By Alston Cobourn and Amanda Hartman McLellan
Background and Goals
Following public controversy over former North Carolina governor Charles B. Aycock’s involvement in the White Supremacy movement, East Carolina University’s Board of Trustees voted on February 20, 2015 to rename Charles Aycock Dormitory (Aycock Dormitory was renamed Legacy Hall in early 2016. See http://www.ecu.edu/cs-admin/news/BOTFeb2016.cfm). The Board also voted to establish a new space, dubbed Heritage Hall, “where people of historical significance to the University are acknowledged in an ‘authentic and comprehensive context’” and all could come to learn about that history (see more: http://www.ecu.edu/cs-admin/news/bot22015.cfm). The exact plans shifted from the initial concept, as creating a physical space became less feasible due to budget constraints.
Photograph of the first class of East Carolina Teacher’s Training School, accessible through the website’s Timeline.
In early 2017, Joyner Library was approached to develop a website to serve as a virtual place where students, faculty, staff, community members, and visitors would be able to explore the history of ECU. Members of Joyner Library’s Applications and Digital Services (ADS) collaborated with University Archives and the University Historian on this project.
We were able to repurpose existing content that University Archives staff had created for several projects, such as ECU Icons biographies and Buildings Upon the Past. These projects contained biographical information about people important to the history of ECU and historical information about the campus and its buildings. They were natural fits to be included as they were intended to shed light on the university’s past in meaningful ways and could be united under the Heritage Hall umbrella. Between March 2017 to present, University Historian, John Tucker, and his graduate assistants wrote over 100 new entries for the Timeline, People, Campus, and Athletics sections. They focused first on building the timeline, beginning with the earliest events and moving forward chronologically, as well as creating entries about the school’s founders. Archives staff found appropriate photographs from the collections to accompany the entries, which was not a particular hardship since the work took place over a period of time. On April 19, 2018, a professor from the History Department and the head of ADS presented the site to the Board of Trustees who praised the effort and encouraged the project to continue. It has been a powerful experience for all involved. The publicity that has occurred has been well received; the head of ADS presented about the project to the library staff and the Friends of Joyner Library. The North Carolina Museum of History recently posted about the project on their blog, and this was shared by ECU social media. The website ranks high in Google search results regarding campus history queries. So far there has been no controversy about the content of the site.
From the start, we should have thought about the sustainability of the project, as historical content will continue to be created. We knew the content would grow, but we did not plan well for the realities of this. Initially, the website was built without a content management system (CMS) in place, so a lot of staff labor was needed beyond the obvious of content creation. Since expertise with markup was required, it limited who could post new content. In 2019, the library adapted DNN, an open source CMS built in .NET for use on this project. It is still responsive and designed with accessibility in mind, two of our original goals. With this move, we can easily empower University Archives staff as well as their graduate student assistants to add and edit content without needing to go through the development team. University Archives is considering training a graduate assistant to help with posting content, so that Archives staff can focus their efforts on working with the University Historian to help identify and prioritize the creation of new content.
Our goals for the future include adding citations to existing content where needed, expanding the site to include additional topics, such as student life, and increasing public awareness of the project. Both University Archives staff members have been at ECU less than two years, so they are reviewing existing content with fresh eyes and actively adding citations, taking a more active role in determining priorities for content creation, and creating content. The Board of Trustees originally envisioned this content being used to support a for-credit class. This matches our hope that the site may be used to develop curriculum, providing access to primary documentation and historical narrative. This past summer the University Historian had his students in (Hist 3907) Pirate Nation: An ECU History read the Heritage Hall timeline and compare and contrast the site’s presentation of ECU history with previously written accounts.
Screenshot of the website’s interactive campus map.
Alston Cobourn is the University Archivist at East Carolina University. Previously she was the Processing and Digital Assets Archivist at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and the Digital Scholarship Librarian at Washington and Lee University. She holds a BA and MLS with an Archives and Records Management concentration from UNC-Chapel Hill. She is also a Certified Archivist. Her research interests include transliteracy and metaliteracy, digital preservation, copyright, and the function of memory.
Amanda Hartman McLellan is the Assistant Director of Discovery and Technology Services at East Carolina University’s Joyner Library, and Adjunct Lecturer at the University of Illinois School of Information Sciences. She is currently pursuing her Doctorate of Education with a focus in Higher Education Administration, holds her MLIS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a BA from DePauw University. Her research interests include library technology, usability and user experience, and library management.