlike excitement with praise nonetheless).  I’m already indebted to them both.

I made a list of the primary source finds in Special Collections and since I’d devoted almost my entire study period today to the work for this class, I figured I might as well keep the ball rolling, so I just completed my first timeline.  I’m going to try and copy and paste the link here on the blog, and I don’t know how it will look at first, but I thought I’d give posting it a shot.

I did my timeline on a two week span last summer when I visited Scotland and where I went each day.  Basic and simple, but I think it filled the requirement of playing around with the technology to see what I could do with it.

Incidentally, I had a blog for my Scotland trip last summer, and if anyone’s interested in taking a look at it and my Scotland photos, you can access it via

Without further ado (and I hope this works- fingers crossed), here’s my timeline (I think).

On second review of this post, it looks like it’s only the link.  I was hoping for it to show the actual timeline itself, and maybe I’ll find out later that there is a way to embed the picture of the timeline into my blog instead of just the link.

Examining Digital History Sites

The approach I used to take a look at the list of sites for examining digital history was a simple one.  I went to the home page and after looking at the entire page, if it looked like something I could easily navigate and something that would hold my interest, I went into the site.

Such elements are what I am looking to incorporate in my side of our website, and I think that my colleague agrees with me.  We want something that is initially clean and just a “scratch the surface” type of intro, and then as each additional layer is revealed, the substance of the website becomes more striated and complex.

Those elements were what I saw incorporated into the Valley of the Shadow blog, the University of Houston’s Digital History blog, and the Emilie Davis Diaries.  These three blogs were my favorite.  They each had a fairly simplistic opening page, and I especially like that the Valley of the Shadows blog used their home page as simply an introduction page with a button for the site entrance.  I also liked how this particular blog split the time frame for the Civil War into three subsets- before, during, and after- and then each of those subsets had compartments (which were all identical in each time frame) in which to click to see primary documents, pictures, etc. and obtain an analysis of that information.

The Digital History site for the U of H was a bit more complex, and I hesitated before entering the site, but the graphics combined with the timeline made it a bit easier to navigate versus the box and grid line contraption on The Emancipation Project blog.

I also loved the timeline at the top of the Emilie Davis Diaries blog home page where each page of the site was broken down into particular diary entries from consecutive calendar days.  I also thought including the original diary entry off to the side of the page, with the ability to click and enlarge the entry, was genius.  I’m the type of person (historian) who likes to see the original of something, be it a photo, diary entry, letter, etc., when I’m learning about it.  Makes it more real to me, sort of brings it to life.

In thinking of the audience in which I’d like for most of the information on the Asheville site to be viewed by, I keep coming back to the K-12 set as well as the people who live in this area.  I don’t want a site that is so complicated it’s going to keep folks from even attempting to enter it.  Yet I don’t want a site that is too simplistic for a seasoned professor to glean some tidbit of information from either.

I continue to concur with my colleague’s musings on this: I think our blog site would be best suited as a kind of “archaeological dig site” if you will.  On the surface you have more of an overview on what you are about to uncover, something that would invite both the student as well as the professional historian alike.  When you reveal that second layer, it becomes more detailed, and by the time you reach the “bones” of the site, you are obtaining a completely detailed picture of the Great War.

In my mind this is going to be what appeals to a broad range of academic and age groups.  A site in which you can gain a broad overview of the subject in just a few clicks, but a site with enough meat in it that anyone with a hunger for the subject of the Great War in Western North Carolina will be fully satisfied when they finally close down their laptop.

Preliminary Survey of Local Archives

Luckily for my colleague and I, the Asheville area appears to be a historian’s mecca.  While UNCA was not around during the Great War years, there were still many other notable buildings- shops, churches, private homes- both in Asheville and the surrounding areas.  What’s more, people were not only documenting the birth and use of these places, but also the everyday normal activities that these folks were undertaking.  Even better, there are many archives in and around Asheville that have kept a record of all of it.

Out of my list of archives thus far, I’m most excited about my college’s special collections.  Part of that reason is the University Archivist and Head of Special Collections, Gene Hyde, seems to really know his stuff.  Just from the short visit where I went and introduced myself, he was able to point me in several good directions as to where to look for the type of information I’m interested in researching regarding this time.

I think what caught my eye the most in UNCA’s special collections, were some of the memoirs and journals that were available from the time.  There was one in particular, a small, delicately-bound blue book, couldn’t have been more than 75 pages or so, and I only caught a few words and phrases in it, but I was suddenly transported back to my Grandparent’s front porch on a late summer afternoon, inundating them with questions about “the good ol’ days” and listening as they spun timeless stories that fascinated me.

Asheville, or more particularly, the suburb of Oteen, houses North Carolina’s western-most regional historical archives, and my colleague and I have a trip planned there next week.  That same day we will also be traversing the Pack Library in downtown Asheville, another place I’ve been told (by more than one person) that is a treasure-trove of artifacts from days gone by in Buncombe County.

I have four other colleges in the area whose special collections I’m interested in perusing- Montreat, Warren Wilson, Mars Hill, and Appalachian.  Along the same vein, the Biltmore House has their own special collections, and while it’s usually off-limits to most of the general population, we have decided it would be worth a shot to send Biltmore’s Archivist an email to let them know what we are undertaking and to see if it would be possible to open up their vault to us.

I feel like my colleague and I are off to a great start, and I look forward to delving into some of this material beginning next week.

The Long Journey Ahead…

Barnardsville Pic BookMy name is Ashley McGhee and this is a blog about my journey through COPLAC’s (Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges) Century America course that I am participating in for the Spring semester at my college, UNC-Asheville.

The Century America course will focus on the World War I years between 1914-1918 and what happened during this time period in the county and surrounding area of my college- Buncombe County in the city of Asheville in the area of Western North Carolina.

My Mother’s side of the family goes back for more than five generations here, so as a native of the area, and a voracious student of all things History, I am excited to begin this journey to see what I may uncover about this area during the Great War.

I’ve already made some progress in uncovering some information during this time frame and in this area.  I have a book containing a pictorial history dating from the early 1900’s from Barnardsville, a town in the northern part of Buncombe County and where my Grandfather was born and raised.

My colleague and I have made a trip to our college’s special collections, and the Head of Special Collections, Gene Hyde, has given me a list of preliminary readings, including Asheville: A History by Nan K. Chase which I’ve checked out to read, and Creating the Land of the Sky: Tourism and Society in Western NC by Richard Starnes.

We also have an idea on how we want to approach the information available from our area and how we would like to present it.  So far the journey appears to be well started and I’m looking forward to continuing along the path!