At the Southern Historical Collection, we have developed a fresh approach to the academic archive that prioritizes collaboration with community partners. We believe that an archive must serve the needs of the community that built it in order to thrive. That is why we are developing the concept and practice of “community archives.”
Community archives come into being through active partnerships. Rather than simply identifying collections that could be of use for research, we work hand-in-hand with communities, helping members tell their own history in ways that are meaningful, authentic, and engaging. In the process, we and our partners build lasting relationships, develop unique exhibits, and build an archive of original documentation.
What if a community could build its own archive, tell its own story, in a way that would help scholars understand its true history as lived by community members?
The Appalachian Student Health Coalition, a Vanderbilt University student group founded in the 1960s, provided healthcare services to rural Appalachian communities. In partnership with early ASHC members, we are developing an active alumni network and are crafting a sustainable, long-term home for their organization’s materials. This will enable greater research into rural health initiatives, student organizations, and related areas of politics and the environment.
The Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project is a public humanities project documenting and preserving the history of a twentieth-century African American diaspora from eastern Kentucky. Working closely with an established network of residents, EKAAMP honors the place of African Americans in Appalachia and assures that their stories are available for scholars. This includes a traveling exhibition, Gone Home: Race and Roots through Appalachia.
The Historic Black Towns & Settlements Association grew from a town partnership, to a mayors’ conference, into a regional initiative promoting historic preservation in Southern black communities. We are tapping into our rich UNC networks to help these towns develop sustainable, digital archives, and using these projects to promote tourism and economic growth. Together we are developing a federally recognized cultural corridor as new towns join the alliance.
Read more about our Community-Driven Archives here.