Well, this is it. In just over a week, Julia and I will present our final version of the UNCA site. I know Abby presents tomorrow, so I wish her the best of luck. I honestly feel invested in not just my own, but everyone’s projects at this point. After spending so many weeks looking at each other’s sites, I feel a genuine excitement when I see how far they’ve come now, and am excited to see them present this week. It’ll be a weird feeling after next Tuesday when I won’t be meeting with everyone to discuss changes to all of our sites. I expressed a lot of this in my previous post, but I am very happy that Julia and I finally got our project into a nice working order, and am hopeful that our work will be apparent when we present. For some closing thoughts, I just wanted to reflect on the impact our interviews had on me. Beyond just giving us content for our project, I genuinely learned a substantial amount about our campus and had a rejuvenation in my interest of public history for the first time in a while. I spoke to a lot of people I otherwise wouldn’t have, and learned so much, and for that, I am very thankful. I just wanted to give a final “thank you” to Abby, John, and Emily for feedback throughout the life of the project, Mark and Cole for dealing with us for a whole semester, Julia for being contractually obligated to be my groupmate, and anyone out there who has actually kept up with my project blog. Thanks, everyone.
It’s hard to believe we’re all at the end of the course so soon. Our blog is nearly done, our last few interviews are rolling in and being uploaded, and I still feel like there is so much to do. I’m honestly not too sure after this is all said and done if I’ll be able to get out of the mindset of looking for stories to tell every time I hear something about our campus mentioned in the classroom or community, but perhaps that is a good thing. This has been a phenomenal experience, one which I can wholeheartedly say has helped me as a student in more ways than I would have initially thought. WordPress, Timeline JS, and Blue Jeans are all technologies I feel comfortable with now, not even mentioning the enjoyment and learning that these interviews have brought. I’m very happy with the strides Julia and I have made in these last few weeks. I felt we may have been floundering initially, but I believe we now have a site that I can show my peers with pride. I’m excited yet a bit nervous for the looming presentation day, but I’m still taking things one step at a time.
The word of the week in the fast-paced world of digital humanities: progress. We’ve been trimming audio and scheduling new interviews. Julia seems to have a better handle on things than me, as she has both of her interviews pretty much in stone, whereas I am still being snubbed by candidates. However, I’m very optimistic I’ll be able to get one for this week with a long-standing administrator on campus, who should be able to fill me in on a lot of campus history. We’re also working on getting our site in a more presentable order, with more for a viewer to see, even in these building stages. I really want to dive into TimeLine JS this week, but am a little wary that we don’t have enough new material for it yet that hasn’t already been covered in the original timeline we made for the class. My goal is to have the site in good order by Tuesday, so we can get some feedback and continue to work towards improving it.
Today, Julia and I were finally able to conduct our first interview. We met with Darin Waters in his office at one and proceeded to try our hand at gathering oral histories. Almost immediately we encountered a problem, as the microphone we checked out from the library wasn’t working. Instead of delaying, we decided to make due with the microphone on Julia’s phone. I was worried at how the audio would turn out, but it was honestly much better than I expected. As for the interview itself, Dr. Waters was an incredibly good interviewee, and I’m very pleased we were finally able to schedule this. While a little hesitant at first, he quickly opened up and provided us with an incredible amount of knowledge about his life, the future of the campus, the Asheville community, and how the school interacts with it. Something that I’m still processing is his response to one of Julia’s question of “How much interaction did you have with UNCA growing up in Asheville?” to which he replied “Almost none whatsoever.” This was the aforementioned twist, as this completely rocked the narrative I had been mentally building of the history of our campus. I had always assumed UNCA to be similar to how the campus is now, with a heavy community involvement. To further that, many of the sources I read on the history of the campus seemed to confirm that, but it was very interesting to hear it from Dr. Waters’ perspective. It has really made me consider how I view the narrative process and made me understand the importance of having diverse sources and oral histories. Our meeting with Dr. Waters has really eased my mind about the subsequent interviews. As a final note, I’d encourage anyone with an interest in Appalachian history to look into the Isaiah Rice photo collection. It is a compilation of over a thousand pictures from Dr. Waters’ grandfather from his life in Asheville, and very much fits the scope of our class.
