All of the materials collected so far can be viewed on the Initiative’s DigitalNC page here. If you are interested in submitting materials to the Initiative, check out the city’s website.
All of the materials collected so far can be viewed on the Initiative’s DigitalNC page here. If you are interested in submitting materials to the Initiative, check out the city’s website.
Thanks to our partner Randolph Community College, we’ve uploaded audio tapes of 62 interviews and discussions that informed the work Cultural Leadership Inside America’s Community Colleges by George Baker and contributors. Each interview asks an outstanding community college president or leader a series of questions about their leadership style and their vision for the future of their institution.
The large collection of tapes from interviewees around the country offers a great opportunity for teaching with primary sources; here are three ideas for how these materials could be used.
1. Journalism: What makes a good interviewer?
Although the interviewers in these tapes are rarely identified by name, their interviewing styles vary. Having a team of researchers ask the same set of questions makes it easier to identify some of the strategies that each person uses to engage their subject. Here are a few examples:
2. Representation & Gender
According to the American Association for Women in Community Colleges, close to 30% of community college presidents in 2020 were women. At the time of the recorded study, the researchers note that the proportion of women was closer to 7% (according to Baker and Rouche on tape 2). The majority of these tapes features interviews with male-identifying subjects; only four of the 50 community college presidents recognized for their leadership were women (thought other women in leadership positions at Miami-Dade CC were interviewed as well).
How do women’s answers differ from men’s in these recordings (or do they)? How do they approach the topic of representation in this setting?
3. History of Higher Education
In each of these recordings, community college leaders reveal some of the strategies that they use to attract and retain students, serve their populations well, and prepare their institutions for the future. Since this study’s findings were published in 1992, community colleges have had to adapt and reflect even more. What has changed in community college leadership over the past 30 years? How have schools shifted their approaches to serving students?
For comparison, it might be useful to check out our collections of N.C. community college handbooks and catalogs, which you can filter by school name and year.
You can see the full batch of audio recordings here. To see more materials from Randolph Community College, you can visit their partner page or their website. Even more audio materials are available in our North Carolina Sights and Sounds collection.
If you’re a big fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical Hamilton (based on the life of Alexander Hamilton), you may remember the song that Aaron Burr sings about his daughter, “Dear Theodosia.” But what you may not know is that Theodosia Burr’s story comes to a head (that joke will make sense in a minute) in North Carolina.
Theodosia Burr was primarily raised by her father and received the kind of education that was typically reserved for the men of her time. She had a strong relationship with her father and admired him greatly, according to her letters. Among the country’s early framers, Aaron Burr was one of the few early defenders of women’s rights (7:18) (due partially to the influence of Theodosia Prevost, Theodosia Burr’s mother).
Aaron Burr’s dedication to Theodosia’s education helped her become one of the most distinguished women in early American society—and one of the most sought-after. She was apparently pursued by the artist John Vanderlyn and the writer Washington Irving. Vanderlyn allegedly painted Theodosia’s eye as a “memento of his love” (10:32) and wore it on his lapel. The most appealing suitor, though, was Joseph Alston, who would go on to become governor of South Carolina. They were married in February 1801 in Albany, New York (11:34). In 1802, Theodosia gave birth to a son, Aaron Burr Alston (15:09).
In 1807, Aaron Burr was tried and acquitted of treason, leaving his political reputation in a sorry state. To escape the negative attention, he went into self-imposed exile in England, where he stayed for four years. The separation was apparently hard on Theodosia, who didn’t see her father during that period. Then, in 1812, her son died of malaria at the age of 10 (19:50), leaving her even weaker and and more depressed.
When Aaron Burr finally returned to New York in June of 1812, Theodosia was desperate to reunite. However, her poor health made her family worry about travel on land, and the ongoing war meant that most ships had been seized by the Navy to fight the British (20:14). Finally, in the fall of 1812, Alston secured a small pilot boat, The Patriot, to take Theodosia up the East Coast from Charleston to New York. As Oscar Stradley explains (5:26), the boat was designed to sail close to the shore and arrive in New York in 5 to 6 days. Theodosia and the crew of The Patriot left Charleston on December 30, 1812.
