The Special Collections oral histories contain a wealth of local history and cultural information on Asheville and the Western North Carolina region. Beginning with two major oral history collections, the Southern Highlands Research Center Oral History collection and the Voices of Asheville Project, These first two collections cover a broad range of topics on the general history of Asheville and the surrounding area from the early twentieth century up until the brink of the twenty-first century. Recurrent themes involve: city and county development issues, segregation and integration of Asheville schools, private education in the region, the diversity of religions throughout the area, changes in farming and subsistence strategies, and the histories of various families and organizations that impacted western North Carolina.
Special Collections is now the repository of over 500 Oral Histories, comprised of at least ten different oral history projects, each ranging from four or five interviews to over two hundred interviews. The Oral History Collections continue to grow, offering a continuing picture of Western North Carolina.
Arts 310, Arts and Ideas
interdisciplinary Arts program is not an art appreciation course
or an introduction to the particular arts, but stresses the
human significance of art, its social role, its foundation in
aesthetics, and its importance as a way of interpreting reality.
Community Arts Project. Students will learn several
techniques for recording and preserving community stories and
study examples of successful community-arts projects across the
The mission of Asheville Living Treasures is to honor the elders
of Asheville and Buncombe County, age 70 and above, who have
devoted their lives to making our communities a better place to
live, by publicly honoring them and their achievements and
recording their stories for future generations.
Oral Histories add a unique dimension to the substantial Asheville Urban Renewal collection that documents the work of the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville. The records in this collection pertain primarily to several significant redevelopment projects undertaken by Asheville from the early 1960s to the mid-1980s. Also represented to a lesser extent are smaller development andredevelopment projects, as well as several housing projects and bridge projects.
-The Karen Vaneman Collection is made up of numerous Oral Histories with the focus on African-Americans living in Asheville during the time of the Asheville Urban Renewal project.
The Center for Diversity Education, UNCA,
offers complete teaching units for various aspects of teaching tolerance. It
is the mission of CDE to prepare all students with the necessary
skills to maintain a pluralistic democracy in an increasingly
complex and diverse nation and world through the daily content of
In 2005, the
Center for Diversity Education created an exhibit based on
interviews and research conducted by UNC Asheville students about
the desegregation of our area. The exhibit travels around local
schools and can be found:
With All Deliberate Speed: Desegregation in Buncombe County
With All Deliberate Speed: Desegregation in Buncombe County
Oral History Collection
Dan Pierce, PhD, History Department Chair and Professor, University of North Carolina at Asheville, interviewed NASCAR personalities to research an upcoming book on the history of NASCAR, tentatively entitled: "White Liquor and Red Clay: NASCAR in the Era of Big Bill France". Six Oral Histories were conducted from 1998-2005.
In the spring of 2008, University of
North Carolina at Asheville history students helped to organize an Icon
exhibit, showcasing Asheville's Greek and Russian Orthodox communities.
In conjunction with that exhibit, students of the Public History 373
class interviewed members of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church and
Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church. The resulting website from the
exhibit can be found:
Asheville and Western North Carolina has a strong and thriving Jewish heritage. With a visit to Riverside Cemetery, another historic cemetery in Buncombe County, though better documented than the South Asheville Colored Cemetery, one can instantly gain a sense of the long lineage of Jewish families in the Asheville area. Until recently, little research was completed regarding these families. Through the exhausting efforts of three organizations, The Center for Diversity Education, History @ Hand, and the Center for Jewish Studies at UNCA, not to mention the steadfast contributions of local residents, Special Collections now contains a rich body of material which incorporates Jewish heritage into the larger schema of Western North Carolina history.
1) Jewish Heritage in Western North Carolina (JHWNC) Sharon Fahrer and Jan Schochet, History @ Hand, contributed to the Jewish Heritage in Western North Carolina Oral History collection, which is an amalgamation of interviews by David Schulman and those gathered by History @ Hand, an Asheville history organization. Interviews engage in discussion about general regional history and Asheville's Jewish cultural history. Also included is a set of interviews on remembering Sidney Schochet gathered by Jan Schochet, his daughter. At this time, the Jewish Heritage in Western North Carolina oral histories in this collection are partially available. Certain interviews may be accessed on site in Special Collections. Please inquire regarding availability.