This week has seen me survive a terrible case of the flu, and struggle immensely with midterms. But despite feeling like Atlas, I have made some progress with our project. We now have a definitive time set up to interview Darin Waters, and are nearly done drafting up a list of questions to talk to him about. We originally were wanting to interview him tomorrow, but he is leading a committee on race in North Carolina tomorrow, so his schedule is very busy. Not deterred, I have also been in contact with the administrator of a facility on our campus known as the Reuter Center. This is an area where adults from the Asheville community can continue or begin their higher education without having to go through the typical college class experience. I think interviewing a student there would be incredibly interesting, as many of them have been taking classes at UNCA for years, simply enjoying the liberal arts educational process instead of focusing on trying to get a degree. I’m especially interested in hearing their opinions on UNCA’s development, and it’s move towards a more digital form of the humanities and liberal arts. A final thing I’d like to discuss, unrelated to our project, is the visit Tim Kaine, Hillary’s running mate, recently made to our campus. After having a few days to reflect upon and process everything that he said, I was left with a question posed by Senator Kaine that is very relevant to our course: Why is public higher education so exorbitantly expensive in the United States compared to other Western nations? The culture and attitude surrounding college education in the US is a far cry from the way many European nations view it. Regardless of your political views, I think we can all agree that college education in America is in need of a serious reform. Acts such as the GI Bill have tried to even out the playing field, but it still remains difficult for students to attend college without aid. In addition, the stigma against liberal arts educations and the push for more vocational fields makes schools such as ours even more important to continue the liberal arts narrative.
My research from the past week has kept the process of our project moving along nicely. I’ve been looking into documents concerning the IRB at UNCA, and it seems for the sake of our project, we are exempt from having to fill out any requests. Going off of that, we are preparing for our interview with Dr. Darin Waters next week, the first step in our process of meeting our timeline goals. As hypothesized in class, these deadlines are already shaky, as our original interview time has been rescheduled for next week. However, after that interview, I think I’ll feel much more confident with how the project will be formatted in the long run, as we’ll have a reference to go off of for our subsequent interviews. As for how this relates to the humanities, I feel that the opportunity to interview people in the university and the community about the history of our city and campus is definitely an example of an education fueled by the humanities. The continuing integration of the digital aspects of the humanities into our course should also factor into our interviews, especially with professors, as it seems to be the natural progression of the liberal arts education.
The liberal arts and digital humanities seem to be intrinsically connected on their most core level. While the liberal arts may encompass a more broad category, there is still a definitive emphasis placed on the humanities and the human experience. Digital humanities obviously also have a huge emphasis on the humanities, but the actual human element seems to be up for question. Human history has been profoundly, inarguably impacted by the technological breakthroughs that occurred throughout it. While it is debatable whether pre-agricultural revolution nomads had more of a genuine human interaction than subsequent farming civilizations, it seems safe to say that the emergence of widely accessible digital communications has rocked the way we understand human interaction. It seems easy to say that some aspect of the human element is lost when a class is held over Skype, or Blue Jeans, or any other kind of telecommunication. As we’re inherently social creatures, it seems that a conversation that isn’t face-to-face lacks a certain authenticity, and is somehow seen as less valid. If we were to follow this train of thought, it seems clear that the wider lens of the liberal arts seems much more preferable than losing something so hard to describe, yet crucial. However, I would argue that the digital humanities don’t deprive people of an essential part of learning, but instead, trade it for a different kind of human interaction. The way that people interact over the phone, through a letter, or through a video call is profoundly different than in person, and to not experience that form of communication is to miss out on a learning experience. That brings me back to our COPLAC course in general. Our experience of being able to participate in a digital humanities course, to me, is simply the natural evolution of a liberal arts education. Allowing students to discuss and learn about the humanities through a different outlet than traditional schooling is simply the next step in education. So rather than have the liberal arts and digital humanities be seen as two competing ideas, I believe digital humanities are just a natural extension of the liberal arts. In this vein, I believe that the work we are doing with our projects is the next step in education. Rather than compile information for a one-time use of a paper, we’re taking meaningful interactions and experiences, and synthesizing them for whoever would want to learn about the material. The active human element of having such a personal experience allows us to experience education is a way very unique to our type of class. Our liberal arts educations let us craft a project that will have much more long-lasting effects than a single grade.
