WCU will digitize historic Smokies photos
Western Carolina University’s Hunter Library will produce a new digital collection of 2,000 items focused on the history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park with support from a $93,000 grant from the North Carolina State Library.
“The park certainly has an amazing and well-cared-for archive, but it’s locked away,” said Anne Fariello, associate professor of digital initiatives with Hunter Library. “We will be digitally preserving and increasing access to material that is important, not only to the development of the park, but also to the region.”
This digital collection and interpretive website will include documents and photographs that relate to the initial idea and construction of a national park in the eastern United States, said Fariello.
The materials will focus on a group of North Carolinians who promoted the idea of a park as early as 1899, the efforts of private individuals such as Horace Kephart, whose papers contain many never-before-seen materials that promote a park, and people involved in federal programs, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps, who actually built the park.
Highlights will include journals Horace Kephart assembled in preparation for his book, Camping and Woodcraft, images of the park’s construction and photographs of life in the Civilian Conservation Corps, and Appalachian National Park Association records.
Grant funding will support staff of the library’s digital production team and will enable the purchase of a new scanner that has the capacity to digitize items up to 2 feet by 3 feet and items currently too fragile to scan.
Fariello applied for the grant for the project after learning that a comprehensive history of the park had not been published online and that the park had historical items that are not exhibited.
Fariello said interest in the park has grown with the recent celebration of its 75th anniversary and the success of Ken Burns’ “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” documentary film series.
Fariello said the library collaborated with the park on a recent digitization project, “Picturing Appalachia,” (see story below) and gained a better understanding of the park and its history.
The project is made possible through formal partnerships Hunter Library has entered with Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the state Office of Archives and History, which each house items that will be included in the collection.
Archive focuses on early 20th century Appalachia
Western Carolina University joined forces with Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the latest addition to its digital collections, housed at Hunter Library.
“Picturing Appalachia” is a collection of more than 1,000 early 20th century photographs that provides a glimpse into the life, culture and natural landscape of the Southern Appalachian mountains in and around Western North Carolina.
The collection includes images by popular Great Smoky Mountains National Park photographer James E. Thompson, whose work is housed at park headquarters in Sugarlands, Tenn. A memorandum of understanding between the university and the park allowed Hunter Library to digitize the historic photographs.
“It just makes them a lot more accessible to people around the world,” said John McDade, museum curator at the park. Not only can people access the images more easily, but it also protects the images from handling, McDade said.
Thompson and his brother, Robin (whose work also is in the new collection), ran the Thompson Brothers Commercial Photography business in Knoxville, Tenn., making images for park supporters and various other regional tourism and business interests.
WCU staff also selected groups of pictures from Hunter Library’s own special collections, including work by George Masa, who photographed and documented the Mount Mitchell Motor Road, giving tourists a glimpse of America’s highest peak east of the Mississippi. Masa is well known for working with Horace Kephart, an authority on the cultural and natural history of the region, to build support for establishment of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The collection also comprises the work of other, lesser-known photographers, including A.L. Ensley, a Jackson County farmer who photographed families in formal portraits at his home studio.
“It is these pictures — along with the growth of the railroad and the publication of various travel brochures — that have made Western North Carolina a popular travel destination,” said Anna Fariello, associate research professor at Hunter Library who coordinates digital archiving efforts.
Users can search “Picturing Appalachia” by photographer, source institution or by topic, which includes botanicals, cities and towns, portraits, industry, landscapes, transportation, and travel and tourism. Descriptions included in each entry include biographical information about the photographer and other facts.
Images from other photographers, including R.A. Romanes, who documented communities and towns in WNC and counties in north Georgia and east Tennessee, are planned for addition. To complete the collection, the library’s digital production team also will scan and upload a number of 19th-century travel brochures.
Picturing Appalachia” takes its place along with the library’s other digital collections, including ones for the craft revival, Cherokee traditions and Kephart, as well as the sound collection “Stories of Mountain Folk,” all of which can be accessed from www.wcu.edu/library/digitalcollections/.
“As a regional public institution and through collaboration with cultural partners, Hunter Library is committed to building regionally oriented, historically significant digital collections of broad research interest,” said Dana Sally, dean of library services.