Tuesday, February 19, 2013

my office walls: a (voluntary) mid-sabbatical progress report

i started my sabbatical in summer 2012 with a goal to research the history of the farm at black mountain college (1933 - 56). i began where BMC began, in north carolina, to attend and participate in the information professionals 2050 conference, organized by gary marchionini of the university of north carolina. i gave a talk, titled "digital natives on a media fast," which described a media fast i assigned (twice) to the students in my intro to media studies class. i also spoke briefly about green media and seasonal syllabi.

from chapel hill i drove west to asheville where, with support from USF's faculty development funds (FDF), i spent a week in the black mountain college collection, at the western regional archives. with help from archivist heather south, i became acquainted with the amazing and enormous collection and dug deeply into farm and food-related folders, documents, and photography. my work with (and love for) the bmc collection was featured in jon elliston's article "NC state archives opening its first western branch" in the carolina public press.

in july i began taping my research to the walls of my office. i started with a few photographs of students, faculty, and staff building a barn (in summer, 1941).

in august i flew to los angeles to spend a few days with the MC richards papers at the getty research institute. i learned more about MC's (BMC faculty, literature and drama, fall 1945 - summer 1951) proposed book on the history of black mountain college, located ray trayer's (BMC farmer, fall 1946 - summer 1951) 5-page syllabus "soil and steel," and discovered herb cable's (BMC student, still working on exact dates but sometime between 1945 - 1951) unpublished short story and poetry about the farm at black mountain college. by the end of summer, my office's east-facing wall, the one representing the farm at black mountain college in the 1940s, looked something like this:

in fall i returned to asheville, to attend and participate in the "re-viewing black mountain college 4: looking forward at buckminster fuller's legacy" conference and to conduct further archival research at the BMC collection. the conference, organized by the black mountain college museum + art center (BMCMAC) and hosted on the beautiful campus of the university of north carolina, asheville, brought together local, national, and international scholars and followers of black mountain college and (this year's conference focus) buckminster fuller (BMC summer faculty, 1948 and 1949). i gave a talk titled "the farm at black mountain college" which traced the development of the farm through the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. with help from archivist heather south, my talk featured a table of farm-related "live artifacts" from the western regional archives. before and after my talk, i invited attendees to approach the table and witness the artifacts first hand. "if you like them," i said, "you should check out the whole BMC collection at the western regional archives."

the conference ended with a field trip to the lake eden campus. at the end of the regularly scheduled tour, alice sebrell, program director of BMCMAC and our excellent tour guide, invited the field trippers to walk to the farm where i would give a brief history. sharing my knowledge about the farm at black mountain college while at the farm at black mountain college was a true sabbatical (and career) highlight.

after the conference, and with help from FDF, i spent a week at the BMC collection, working primarily with the ted and barbara dreier collection, faculty meeting minutes, and photography of the farm.

much of winter was spent growing and tending my personal research archive of the farm at black mountain college. through google, i located and began corresponding with former members of the BMC community, including ron robertson (BMC student, 1950 - 51) and trueman machenry (BMC student, 1949 - 1951; worked on farm 1951). through emails with katherine c. reynolds, author of visions and vanities: john andrew rice of black mountain college, i learned about the john andrew rice collection at the south caroliniana library and obtained recordings of 8 oral histories with former BMC students, faculty, and faculty family members. i also continued (and continue) to build "a bibliography of the farm at black mountain college," a real-time, photo-based bibliography of the campus farm that now contains over 100 photo-entries.

the walls of my office also grew. soon i had three walls representing three decades of the farm at black mountain college. taped on my office walls were farm and farmer photographs; farm plans, maps, and planting charts; faculty and student discussions about the farm; and paintings, poetry, short stories, and personal memoirs about the farm. by the end of winter, my office walls looked like this:

i am excited by and focused on my remaining sabbatical activities. in april i will return to north carolina, to raleigh, for a two-day visit to north carolina state university. here i will give a series of talks (and hopefully classroom visits) on social media, learning, and libraries as well as a talk about the farm at black mountain college. from raleigh i go to boone, to appalachian state university, where i will give a talk titled "the farm at black mountain college: a history in five acts with lessons for today"; the talk is co-sponsored by the sustainable development program and belk library and information commons. while at ASU i will visit the john a. rice papers in belk library.

depending on FDF support, i will then go to asheville, again to the BMC collection, with a focus on the black mountain college research project, the recently-catalogued helen post modley collection, and, if they are ready by then, mary emma harris' black mountain college project papers.

in may, again, depending on FDF support, i will fly to washington, dc, to colonial williamsburg, to conduct research in the a. lawrence kocher archive. kocher (BMC faculty, architecture 1940 - 43) worked with students, faculty, and staff on numerous construction projects including, most famously, the studies building (completed in 1941). kocher also designed and worked with students, faculty, and staff to build many of the farm structures on the lake eden campus, including the barn, a milking house, two corn silos, and a machinery shed/corn crib.

finally, in july, i will return again to north carolina, to chapel hill, where i will give the keynote talk at the triangle research libraries network annual meeting 2013. from chapel hill, i will drive to - where else? - asheville and conduct research at the BMC collection for as long as possible.

between all this travel i look forward to watching my office walls grow.

it's been an exciting and fulfilling first half+ of my sabbatical and i look forward to what remains.


Bryan Alexander said...

Great progress, David. Can't wait to see where this takes you.

david silver said...

hey, thanks Bryan - coming from you that means a lot.

Rick Rofihe said...

Just located your blog while Googling Black Mountain College!
Thought you might like to read this, which went online a couple of days back.

"What I Did Last Summer"
Black Mountain College, 1948
a Memoir by SYLVIA ASHBY