Individuals with an interest in the region’s past can now search two new online archives devoted to Cherokee culture and the evolution of travel in Western North Carolina.
Both sites are maintained courtesy of Western Carolina University’s Hunter Library.
“Travel Western North Carolina” includes images and commentary about 27 towns and communities in WNC over five decades. The site allows users to follow a route along footpaths and wagon trails in the 1890s, take a train ride in the 1910s, and drive by car along mountain roads in the 1930s.
Each “stop” includes a description of the community and excerpts from primary documents of the time, including newspapers, letters and guides. The site is online at www.wcu.edu/library/DigitalCollections/TravelWNC.
“Cherokee Traditions: From the Hands of Our Elders” unites information about Cherokee basketry, pottery, woodworking and more and includes information about artisans and archival photos. The “From the Hands of Our Elders” pages grew from a grant-funded, multi-institutional project that also saw the creation of two guides to Cherokee basketry and pottery. The site is online at www.wcu.edu/library/DigitalCollections/CherokeeTraditions.
Photographs and documents from the sites are accessible by searchable databases, making rare and unique research materials accessible to students, researchers, teachers and the public. Both new collections formerly were elements within Hunter Library’s “Craft Revival: Shaping Western North Carolina Past and Present” website, a research-based site that documents an effort to revive handcraft in the western region of the state in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Anna Fariello, an associate research professor who headed the craft revival site’s creation and development, was responsible for generating much of the content in the “Cherokee Traditions” pages.
“I think this will be especially helpful to our students and researchers who want to look at authentic Cherokee material,” Fariello said. “The way I built this site, perhaps it could be added onto. It has the capacity to be expanded to include some of the other aspects of Cherokee culture that are focuses of WCU’s Cherokee Studies Program.”
Pages in the “Travel Western North Carolina” site – originally intended as context for the craft revival site – were created through research by George Frizzell, head of special collections, and illustrated with special collections documents. Frizzell wants visitors to the site to come away with an understanding that the WNC region changes and adapts like any other.
“I hope it shows people that this area changed with the arrival of new technologies, and that with the arrival of the railroad and automobile, the infrastructure was revised and revamped, and people acknowledged the impact on the economy,” he said.
Digitizing information serves a number of purposes, said Mark Stoffan, head of digital, access and technology services for WCU’s Hunter Library. Statistics show that the library’s digital collections are accessed by users from around the world. Increased digitization opens information to a broader audience. Digitization can help publicize collections – sometimes prompting gifts of similar materials – and helps protect originals from handling.