Category Archives: Writing Prompts


We are almost there!

As we said once again the project sites (to borrow John’s word) are beautiful. They each reflect significant intellectual work. As we enter the final weeks of the semester here is what you need to do:

  1. Before Thursday December 1: immerse yourself in the work of your peer’s project sites. Take notes. Then send your notes, in the form of a letter, to Mark, no later than 8 AM on Thursday. Mark will compile the notes and forward them to each project site team
  2. Work on your site. This work may pick up a bit once you have more written feedback from your readers
  3. Compose and post on your course blog a final “Research Reflection” by Tuesday the 6th at noon.

Public presentations of projects begin next week. The presentations may be “attended” by faculty and administrators from other COPLAC institutions:

Tuesday December 6 Presentation by Abby Shepherd, Keene State College, “The Women of Keene State: An Exploration through Personal Narratives”

Thursday December 8 Presentation by Emily Buckley-Crist and John Panus, SUNY Geneseo, “Foundations of Knowledge at SUNY Geneseo: Narrating the Public Liberal Arts: An Exploration of General Education and the Humanities Sequence”

Tuesday December 13 Presentation by Casey Brown and Julia Bone, UNC Asheville, “An Educational Narrative on the University of North Carolina at Asheville and the Liberal Arts”

On Thursday this week we will talk about preparing for and the logistics of the presentations. Please be in touch if you have any questions.

Telling Stories

In her 1942 autobiography, Dust Tracks on A Road, the American anthropologist and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston writes, “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”

Our growing archive of Research Reflections on this NAPLA course blog is an example of curiosity finding a shape. Your poking around in course catalogs and yearbooks is fascinating; and is it not interesting to pry open the at times rough-and-tumble curricular histories of your college! Liberal learning and the liberal arts, we are documenting here, is deeply and intimately bound up in the histories of the educational institutions at which we are all at work.

As we embark on the second part of the course, and you each move through the stages outlined in your self-designed project timeline, your purpose is shifting to stories, specifically personal narratives: to the work of collecting and publishing the stories that capture the identities, cultures, histories, and environments related to a public liberal arts education. The personal narratives you are gathering will use stories as a way of knowing the world—of making sense of history through lived experience and memory.


So here we are. It is week seven of the semester. You have constructed a course blog that is documenting your research process. You have learned to navigate Word Press and are experimenting with tools to customize your site and organize the content. You are thinking about data and design and audience. You have sought out permission to do your interviews following IRB protocols. You have identified interviewees, begun to experiment with the technology you will be using to record oral interviews, and you most likely have in hand a release form for your subjects and drafted the questions for the interviews.

On Thursday this week we will devote our project charrette to the practical questions you have about the process of conducting oral interviews. As you continue to go about your work, we are asking you to be reflective practitioners—that is, you will be doing your research and also writing your weekly reflections on what you are doing, and what you are learning to do. To help with both the practice and the reflection on that practice, we offer some readings for you to situate your work in the methodology, theory, and practice of oral history. This material will help you with your work and will give you thoughts and ideas to incorporate into your weekly research reflections.

Oral History Reading List and Resources from a one-week advanced institute on the methodology, theory, and practice of oral/video history at the Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) of The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley

A couple of excerpts should suggest the value of these readings. In his essay “Four Paradigm Transformations in Oral History” (The Oral History Review 2007 34: 49-70) Alistair Thomson captures the major shifts in oral history in words that are already dated by emergent technological tools:

We are in the middle of a fourth, dizzying digital revolution in oral history, and its outcomes are impossible to predict. E-mail and the Internet are certainly fostering oral history’s international dialogue. But, more than that, new digital technologies are transforming the ways in which we record, preserve, catalogue, interpret, share and present oral histories. Very soon we will all be recording interviews on computers, and we can already use web-cams to conduct virtual interviews with people on the other side of the world. Audio-visual digital recordings will be readily accessible in their entirety via the Internet, and sophisticated digital indexing and cataloguing tools—perhaps assisted in large projects by artificial intelligence—will enable anyone, anywhere to make extraordinary and unexpected creative connections within and across oral history collections, using sound and image as well as text. Computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software can already be used to support, extend and refine the interpretation of large sets of oral history interviews, and will, inevitably, become more sophisticated and powerful.

Michael Frisch argues that the digitization of sound and image will challenge the current dominance of transcription and return aurality to oral history, as digital technology makes it easier to navigate audio (and video) material, and as we extend our text-based literacy to new forms of literacy with sound and image. Furthermore, non-text-reliant digital index and search mechanisms will enable users to find and hear the extracts they are looking for in their own interviews—and across countless interviews from other projects—and will enable imaginative, unforeseen interpretations.

