Preserving Appalachian history, 100 terabytes and counting.

Author:Quinn, Mike
Position:CASE STUDY - Berea College

The sound of Appalachian music is alive at Berea College, and the special collections and archives department is working hard to ensure its large and unique sound collection and the rest of its archives are preserved and universally accessible.

The small liberal arts college in Kentucky, which was formed by ardent abolitionists and radical reformers in 1855, provides educational opportunities primarily for students from Appalachia who have great promise and limited economic resources. (Students do not pay tuition, and all work at least 10 hours a week to earn money for books, room, and board.)

As the South's first interracial and coeducational college, Berea has a rich legacy, with many historical treasures. Its special collections and archives department houses materials that document the history and culture of Berea College and the Southern Appalachian Mountain region. The collection has particular strength in its sound and video collections, documenting traditional music and mountain culture.

A Unique Archives

The digital archives are noncommercial, one of a kind, and had been stored on a variety of now mostly obsolete formats. The collection is especially strong in the areas of traditional music (e.g., banjo and fiddle), religious expression, spoken lore, radio programs, oral history, college events, and personalities. It includes field recordings from homes and churches by collector, including local and regional folk festivals, student performances, and presentations by notable scholars, preachers, and social activists who have visited Berea.

The collection features a full set of records dedicated to the work of the Appalachian Volunteers on the 1960s' War on Poverty. A powerful recollection of history, the collection also features historic photographic archives of Appalachian families stretching as far back as 1890.

Also in the collection are 48 acetate disc recordings made in the early 1940s that document Magoffin County, Kentucky, fiddler and banjo player John Morgan Salyer. Salyer, born in 1882, was master of an older eastern Kentucky style that is only barely discernible in the playing of present-day fiddlers and banjoists. The recordings were made by his sons using a home disc-cutting machine; many of his tunes were not documented elsewhere.

Audio, Video Fuels Archives' Growth

Berea has had an active preservation program in place since before 2000, maintaining optimum storage conditions as well as providing copies of audio and...

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