2) Jewish Businesses in Western North Carolina (JBWNC) is a collection of interviews compiled by Sharon Fahrer and Jan Schochet of History @ Hand which discusses Jewish owned businesses in downtown Asheville from 1880 to 1990. The collection provides vital information about downtown Asheville during both its formative and revitalization periods and can be used in conjunction with the recent digitization project "Asheville's Built Environment" and with the more recent Julian Price Papers to gain a deeper chronological and cultural understanding of downtown and its relation to the greater Buncombe County area.
3) Choosing to Remember: From the Shoah to the Mountains (SHOAH) This collection was created through the efforts of the Center for Diversity Education and is focused on the Holocaust and its impact on Jewish families. Special Collections holds the collection of summaries of the oral histories taken from local survivors of the Holocaust. The collection, was originally used by the Center for a traveling exhibit that was displayed in local public middle and high schools. Through the work of Special Collections intern Don Chalfant, the collection is now available online in its entirety and still available as a physical exhibit through the Center for Diversity Education.
4) "The Man Who Lived on Main St.": Schulman's Store, Sylva, N.C. (main_st) is a collection of interviews compiled by Sharon Fahrer and Jan Schochet of History @ Hand for their book "The Man Who Lived on Main Street", a history of Sol Schulman's store in Sylva. The collection is stilll to be fully processed.
Ramsey Library Special Collections (RLSC) has begun to gather oral histories on a variety of topics including local medical history, local arts and crafts, and other topics of interest to the community. These interviews are completed in the spirit of the Dorothy Joynes, Dr. Bruce Greenawalt, and Dr. Louis Silveri, whose diligent work showed the value in examining and documenting not only historic events but how people internalize, act upon, and contribute to events.
For those interested in regional studies, the Sandy Mush Chronicles (SMC) is a collection of seventeen interviews from residents of Sandy Mush, a small rural community located in Leicester, North Carolina. Sandy Mush was made famous when local residents protested the reallocation of the area as a nuclear waste dump. Interviews discuss the changing methods of farming, the homeplace, and molasses making. A highlight of the collection occurs with James Hannah's description of the community quilt, which documents the history of the region. The collection provides a potent seed for future ethnographic work in Southern Appalachian rural communities, tobacco barns and cultural landscape, environmental racism, folklore, and rural Appalachian religion, to name a few.
What began as a slave cemetery with rocks as markers over time became the place where African American families in Asheville buried their deceased friends and relatives. A large amount of the graves are unidentified, although the interviews shed light on some of the graves and on the use of the cemetery in general. Unfortunately, this collection is restricted and is only available for use in the Special Collections reading room.
The Southern Highlands Research Center Oral History Collection (SHRC), contains two oral history sub-collections. One taken by Dr. Louis D. Silveri and the other by Dr. Bruce Greenawalt. The Southern Highlands Research Center, which operated under the UNCA History Department, was the predecessor of Ramsey Library Special Collections. These two historians were important to the development of the collections now held by the D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections. Both Silveri and Greenawalt gathered oral histories and focused their attention on interviews collected in and around Asheville and Western North Carolina during the fifteen years from 1977 to 1992. As a visiting scholar, Dr. Silveri collected over 180 hours of audio from architects, doctors, farmers, manufacturers, administrators, business owners, educators, and pivotal personalities. Because Dr. Silveri focused most of his energy on the collection of oral histories, his work has been given the designation of the Louis D. Silveri Oral History Collection. The Southern Highlands Research Center staff transcribed many of the tapes from his collection and most of these transcripts are now available in digital format. The paper transcripts may also be viewed or copied, if permissions allow, here in the Special Collections reading room area. Following the death of Dr. Silveri in 2005, his wife donated a significant portion of her husband's personal library to the D.H. Ramsey Library here at UNCA. Her contributions provide further study for researchers examining the Southern Highlands Research Center interviews and Appalachian History. The work of Dr. Silveri has greatly enriched our historical knowledge of the region.