And Valerie Yow, in her “Introduction to the In-Depth Interview,” Recording Oral History (Altamira Press, 2005: 1-34) offers insight into what she calls “The Use of Narrative as a Research Strategy”:

But even before the narrative form of research became acceptable, many oral historians and humanist psychologists and sociologists sought in the individual life story a specificity and a richness of experience that general accounts did not offer. Anthropologist Ruth Behar says that life histories give us the information that general studies, supposed to be typical accounts, obscure: “Rather than looking at social and cultural systems solely as they impinge on a life, shape it, and tum it into an object, a life history should allow one to see how an actor makes culturally meaningful history, how history is produced in action and in the actor’s retrospective reflections on that action.” Even if scholars in the past regarded work based on narrative as simple, many believe now that narratives are not simple and they are not innocent either because there is always an agenda. Bruner asks, “Why do we naturally portray ourselves through story, so naturally indeed that selfhood itself seems like a product of our own story making?” He argues that narrative expresses our deepest reasonings about ourselves and our experience.

Oral history is inevitably subjective: its subjectivity is at once inescapable and crucial to an understanding of the meanings we give our past and present. To reveal the meanings of lived experience is the great task of qualitative research and specifically oral history interviews. The in-depth interview offers the benefit of seeing in its full complexity the world of another. And in collating in-depth interviews and using the insights to be gained from them as well as different kinds of information from other kinds of records, we can come to some understanding of the process by which we got to be the way we are.

Yow’s reference to the work of the psychologist Jerome Bruner is worth elaboration. For over the next few weeks you will be doing what Bruner calls the Narrative Construction of Reality. Surely professors and students of literature will recognize the correlations between the stories we tell to make sense of our lives and the stories that are handed down over time that fall under the term literature, perhaps by having read the work of the sociolinguist William Labov (Language in the Inner City 1972), the linguist and literary critic Mary Louise Pratt (A Speech-Act Theory of Literary Discourse 1975), or Bruner (Actual Minds, Possible Worlds 1985) or, more recently, Mark Turner’s The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language. Turner’s book, in particular, reminds us that stories are a basic principle of mind. “Most of our experience, our knowledge, and our thinking is organized as stories.” And, indeed, stories help us make sense of other stories, including codified or accepted stories, including institutional histories.

Please have a look at the Resources page for links to oral history resources on the web that will most likely be useful for your work.

Asheville’s Higher Education in Relation to the U.S.

The changing needs of Asheville’s community greatly affected UNCA, particularly in the way it moved locations and merged with other institutions of higher education to become what it is presently.

In the early 20th century, the United States saw a dramatic increase in K-12 education, both increasing the need for teaching college/high education institutions as well as for institutions for the increasing interest by students to pursue education past K-12. In order to handle this dramatic growth in K-12 education, states set up their own networks of teachers’ colleges. This began with Massachusetts in the 1830s. After 1950, these teachers’ colleges became state colleges and then state universities with a broader curriculum. This is indicated in UNCA’s own historical timeline, as increased enrollment made the college to move to Seely’s Castle in 1949.

UNCA, which was Asheville-Biltmore College at the time, became the first two-year college in North Carolina to receive state funds in 1957. It was the originator of North Carolina’s community college system. Junior colleges, which had grown in popularity by the 1950s and 1960s, were renamed “community colleges”.

Many state universities experienced an explosive growth from small institutions of fewer than 1,000 students to large campuses with 40,000 or more students, as well as a network of regional campuses around the state. In turn, these regional campuses broke away and became their own separate universities. UNC Asheville did not grow to such a dramatic population increase; the student population did not exceed 1,000 until 1970. However, UNC Asheville has many factors that affect its population growth, including the desire to remain a smaller liberal arts school that is still emphasized today.

UNC Asheville, while still named Asheville-Biltmore College, also admitted its first African American student in 1961, when the desegregation of institutions of higher education began to slowly break the barrier in racial exclusion at the collegiate level.

Many of the actions that took place in UNC Asheville’s history aligned with the general history and development of high education in the United States in the 20th century. Asheville-Biltmore College/UNCA accurately exemplifies the changes seen all throughout institutions in the United States in a chronological manner.




Jesse P. Bogue, ed. American Junior Colleges (American council on education, 1948)

Lois Staton (July 1980). “Overlook” (PDF). National Register of Historic Places – Nomination and Inventory. North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office.