The development of UNCA has always been heavily linked to the community and wider nation, even before it was a part of the UNC system. The adoption of the GI Bill, along with the rapid expansion of a true American middle class, can be clearly documented in my previous history on UNCA, which I’ll elaborate upon here. The late forties saw a large amount of new legislation reaching Asheville, with lawmakers allocating funds and laying the groundwork for a state-funded school in Buncombe county due to an increased demand for higher education for many citizens. The fifties and beyond saw an incredible increase in enrollment for the campus, along with it becoming the first two-year college to receive state funds. Because of the constantly increasing and diverse student body, it was also the originator of the modern day community college system in North Carolina It was around this time that the offer to join the syndicate of North Carolina universities was made to UNCA. The campus relocated for a final time after all of these changed were made. With state funds and a switch to the baccalaureate system, the university remained uncharacteristically stable. UNCA hasn’t moved or had any major setbacks or structural changes since the early seventies when it was finally adapting and flourishing under a post-GI Bill education system. Seemingly crucial to the success of the university was its continuing tradition of public education, combatting the wealth of private schools in Western North Carolina at the time. UNCA seized a prime opportunity to capitalize on a burdening education-seeking middle class, by being a state funded public school that was the only member of the UNC syndicate in the area. While it may have taken some time for UNCA to get it’s footing after major educational changes nationally, it managed to persevere and thrive. The massification of higher education sweeping across America had a clear, positive effect on the city of Asheville and the university as a whole.
Gumport, Patricia J., et al. “The United States Country Report: Trends in Higher Education from Massification to Post- Massification.” Academic Reforms in the World: Situation and Perspective in the Massification Stage of Higher Education,1997.
The history of the University of North Carolina at Asheville is a long and varied one. Our story starts in 1927, with the Buncombe County Junior College. Though technically not UNCA, the long history of this institution would evolve into what we now know as our school. This Junior College started with less than one hundred students, and free tuition (oh, how things have changed). Less than two years into its life, the Great Depression hit, causing the College to start charging tuition. However, tuition could be paid in a variety of ways, such as vegetables, eggs, or other produce. The 30’s would mark the first in a long series of relocations for the college, as the school system withdrew funding for the college, forcing them to move to what is now David Millard Junior High School. The administration of the college was also moved to now use a board of trustees. The college is renamed to the Asheville-Biltmore College and accredited by the US Department of Education. Another six years after the college first moved, it moved again, to the area which is now the Memorial Hospital, just outside of downtown. Just in case things were getting too comfortable, two years after that the administration decided to move the college onto Merrimon Avenue, which runs adjacent to the current campus, to give it a little more independence. Believe it or not, because of increased enrollment, the college moved seven years later to Seely’s Castle. Yes, you read that correctly. For a brief period of time, college was held in an actual castle on Sunset Mountain. In 1958, increased enrollment once again forces the college to relocate. This time, they move to what is now the current university campus, right beside an old Civil War battlefield. In 63, it became a baccalaureate institution, moving away from their traditional two-year degrees. Because of this, there were no graduating students in 64. 1969 marked the beginning of the college officially being UNCA, as it joined the University of North Carolina system. The following year marked the first time enrollment had surpassed one thousand students. Nine years later, it exceeded two thousand. Nearly every building constructed or to be constructed in the following years on the UNCA campus had been or would be named after either notable students, alumni, or members of the community. The next thirty years mostly saw additions to the campus in the form of new buildings, along with a steady increase of new students and faculty. The liberal arts aspect of the college grew, and the more artistic aspects of the city influenced the direction of much of the campus and students. Last year, UNCA received just over a thousand new students. Thirty-five years ago, the campus had roughly that many students total. It’s growth since moving to the current campus and joining the UNC system has been astronomical, and provided much-needed security for the future of the institution. The history of UNCA has been one of many setbacks and speed bumps, but despite all, the campus has endured and prospered despite many relocations and renamings. UNCA is truly an artistic beacon in the “land of the sky”.