“Each generation wants to do everything they can to preserve this history so it’s just as fresh and available, ready to teach and inform scholarship, as it is now,” Michalak said.
The collection has been utilized by scholars, musicians and even filmmakers such as Martin Scorcese.
Before the digitization of the information, however, access was more difficult.
Only one student could interact with the field recordings at a time. With the transition to digital media, this prized information and research will become publicly accessible.
This grant follows the June 23 donation of thousands of hours of recordings from McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, Calif., where more than 1,600 musicians, including Merle Travis, Elizabeth Cotten, Townes Van Zandt and Doc and Merle Watson, have played over the past 45 years.
William Ferris, senior associate director of UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South, is among the scholars who have contributed to the collection.
Ferris has recorded legends such as B.B. King to prison inmates at Parchman Penitentiary through the National Endowment for the Humanities.
In a world that is constantly moving forward, Ferris said he believes people are starting to recognize the value of looking back.
“Today more than ever, people all over the globe are searching for roots — their own roots and their world’s — but also roots they recognize as greatly valuable,” Ferris said.
“The American South, with its great music — blues, country, rock ‘n’ roll — and tremendously rich folk tales, is seen as a repository that people from all walks of life would like to know about.”
Steve Weiss, curator for the collection, noted that the information is useful for more than simply scholarly endeavors.
“A lot of people have different images of the South, so this is a way of sharing the things that we’ve collected that we think best represent what our culture is about. And when you share culture, I think it fosters understanding,” Weiss said. “People can relate to each other a lot easier through things like music and the arts, things we all can hopefully understand on a basic level. These things aren’t divisive; they cross cultural, racial, economic and any number of other barriers.”