A quick sidebar is necessary here to explain what happened next—and it involves our old friend Hamilton. As many North Carolinians know, the Outer Banks has a long history as a treacherous area for sailors, especially on dark nights, when the coastline is hard to see (not to mention the threat of pirates, which we’ll get to in a minute). Alexander Hamilton, who was personally familiar with the “graveyard of the Atlantic,” used his influence within the Washington and Adams administrations to get funding for lighthouses (1:50). He was successful in securing funding for one famous gal in 1794: Cape Hatteras.
Although Cape Hatteras provided some light for ships around Hatteras and Ocracoke by the time it was lit in 1803, by 1812, there still wasn’t good lighting around Nags Head, which is to the north (close to Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills). This set up the perfect opportunity for land pirates in the area.
On dark nights (which are especially common in the fall and winter in the Outer Banks), pirates would lure ships aground with a sneaky trick: they would tie a lantern to the neck of the ponies commonly found on the islands and lead them up and down the hills (6:48). From the perspective of boats on the water, this looked a lot like the light on another ship bobbing nearby (a “nag” is a name for an old horse).
Although the details of what happened to Theodosia and the crew of The Patriot are still a bit of a mystery, accounts of pirates that surfaced in the 1830s led people to believe that the boat was taken in by this trick at Nags Head. Stradley notes that the crew may have been trying to determine their location when they accidentally ran ashore and fell victim to pirate murder (8:20).
The reason that we think Theodosia made it to the Outer Banks comes down to one enticingly-vague clue: a portrait that is probably of Theodosia. In Stradley’s telling, Theodosia escaped the initial pirate attack with the portrait of herself, which she intended to give to her father when she arrived in New York. The pirates may have left her on the beach, he posits, because of superstition surrounding people with mental illness, or people “whose minds had been taken by God” (10:59).
The portrait was rediscovered by Dr. William Poole, a physician from Elizabeth City who made a house call to a small fishing cabin on Nags Head in 1869 (12:06). Apparently, the owner of the cabin gave the portrait as payment for medical treatment. The portrait has a strong resemblance to Theodosia’s earlier portraits, and when it was discovered, some of her surviving family members confirmed the likeness (39:10).
Stradley tells this part of the story as if Dr. Poole was called to treat Theodosia herself (who, in 1869, would have been in her late eighties). Before Dr. Poole could take the portrait, however, Theodosia allegedly grabbed it off the wall, ran out of the cabin, and disappeared into the night (she was a sprightly eighty-six) (12:55). The portrait was later found washed up on the beach, and Theodosia was assumed to have drowned.
Another version, explained by Marjorie Berry, historian for Pasquotank County, says that Dr. Poole was called into the cabin of Mrs. Polly Mann, a fisherman’s widow (27:30). The portrait stood out in the otherwise plain cabin, so Dr. Poole asked where it came from. Mrs. Mann explained that her old beau, Joseph Tillet, had been one of the ship’s wreckers, and that he had gifted her two black dresses and the portrait, which he had taken as his share of the loot. (In this version, the wreckers had found the ship already empty when they arrived.)
In contrast, the report that Aaron Burr received, according to Berry, was that Theodosia was drowned by a storm. Since British ships were waiting off the coast of North Carolina (they were, after all, in a war), one admiral sent Burr a message describing a rough storm that hit the Outer Banks on January 2, 1812—around the time that The Patriot would have been there (29:44). The fact that there was a huge storm in the area is a detail missing from all the pirate confessions that came forward, leaving some doubt as to their veracity.
