UNC Story Archive helps Tar Heels speak to the future

April 12, 2021

Every Tar Heel has a story—and now Tar Heels have an easy way to preserve and share their story with future generations.

The University Libraries has launched the UNC Story Archive as a way to gather and preserve authentic voices from the Carolina community. The University Archives at the Wilson Special Collections Library created and oversees the project.

“We were interested in new ways of documenting campus life, especially the student experience,” says University Archivist Nicholas Graham. “We wanted to create a simple way for students, alumni and others to share their experiences and thoughts in their own voice.”

Tar Heels can take part by signing up for a virtual recording session and then using a computer, phone or other device to capture their story. The archivists offer prompts, but these are just suggestions to get started.

The first four stories from the project are now online for public listening and sharing.

“The important thing is that the story is yours, told the way you want to tell it,” says Cassie Tanks, a graduate student at Carolina’s School of Information and Library Science. Tanks is part of the University Archives team working on the project.

One goal of the UNC Story Archive is to give members of underrepresented groups a chance to make their voices heard.

“In the past, archival approaches or concepts of collecting did not deem certain groups to be historically significant because of their race, class, gender or other community identity,” says Tanks. “The UNC Story Archive is a space for people who traditionally would have been left out of or misrepresented in the historical record to tell a piece of University history from their own standpoint.”

One of the UNC Story Archive’s first collaborations was with the Carolina Pride Alum Network. So far, 10 alums have participated as part of the organization’s The Story of Us project, which documents the experiences of LGBTQIA students at Carolina.

The UNC Story Archive is also working with the Carolina Firsts student association, an organization for first-generation students.

Graham and Tanks intend to reach out to additional student organizations, campus centers and other alumni groups so that diverse groups of people can share and preserve their stories. When in-person gatherings resume on campus, the University Archives will also visit campus events and hold open pop-up recording sessions.

A particular focus in 2021 is capturing students’ lived experience of the pandemic—everything from the small changes that define daily life, to the losses and shifts of perspective that will stay with students forever.

“It can be easy for the narrative of student experiences during the pandemic to be reduced to statistics: enrollment changes, testing numbers and so on,” says Tanks. “But what is lost in that are the very real and important experiences of students who had to live through the pandemic, navigate changing University policies and still manage to be a student.”

“We are interested in the day-to-day experiences of life during the pandemic,” says Graham. “What was it like to move so quickly to online classes in the spring of 2020? What is it like for first-year students who have yet to have a traditional college experience? How did it feel to live in one of the quarantine dorms?”

Every UNC Story Archive participant will have a chance to review and approve their recording before it is finalized. Participants may also submit photos, art or other digital items that help them tell their story.

“Archives are a way of speaking to the future,” says Graham. “It’s vitally important that our record of this period have more than just statistics and administrative memos. The UNC Story Archive will enable students and historians in the future to better understand and learn from the past.”

To share your Carolina story for the UNC Story Archive, complete an online interest form or email wilsonlibrary@unc.edu.

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