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SPOHP, Lees-McRae Form Partnership for Appalachian Oral History Field Research Event

Gainesville, FL—On February 5, 2015, UF CLAS undergraduate and graduate students will leave for Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina in the company of staff from the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program. Their ultimate destination is the Stephenson Center for Appalachia, Lees-McRae’s unique institute for the study of mountain life and history. Eight students and two UF alumni, all veterans of the Mississippi and Virginia oral history fieldwork trips, began preparations this week.

“I can’t wait to learn more about North Carolina and Appalachia in this exchange!” says Diana Dombrowski, senior research staff at SPOHP. “I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over the South for oral history, but this trip will be a unique event, as we plan to both share resources with and learn from students, community leaders, keepers of folklore and young professionals at developed research institutions, all at the same time. Lees-McRae will be a hub of activity and scholarship, and this will be an exciting partnership for all of us, both as students and professionals.”

In the heart of the southern Appalachians, Lees-McRae is a small college with a long history of serving young men and women from western North Carolina and beyond. Although there are over 500 miles in between University of Florida and Lees-McRae, students and faculty from both institutions will face similar quandaries in the future: what will be the role of tourism in altering, or bettering, our communities? What is the role that historians and folklorists play in preserving and validating heritage and culture?

UF and Lees-McRae history students also have in common Dr. Scott Huffard, Assistant Professor of History and new program coordinator for Lees-McRae’s recharged history major. He received his PhD in American History from the University of Florida (advisor: Sean Adams) in 2013, but not before teaching hundreds of UF undergrads the value of historical inquiry. He works toward the same goal at Lees-McRae and as SPOHP’s host in the mountains: “I’m very excited for the opportunity to work with former colleagues and friends from UF.”

On February 6, SPOHP staff will host an oral history workshop for all interested students, faculty, and Banner Elk residents on the Lees-McRae campus at the Stephenson Center for Appalachia. Students and staff from Florida will pair off with history and English majors from Lees-McRae to conduct interviews with Banner Elk residents and Lees-McRae alumni, faculty, and students on campus and across Avery County. Students from both schools will gain firsthand field experience in oral history and folklore collection. On Saturday, February 7, the Stephenson Center for Appalachia will host an open house for interested Appalachian men and women who want their memories, songs, and stories on tape.

To learn more, contact: Dr. Scott Huffard.

The research trip is supported by the Lees-McRae College Office of the President and the Stephenson Center for Appalachia. To read more, check out the Lees-McRae press release, “Lees-McRae to host oral history collaboration with University of Florida, February 5 – 10.

Photos by Jason Els, Lees-McRae student photographer.