“Timeline.” About. University of North Carolina at Asheville, n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2016.




For Me and For Someone Else: Performing the Research Process

Research Reflection Prompt #3

Due: Sunday, 2 October

Introduction and Context             Last week we talked about the direction of post-secondary education and “training” under the GI Bill and how that may, or may not, have been reflected on your campus – in its curriculum, in its mission, in its physical spaces, in its financing education, in the demographics of its student body, etc.

This week, we’ll be meeting with you as teams to discuss your intellectual work so far and your ideas and design for a Digital Humanities project.

In addition, this week’s reading looks at where two authors see an important intersection between the liberal arts and Digital Humanities – in making the research process visible and in trying to think about ourselves and others, to anticipate what we and others need as we structure a narrative, to be “sympathetic” as we research.

As you read the essay 1) gather insights and take notes for your third piece of writing, which will be posted on your blog by Sunday, 2 October;  2) feel free to discuss the insights or questions you have about the “sympathetic research imagination” with your team mate, with your friends and mentors, with your research support network, and with us; and 3) consider how the reading might shape the kinds of questions you use in the interviews you’ll be conducting later this semester – what does liberal arts mean to the people you talk with?  What do they think about being part of a process of collecting stories and curating a narrative about your college?

For your third blog post, please discuss:

1) the relationship between what you understand the liberal arts and digital humanities to be (viz., overlaps? irreconcilables? same objectives, different methods?  different objectives, same methods, etc.), and

2) how those relationships between the liberals arts and Digital Humanities connect, challenge, or support the research process you’re doing for this COPLAC digital project – a developing, evolving project done in public.

 Reading List 

 Everyone should read “The Sympathetic Research Imagination” (2016).

The Digital Humanities project discussed in the article is Black Liberation 1969.

Another short essay related to this topic of being intentionally “slow” and intentionally “public” is Sheila A. Brennan’s “Public, First” (2016).

Reading & Writing

Research Reflection Prompt #2
Due: Sunday September 25

Introduction and Context This week we will will be reading selected materials on the history of higher education in the United States. You will then write a blog post on the relationship between higher education in the United States in relationship to the local history of your institution.

gi-bill_thumbThere are many book-length histories of American post-secondary education in your campus libraries. And we invite you to read in this material. However, for the purposes of this course, and the intellectual work you are doing this week, we have compiled selected materials that will introduce you to the governmental policies, social trends, and cultural forces that helped to determine the direction of post-secondary education during the past century.

As you read 1) prepare to bring your observations to our class discussion of post-secondary education this Thursday, 2) gather insights and taking notes for your second piece of writing that will be posted on your blog by Sunday and 3) use what you are reading to begin thinking about the kinds of questions might be the most useful in the interviews you will be conducting later this semester.

Reading List Everyone should read the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944

image035The relevant section for us is Title II Chapter IV Education of Veterans, 6-14. The pamphlet The Gi Bill of Rights and How-it Works provides another version written for military personnel that includes a complete text of the Bill and “An Explanation of its Provisions” and “Questions and Answers.”


Here is a short list of other readings that we believe will be helpful for all of you to consider as well:

College Education and the Midcentury GI Bills
, by Marcus Stanley, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 118, No. 2 May, 2003: 671-708

Review of When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America, by Ira Katznelson. New York Times August 28 2005

Brown vs. Board of Education

Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965

President Lyndon Johnson signing the Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965
President Lyndon Johnson signing the Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965

Trends in Higher Education from Massification to Post-Massification, by Patricia J. Gumport
, et al. Academic Reforms in the World: Situation and Perspective in the Massification Stage of Higher Education. Reports of the 1997 Six Nation Higher Education Project Seminar. Hiroshima, Japan February 6-7 1997

Distinctively American: The Liberal Arts College, by Eugene M. Lang, Daedalus. 128.1 (Winter 1999): 133-50

The Higher Education Resource Hub Page


What’s the Story?

Research Reflection Prompt #1
Due Sunday September 11th

One part of being able to document the life experiences of students, alumni, staff and faculty at your college or university is getting to know and communicate the broad story and context of your institution. Each of your institutions has told it story, whether in print, in on line promotional materials, in books, and even documentaries. These narratives not only capture significant events in the history of an institution and community; they also tell a story from a particular perspective and for a purpose.

The Task
To get you started on learning more about your institution—and to give everyone participating in the NAPLA project useful information about where we all are writing from—your first task in this course is to 1) compose a descriptive account of your college or university and 2) post that account on your blog.