Whatever happened to Theodosia Burr, the story of her life and disappearance has been told and retold in Northeastern North Carolina many times; a copy of her portrait is on display in the Our Story Exhibit at the Museum of the Albemarle. You can hear the Oscar Stradley’s full version of the story here (courtesy of Mitchell Community College) and Marjorie Berry’s version in the recording of “History and Highballs: Theodosia Burr” from the North Carolina Museum of History.
Thanks to our partner, Mars Hill University, over 40 audio recordings which discuss the history of the Appalachia region and old-time music are now available on our website. These recordings include oral histories with singers and musicians such as Dellie Norton; solo and group performances from the Lunsford Festival as well as the Mountain Dance and Folk Festivals in the 1960s and 1970s; jam sessions; and a university talk about the history of old-time music from the Appalachia region.
To learn more about Mars Hill University, visit their website.
To listen to more oral histories and audio recordings, please visit our North Carolina Sights and Sounds Collection.
29 oral histories collected in the early 2000s by the African American Historical and Genealogical Association of Surry County are now online thanks to our partner the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. Thanks also to our colleagues in the Southern Folklife Collection, these audiovisual materials were digitized utilizing funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The interviews are mostly on video and discuss many topics about being Black and growing up in Mount Airy and Surry County area during the first half of the 20th century.
We also scanned many maps and architectural drawings for the museum in this batch and those are available here. The drawings include a lot of buildings around Mount Airy.
To learn more about our partner Mount Airy Museum of Regional History visit their partner page here.
To hear more oral histories on DigitalNC, go here.
Thanks to our partner, Person County Public Library, a batch of materials including a variety of North Carolina maps, a video of Bill Clinton’s visit to the state in 2008, pamphlets and books about North Carolina history, and more are now available on our website.
An interesting work from this batch is the book, Let me tell you ’bout … when I was growing up. It contains transcribed interviews with older members of the Person County community which were conducted by elementary school students using tape recorders. The recordings were later transcribed and published into this book. The interviewees in this book were quite a diverse and exciting group. The interview with Morse Gardner (pictured above) being one of the most gripping. In her interview, Morse Gardner goes into great detail about her education and family, old medicinal remedies, her thoughts on segregation, and her community growing up.
To learn more about Person County Public Library, please visit their website.
To listen to oral histories available on our website, please click here.
Thanks to our partner, Wilkes Community College, 26 new oral history recordings are now available on our website. Thanks to our colleagues in the Southern Folklife Collection, these audio materials were digitized utilizing funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
These oral histories all pertain to the history and citizens of Wilkes County. Topics discussed in the recordings include the history of mills, silvering mirrors, personal stories and family histories, moonshining, fur trading, education, medicine and pharmaceuticals, Fort Defiance restoration, racecar drivers, musicians, and more.
One particularly interesting recording is Cranor Kilby’s interview. In it, he discusses his early life including the first time he made money performing, his favorite instruments, music in his early years, and keeping community songs alive. According to Kilby, there are several songs which seemed to have disappeared over the years. Through his performance of these songs, he keeps them alive for the next generation of North Carolinians and Wilkes County citizens. In the second half of his interview he performs several songs, including “Groundhog,” “Sadie,” and “Turkey Buzzard.”
To learn more about Wilkes Community College, please visit their website.
To listen to more oral histories, please click here.
To view more audiovisual materials, please visit our North Carolina Sights and Sounds collection.
As all of us at the Digital Heritage Center carry on our work from home, we are continuing to utilize the time outside of our regular duties to enhance DigitalNC. One such project is adding transcriptions to our collection of North Carolina Oral Histories.
Transcriptions are the written text of audio files, which are, in our case, recordings of oral histories. The oral histories on DigitalNC vary in length, ranging from two minutes, to two hours, and beyond. Typing out transcriptions from scratch takes time- a lot of time. To help us out, we use the transcription software, Sonix. Once an audio file has been uploaded to Sonix, the software “listens” to and creates text of what it heard.
