The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday August 3rd

A day in the life of University archivist: Giving value to ignored voices

UNC Archivist Nicholas Graham works on preserving UNC history through the many documents and artifacts that come through his office in Wilson Library. Here he looks over an archived copy of The Daily Tar Heel from 1951 for an upcoming exhibit.
Buy Photos UNC Archivist Nicholas Graham works on preserving UNC history through the many documents and artifacts that come through his office in Wilson Library. Here he looks over an archived copy of The Daily Tar Heel from 1951 for an upcoming exhibit.

It is well-known that UNC has a long history, having been around for almost as long as the country. But, what perhaps is not as well-known is how exactly that history is recorded and preserved.

Enter Nicholas Graham, University archivist, who works to collect and preserve records that tell the story of UNC.

“It’s a really fun job in the way that it connects with the whole UNC community,” Graham said. “So, that’s terrific, and then, you know, like a lot of people, I find UNC history fascinating and interesting — so it’s great to work with historic materials every day.”

On one table in his office, there is a box that contains old floppy disks from the Ackland Art Museum, the proposal for a women’s studies PhD program at UNC and reports from the vice president of finance in the 1940s and 1950s that discuss the use of German World War II POWs serving in the school’s dining halls.

Graham said what interests him most about his work is how rare the documents that he encounters are.

“A lot of what is in Wilson Library — especially in the University Archives — nobody else in the world has that,” Graham said. “These are all original materials, these are all one-of-a-kind things.”

Graham said many of the University’s past archives only tell one side of the story — something he hopes to change.

“Institutional archives often represent the administration because that’s who provides funding, that’s who creates the records that are usually deemed of being of permanent value,” Graham said.

To correct this one-sided representation, Graham said he hopes to collect archives that paint a more inclusive and realistic picture of UNC.

“What we’re thinking about is whose stories are not represented in the University Archives, traditionally, and how can we address that now, and what can we do to build collections that show the full range of this really diverse campus,” Graham said.

In his efforts to do this, Graham works with two other archivists in Wilson Library to collect and sort through records.

“One thing that makes him really great to work with is that he is very involved in everything that is going on in the office and is always working collaboratively with all of us,” said Jennifer Coggins, the record services archivist.

In addition to ensuring that UNC’s diversity is accounted for in the historical record, Graham wants to make the records more accessible to the public and researchers.

One of the ways he does this is by creating exhibitions of the archives. His most recent exhibition, opening later this month, is about Charlie Scott and the integration of the men’s basketball team fifty years ago.

Jaffa Panken, a graduate student who worked closely with Graham on the exhibition, said the collaboration has been rewarding.

“He really allows you the freedom to follow your interest, so that’s been really fun,” Panken said. “He gives you guidance along the way, and he tells you like ‘Can you look this up?’ ‘Can you look that up?’ but he also gives you a lot of freedom and that’s really nice in a job.”

When he is not combing through records, Graham trains employees in records management and meets with other departments within the University to talk about collecting records.

“If we’re going to tell the full story of Carolina, then we need to have collections that reflect that diversity,” Graham said.

university@dailytarheel.com



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