Staff Profile: Bryan Giemza, Director of the Southern Historical Collection

Contributed by Bryan Giemza, Director of the Southern Historical Collection

What do you do for the Southern Historical Collection? 

My chief responsibility is to build and develop a high-research-value Collection, and to preserve the items in our care.  An important part of that process is connecting talented people who are passionate about the Collection with the resources to achieve its vision.  I’m enjoying playing a part in shaping that vision, too.

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At work in a storage unit in Oxford, Mississippi

My work as director is tremendously varied, which is one of the fun things about the position.  On any given day I might be traveling a backroad or rummaging in an attic to appraise a collection, meeting with donors and colleagues to solicit input, or making a presentation on some aspect of the work we do.  It’s my astonishing good fortune to meet with cultural creators and innovators of every description, and to take part in the larger exchange of ideas about the history and culture of a fascinating region.

What did you do before joining the Southern Historical Collection?

My journey to the SHC unfolded as part of an academic path.  You can learn more about my background by having a look at my curriculum vitae. I’m a graduate of Notre Dame and UNC (tarheel born and bred), and I count myself a “graduate” of the Appalachian Trail, too.  As a graduate of UNC Law, I’ve taught courses in law, the environment, and the humanities, too.

Prior to arriving at the SHC, I was a tenured associate professor of American Literature at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia. So, what I did was what professors do: I wrote and edited five books, I taught lots of courses in history and literature, and, most rewarding, I tried to make a difference in my students’ lives in my capacity as a teacher, mentor, fellow sojourner. I’m continuing on the academic journey, with several books in the pipeline, and teaching opportunities—but with the SHC, I have a wonderful new canvas and new ways of directing my energies.

How did you get into this line of work?

As a literary scholar with a historical turn of mind, it might be said that the SHC has always been a central part of my work, always been a companion. I’ve benefited immensely from its resources as a researcher, and my career has been shaped by its centrality in the academic understanding of American and regional culture.  I’ve been inspired by, and benefited from, the organizations, publications, and partners that have grown out of the Collection: The Center for the Study of the American South, the Southern Oral History Project, the Southern Folklife Collection, and the journal Southern Cultures. Not to mention the great programs in American studies, folklore, history, and literature.  For someone with my intense curiosity, it’s a delight to be at the hub where all these things come together.

I have some other important jobs, too: I’m a father and husband and occasional swamper. I love to write, and I’m currently at work on a novel. It’s a kind of morally purposeful thriller, set in the coastal Carolinas and Central Americas of the 1970s, about a Vietnam veteran turned smuggler.

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With Mayor Darryl Johnson of Mound Bayou, MS

What do you like about your job?

E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G.  And I’m not exaggerating.  There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t marvel at how fortunate I am to be a part of the Southern Historical Collection and the University.  We have a young, energetic, and inspired team here at the SHC, and I learn from my colleagues every day.  I get to see how circles of generosity ripple outward. As I like to say, we’re in the business of outrageous generosity, which is the very best business, after all.  Most of all, I like the way the job allows me to pursue service to others, which, as Bill Friday often suggested, is key to a meaningful life.

I recently heard an anecdote from friends in the North Carolina Collection about Charles Kuralt’s father.  It was said that he planted trees and worked on landscaping at every place the family lived, even when they were renters.  This didn’t quite compute for young Charles, since they would be moving on, but his father pointed out that you should always leave a place better than you found it.  When I was moonlighting in wetland restoration during graduate school, I saw the truth of that as we planted trees to establish forests that we would not see during our lifetime.  The best jobs, I think, are never finished, and you may not get to see the ends.  Similarly, the best stories don’t end, and the SHC is a continuously written chapter in the larger volume of history.  We might be the longest-standing collection of our type, and we are only beginning….

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A Mississippi delta sunrise on the horizon

What are you working on right now? What are some new and exciting projects on the horizon?

Right now I’m focused on leading the strategic planning process for the Southern Historical Collection, and aligning our work with the vision of Wilson Library, the University Library, and the many academic communities and constituencies we serve.  We have a clear sense of where we want to be in five years, and we are setting out with a unified plan and sense of purpose. I’m excited about gathering the resources to realize our vision, and to grow the collection in new areas and with new initiatives. For example, I’m developing plans to reach out to the Latino communities that are an important part of our state and region, and that will make crucial contributors to our collections.

I’m just coming back from an energizing trip in which Biff Hollingsworth and I crisscrossed the state of Mississippi: four days, five collections, six or more donor meetings, and over 700 miles. And at least two catfish suppers.  One promising element from the trip that is on the horizon: a chance to support the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance.  We are privileged to have a chance to participate in building sustainable communities through historic preservation!

P.S. I’m going to follow Chaitra and offer a little help in pronouncing my (Polish) surname: it’s pronounced GEM-za, with a hard G, to rhyme with stem-za…!