Unfortunately, audio transcription software does not produce a faultless transcript. After Sonix creates the new text, we listen to the original audio and edit the errors. Edits include replacing or removing incorrectly heard words, adding in missed punctuation and paragraph spacing, and attributing the various speakers. We also remove speech fillers (think “um” and “er”) and note when speech is unclear with a bracketed question mark ([?]).
Editing also requires consistency. Here are some of the guidelines we follow to create dependable transcripts:
This is where transcription work gets tricky. These guidelines may prompt questions during the editing process such as, How much laughter is enough to allow for [laughs]? or, What if the speaker has a regional accent that represents much of their personality and culture as expressed in the recording and I would like to point to it through non-standard contractions? There are no hard and fast answers to either question. Both rely on what the transcriptionist feels is most appropriate to faithfully represent the narrator’s story. This makes the transcription a participatory product, not just an automatic copy.
Respect for both the narrator’s speech and intent is the primary focus for a transcriptionist. In a perfect world, the interviewer would ask the narrator to look over the final document to approve of the content. However, because the Digital Heritage Center obtains all of our oral histories through our partners, plus the fact they are often recorded over 20 years ago, we are not able to consult either the interviewer or the narrator.
This leaves us to follow best practices, making sure to keep in mind our biases. Respecting the intersectionality of the narrator is an important dimension to this work. Many of the narrators in our Oral History Collection are Black and use African-American Vernacular English. Others speak with strong regional Southern dialects. As we draw up the final transcript, we have to take into consideration our own positionality and watch for editorializing and over-interpreting.Why are we transcribing oral histories? Not only does adding text to the audio make the record accessible, but researchers are now able to scroll through interviews for relevant information without having to listen to the entire recording. The text within the transcripts is fully searchable when doing a full text search on DigitalNC, which makes them appear in many more searches than they would have with just a basic description. That being said, accessibility is a first step and we are looking forward to continually refining our transcripts and supplemental description work with an eye to equitability and transparency.
To take a look at all of the oral histories we have online, click here. And if you’re interested in glancing through the many oral histories with either original or newly made transcripts, click here.
42 audio recordings, including 35 oral histories, and 1 silent video showing Methodist University (then College) in the late 1970s or early 1980s are now online. Thanks to our colleagues in the Southern Folklife Collection, these audiovisual materials were digitized utilizing funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
The oral histories including the batch are with various faculty and other staff who worked in the early days of Methodist University’s history. There are also 9 other audio recordings that include building dedications as well as fun items such as promotions that ran on the radio for theater productions at the school and a feature called Methodist College Report.
To learn more about our partner Methodist University, visit their site here. To learn more about our partnership with the Southern Folklife Collection, read this post. And to view and hear more audiovisual materials on DigitalNC, visit our North Carolina Sights and Sounds collection.
21 new oral histories detailing the lives of those who lived in Mount Airy and Surry County are now online thanks to our partners Mount Airy Museum of Regional History and Surry Community College. The digitization of the oral histories from Mount Airy Museum was done by our colleagues in the Southern Folklife Collection and the work was funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
The participants were primarily interviewed in the 1990s about their lives in the Mount Airy and Surry County region dating from around 1910 until 1970s. The Spanish Flu pandemic, World War I, World War II, race relations, the Civil Rights movement, and the Great Depression are all topics covered in these oral histories, which feature men and women and Black and white people.
While these oral histories were digitized last fall and winter, with the COVID-19 situation this spring, they provided a very useful option for enhancement while our staff worked from home. We have been able to add transcripts for each of the oral histories that didn’t have them, as well as enhanced metadata, making them even more accessible than before for our users.
To learn more about our partners on this, visit their websites at Surry Community College and Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. To learn more about our partnership with the Southern Folklife Collection, visit our post here. And to view and listen to more oral histories on DigitalNC, visit our North Carolina Oral Histories exhibit.
This blog is maintained by the staff of the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center and features the latest news and highlights from the collections at DigitalNC, an online library of primary sources from organizations across North Carolina.