Here is what you need to do:

  • Gather information and synthesize the factual story of your institution from its founding to 2016. What is the story? When was your college/university founded and why? What was its mission? When it changed mission/directions as a college/university, what were those changes in response to? And,
  • When you look at the changes your university has made since 1945 (in its mission, its curriculum, its student body, its financing, its campus/classroom design, its technologies, etc.), discuss what stands out to you – what is significant about those changes or how those changes were accomplished, etc.?

Your writing should go beyond a Wiki-like entry. Your college / university has a story worth telling. Using various publications about it, what is the tale of your institution?

As you are working on this first piece of writing, too, give some of your attention to the institutional story as a story and consider the rhetorical considerations of the author(s) as well.

Once you have drafted, revised, and edited your brief history of your institution please

  • check that you have documented your sources carefully using whatever citation system you are familiar with (MLA, Chicago, APA)
  • give the brief history a title
  • publish the brief history on your blog

Before you press “Publish,” note well that Word Press allows you to link to other digital sites or pdf files, whether in your text or Works Cited page. (We will learn more about this if you have not used WP before.) You may also create categories and tags for your posts, and we will talk about the advantages of doing so in our class meetings.

When you post your entry, it will be syndicated to the course blog. Before we meet for our first video conferencing session on Tuesday the 13th, we will have the opportunity to read all of the blog posts. This will be interesting for everyone!

We will also be copying and pasting the bios you write on your individual blogs and putting them up on the NAPLA course blog. All of this information will help us introduce ourselves and begin the process of learning more about our public liberal arts institutions.

Finally, next week might be a good time to meet the archivist, or the person in charge of special collections at your university’s library. You might also want to gather the names of people in charge of Public Relations, Alumni Relations/Advancement, or Admissions Office, or begin identifying people on your campus who might hold the stories and trends and contexts that they see in your college or university.

Have fun! And be in touch if you have any questions.

UNC Asheville’s development as a liberal arts institution

In 1927, the University of North Carolina at Asheville established its roots as Buncombe County Junior College, with a total of 86 students in attendance. In 1929, the Great Depression forced the necessity of tuition to be charged; produce and other goods were accepted from the students to pay the cost. In the same year, the nearby College of the City of Asheville was closing. The two schools were consolidated to create Biltmore Junior College.

1936 brought another change of name to Asheville-Biltmore College. This same year, control was transferred to the Asheville City Schools. With the desire to have its “own” campus, the college relocated to the former County Home for Children – presently site of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church on Merrimon Avenue in North Asheville.

From 1949 to 1961, Asheville-Biltmore College was located in the Overlook Castle, also known as Seely’s Castle after its original owner, philanthropist Fred Loring Seely. After it outgrew the castle, Asheville-Biltmore College then moved to the current campus in north Asheville. It became a state-supported college in 1963, followed by the presentation of its first bachelor’s degrees in 1966. The following years the school saw the construction of its first residence halls in 1967, followed by more academic buildings.

The college would finally change to its current name, the University of North Carolina at Asheville, in 1969 when it officially became a part of the University of North Carolina System. At this time, the only other two campuses in the system were Chapel Hill and Wilmington. This same year, William Highsmith, who would go on to write a comprehensive history of the college in his 1991 book The University of North Carolina at Asheville: The First Sixty Years, became chancellor. In 1975, Zageir Hall, a social sciences academic building, was completed and named after local  businessman and a longtime supporter of the university Colman Zageir (1894-1975).

UNC Asheville’s current mission statement prioritizes creating an inclusive and diverse community through a liberal arts education. The development of the school overtime, including its movement toward more pertinent locations and involvement in liberal arts, such as joining the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges in 2009.

UNC Asheville has always remained a small school. It reached its 1,000 student enrollment mark in 1970, with its current enrollment at 3,891 in 2016. In the university’s current mission statement, it is stated that, “At UNC Asheville, we respond to the conditions and concerns of the contemporary world both as individuals and as a university.” Maintaining a consistently small population on campus helps one on one interactivity between students and their professors, further aiding focus on studying liberal arts on an individual level.




“Fact Book.” Institutional Research, Effectiveness & Planning. The University of North Carolina at Asheville, n.d. Web. 11 Sept. 2016.


Highsmith, William Edward. The University of North Carolina at Asheville: The First Sixty Years. Asheville, NC: U of North Carolina at Asheville, 1991. Print.
“Timeline.” About. University of North Carolina at Asheville, n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2016.