Southern Historical Collection will use $877,000 grant to archive southern history

For UNC Libraries’ Southern Historical Collection, an $877,000 grant will provide new opportunities for community engagement. 

Recently endowed with the money by the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Southern Historical Collection hopes to expand its current operations and continue its practice of community-driven archives.

“Traditionally, we get material from individual donors most often, sometimes organizations. The idea is you pick it up, you bring it in the building and it lives here forever," Director of Southern Historical Archives Bryan Giemza said. 

"With this model, what we’re trying to do is change that dynamic a little bit. And so the simplest way I know to describe that is it’s inverting this triangle, you know traditionally scholars would say ‘Hey, I want to study this stuff,’ the archive takes it in, and you know, then maybe the community looks at it after the fact. But, under this model, we’re inverting it so the community says ‘This is what we think is important,’ and they partner with us in some fashion to help curate that history.”

The grant will allow the Collection to hire a community archivist and will open four other positions for three years on a community driven team. The Collection is currently working on community-driven programs across the South, with some of the larger projects taking place in Appalachia, San Antonio, Eastern Kentucky and in historical black settlements and towns across the region. 

African American Collection and Outreach Archivist Chaitra Powell said the new programs will provide access to interesting stories about public health and daily life. 

"There’s usually an entertainment story, what was the juke joint, or club or something, this chitlin circuit, where were these black performers performing in the towns,” she said. 

Everett Fly, owner of E. L. Fly Architects in San Antonio and a collaborator on the project, said he feels the expansion is important for preservation. 

“If we don’t document and analyze historical buildings and places, our lessons that our ancestors learned about, building and materials and designing and so forth will be lost. And so then you’re like reinventing the wheel and there’s no need to do that,” Fly said.

By giving power to contemporary communities in addressing, documenting and archiving their pasts, Gienza said he hopes to empower communities across the South and give them voices of their own.

“There’s an element of equity and social justice in it I think, because there are issues of patrimony when you take things into an archive," he said. "And who speaks for a community, right? And how do they get access to their materials once they’re here and again, who speaks for them? Do scholars speak for them, or do they kind of have a way to tell their own story?" 

university@dailytarheel.com 

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