Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Traveling with History: Memphis

By Nina Kendall

Looking for a different vacation destination? Want to immerse yourself in history? Then Memphis is a great choice for you. Memphis is the heart of the Mid-South. The position of the city on the banks of the Mississippi River creates a unique mix of agrarian tradition and economic opportunity. This city was the site of battle in the Civil War and the birthplace of Rock’ n Roll. When you visit, you will find something for everyone to enjoy.

Here are a few great places to visit:

Memphis Rock-N-Soul Museum is a fascinating Smithsonian affiliated museum with a personal audio tour. You begin with a movie and then walk through the history of music in Memphis. With each exhibit you can choose from audio narration and musical selections to enhance the exhibits. The exhibits tell the story of modern music, the role of radio in its development, and how the community was impacted by the opportunities. Learn about the challenges musicians faced and the unique way they were addressed in Memphis. You can spend hours listening to music and enjoying the exhibits.
The Memphis Rock-N-Soul Museum is one of many music attractions in the area. It is across the street from the Gibson Guitar factory which you can tour. It is also a few blocks from Beale Street the famous Music District in Memphis. Here you can here live music, visit Dyer’s Burgers, and see the statue of W.C. Handy. If you are willing to drive a little further, you can even visit Graceland.

Sun Studio is one of the most famous recording studios in the history of American music.  Here you can see the artifacts of the studio and hear early Elvis recordings. In this little building you can find the history of the million dollar quartet and the birth of rock-n-roll. From DJ booth to recording studio, you can see all parts of the story.
National Civil Rights Museum is a museum built on the site of the Lorraine Motel. Here you can learn about the movement for Civil Rights and follow the events surrounding the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr and the pursuit of James Earl Ray. You can stand in the room James Earl Ray rented and visit the room occupied by Dr. King. Interactive exhibits combine text, images and audio to immerse you in the tragedy of the place and the victories of the movement.
The Pink Palace is a museum that features both natural and cultural history of the region. You can enjoy moving dinosaurs on the ground floor before strolling through a replica Piggly Wiggly on the second floor.  You can walk through the history of the region. See a Model T and view the dress of a former Cotton Queen. What do you think your favorite exhibit will be/?
Of course, no visit to Memphis would be complete without a chance to enjoy the Mississippi River. Memphis has some great options. You can drive down to the banks of the river to take a picture, visit Mud Island River Park and Mississippi River Museum, or even choose to take a river cruise.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Visiting the National Archives, Southeast Region

By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.

Recently, I was able to visit and tour the National Archives Southeast Region, located just south of Atlanta. My tour guide was Joel Walker, the Archives Education Specialist.  I have been fortunate enough to have spent a great deal of time at the Archives in the last decade, thanks to being part of several Teaching American History grants.  There is plenty to do and see, as well as research at the archives.

NARA Educational Specialist Joel Walker
The National Archives is free to use and has changed over the years in how it accommodates researchers.  When originally built in 2005, it boasted a large Microfilm Research Room.  However, over time the area repurposed to hold temporary exhibits and the microfilm stations were scaled down to compliment the adjoining Archival Research Room.  Some of the exhibits it has hosted include We'll Back Our Boys: The Southern Home Front During WWII and the Secret City in the Tennessee Hills: From Dogpatch to Nuclear Power.

The archives has extensive microfilm holdings that are used frequently by researchers for genealogy research and general historical interest.  It boasts the largest collections for the Tennessee Valley Authority, NASA, and Atomic Energy.  It also recently acquired a large amount of documents from NASA, including the Challenger investigation photos.  Currently, the facility has over 180,000 cubic feet of archival holdings dating from 1716 to the 1980s.  There are literally stacks of textual records, maps, photographs (in its own cold storage), and architectural drawings.

One of the challenges of the archives is combating public perception versus reality.  Much of the public who visit the Archives expect it to be a family history or genealogical society center.  In other words, a physical Ancestry.com.  In fact, Joel noted that many visitors think NARA operates Ancestry.com, when in fact they don’t.  Ancestry.com, digitizes much of the NARA documents, and has an agreement with the Archives making access to its website free of charge when accessed within the Archives.

Moving past the perception problems, Joel mentioned that a lot of people do indeed visit and use the Archival Research Room.  Over the last decade, the archives has made a concerted effort to reach out to universities.  As such, local universities like Clayton State, Georgia State, Georgia Tech, and Emory use the archives frequently.  The universities often send students to complete research at the facility and at times have even held classes in the large meeting space.   

Joel is also responsible for creating the yearly symposiums at the Archives.  The annual September symposium has had attendees from multiple states and universities.  The 2014 Seminar is titled The Valley of the Dams: Impact and Legacy of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is about the story of the TVA.   The symposium will cover the creation and the continuation of the TVA.  According to the literature, “Its impact on the electrification of the South, national defense, the evolution of the post-war economy, the environment, and the development of alternative power sources, among other topics, make the records of the Tennessee Valley Authority worthy of analytical investigation. The staff of the National Archives at Atlanta invites you to take part in our third annual scholarly symposium promoting the rich historical records within our holdings.”  The symposiums in the past have attracted participants from several states and have been standing room only crowds. 

As a teacher, one of the wonderful holding of the Archives that I have used in my classroom is the World War I Draft Cards.  At NARA SE Region, every WWI draft card is located in the facility except for Alvin York’s, his is on display in Washington.  There are also a number of WWI public debt scrapbooks, and propaganda posters. 

Overall, whether as a teacher or a citizen, the National Archives SE Region has something for you to experience and research.  We highly recommend taking a trip through time in the Archives.