On October 14, 1992 the History Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville made it their mission to record the life of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville to foster a greater understanding and appreciation of the churches heritage for present and future generations. The UUCA oral history collection consists of 59 interviews which were collected from 1992-2004, some of which overlap with those found in the Voices of Asheville Project oral history collection.
The University of North Carolina of Asheville Retirees Oral History Collection began in 2009, under the guidance of Deirdre Wiggins, Director of University Retirement Services and Dr. Sam Schuman, former UNCA Chancellor.. These Oral Histories provide remembrances of Faculty and Staff that reflect the history of the University.
The Voices of Asheville Project (VOA), was collected by Dorothy Joynes from 1992-1998. As a recent transplant to the area, Mrs. Joynes set out to gain information regarding the history and complexity of the region and its people. Initiated and completed at her own expense, the Joynes collection of over 250 tapes contains cultural and historical material, as well as attitudinal studies that cross class, race, and generations. Thirteen percent of the interviews were conducted with African Americans in the Asheville community (there are also interviews with African American residents in the SHRC and SACC collections). The interviews have been summarized but are not transcribed. The available abstracts are listed in the INDEX below.
Like the Southern Highlands Research Center interviews, the Voices of Asheville Project contributes to the knowledge of Asheville and the surrounding area especially during the formative years from approximately the First World War to the revitalization of downtown Asheville. The interviews give background history of the Golden Age of the Vanderbilts, the tuberculosis sanitarium era, the Grove Park Inn, Battery Park Hotel, and Grove Arcade. Just as importantly, the project also discusses the varieties of methods residents used to cover the fundamentals of everyday existence in an American town. It addresses education, subsistence, local economic demands, the founding of various religious institutions, and important community issues and how they changed throughout the decades. With discussion of the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and many other significant periods of national history, interviews reflect the state of the local cultures in relation to the national culture.
Dorothy Joynes was a member of one of Asheville's oldest clubs, the History Club of Asheville. From 1995-1996, this group met and "recreated" the clubs study of Asheville's history. It was from this association, that many of Dorothy Joynes interviews came to be recorded and made part of the Voices of Asheville Oral History Collection.
Oral Histories that
offer remembrances of the Asheville Urban Renewal Project are accessible
through the following
In November of 2006, the Center for Diversity Education donated a collection of oral histories which recounts the experiences of local soldiers who fought in World War II. Entitled World War II: Mountain Memories, it consists of 112 interviews and roughly two hundred photographs. A few of the names in this collection overlap with those found in the Jewish Heritage of Western North Carolina oral histories. African American veterans are noted, as well.
In preparation for the YWCA of Asheville's 100 year celebration, YWCA volunteers, UNC Asheville faculty, and history students interviewed longstanding members of the YWCA community and the YWCA Boosters Club: Sarah Glasgow, Pat Laurson, Earlene McQueen, and Mary Parker. These interviews serve the same functions as interviews in the Voices of Asheville Collection and in fact compliment existing interviews with other YWCA members Thelma Caldwell, Margaret Fuller, and Florence Ryan. Through the experiences of these women, the researcher will obtain information not only on the history of the YWCA but on the greater Asheville community over the last century. The collection promises to be a valuable resource for women's local history and social history. Although it began with interviews from four women, the collection is expected to grow as more interviews are compiled.
The Ramsey Library oral history repository continues to grow as local residents gain an interest in either gathering oral histories or contributing their stories to the ongoing narrative of the region. As we try to make these collections available online, the process of transcribing many of the tapes has only just begun. Meanwhile, we are also working with mp3s to add an audio component to the finding aids. Special Collections has a number of volunteers that work with the archive throughout the year. As we continue to process these oral history collections, additional information will be added to this site and its accompanying finding aids.