Staff Profile: Susanne Erb, Administrative Assistant

What do you do for the Southern Historical Collection?

As the Administrative Assistant for the Southern Historical Collection, I coordinate the day-to-day operations, which is to say I do a little bit of everything. I am usually the first person someone speaks with when they reach out to the Southern Historical Collection. I answer the phone and the mail and help potential donors or patrons figure out their next step. When materials are donated, I help with accessioning and completing paperwork to track the donations properly.

What did you do before joining the Southern Historical Collection?

Susanne Erb in front of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Susanne Erb in front of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Before joining the SHC, I lived in Charlotte and worked for a company that organized USA and Canadian participation in Food and Defense Trade Shows in Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. I worked directly with the exhibitors to make sure they had everything they needed for a successful show, which included vendor order coordination, product shipping and transportation, pavilion design and construction, hotel block registration, and on-site event setup. It was exciting, but stressful work to make sure all of our participants were ready for a show.

How did you get into this line of work?

When I was a senior at North Carolina State University, I worked in the Special Collections Library part-time. I really enjoyed the work, but unfortunately when I graduated very few libraries were hiring. When I moved to Chapel Hill a little over a year ago, I was excited to see there were jobs posted in the library and thrilled to get this position.

What do you like about your job?

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Susanne Erb and Thaddeus Dog in front of Wilson Library, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

I like how excited everyone is about the materials we collect. Whenever a new donation comes in people are genuinely enthusiastic to see what we received and how it will fill in the gaps in what we already have. Whenever I find an interesting photo, letter, or diary entry, there is no shortage of people to share it with who are just as interested in it as I am. It is great to work with people who share your enthusiasm.

I also like seeing the journey a document takes. I like when someone will go into the field and bring us back something that hasn’t seen the light of day for decades. Then we examine and assess it, repackage it up nicely and give it a good, safe home. It’s rewarding when a researcher will come in and use that material, or when the family that donated the material can see how well we’ve cared for it and how we’re preserving their story.

What is your favorite movie to take place almost entirely in a library?

The Breakfast Club.

Welcome to Southern Sources!

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Hello and welcome to the Southern Historical Collection’s blog!

We wanted to take this opportunity to reintroduce you to the updated space, and give you an idea of what you might expect to find here in the future! We know we’ve been absent for a while, and want to avoid that in the future by committing to weekly posts. That’s right, from now on, you can expect posts every Wednesday that will shed insight into what’s happening here at the Southern Historical Collection, including exciting events, collections, and other initiatives.

During these next few weeks, we’d like to introduce you to the team at the Southern Historical Collection, to give you a better idea of what we do, and who is writing these blog posts. We’d like to share with you our interests and roles in supporting the Southern Historical Collection.

For your first introduction, I’d like to introduce myself, Ashlyn Velte, as the graduate student worker here at the SHC. As the newest member of the SHC team, I hope to learn along with you about all the amazing things the collection has to offer! You can see some of my contributions in the blog’s new design, and my presence over on our Facebook page!

Hopefully, this blog will pique your interest in southern history, and our collection. You are always welcome to visit us, and our documents in our reading room at Wilson Library. Looking forward to seeing you around here on our weekly Wednesday posts!

Welcome to Southern Sources!

0101-UNC_Libraries_2013-sRGB-Full

Hello and welcome to the Southern Historical Collection’s blog!

We wanted to take this opportunity to reintroduce you to the updated space, and give you an idea of what you might expect to find here in the future! We know we’ve been absent for a while, and want to avoid that in the future by committing to weekly posts. That’s right, from now on, you can expect posts every Wednesday that will shed insight into what’s happening here at the Southern Historical Collection, including exciting events, collections, and other initiatives.

During these next few weeks, we’d like to introduce you to the team at the Southern Historical Collection, to give you a better idea of what we do, and who is writing these blog posts. We’d like to share with you our interests and roles in supporting the Southern Historical Collection.

For your first introduction, I’d like to introduce myself, Ashlyn Velte, as the graduate student worker here at the SHC. As the newest member of the SHC team, I hope to learn along with you about all the amazing things the collection has to offer! You can see some of my contributions in the blog’s new design, and my presence over on our Facebook page!

Hopefully, this blog will pique your interest in southern history, and our collection. You are always welcome to visit us, and our documents in our reading room at Wilson Library. Looking forward to seeing you around here on our weekly Wednesday posts!

“It’s a honey of a play…”: Playmakers Exhibit in Progress

Opening tomorrow, The North Carolina Collection Gallery will present “Making a People’s Theater: Proff Koch and the Carolina Playmakers” from February 21st to May 31st. This exhibit demonstrates Frederick Koch’s involvement with the Carolina Playmakers, as well as the Playmakers’ contributions to student and regional theater in North Carolina throughout the 20th century.
The photo below features a few items contributed by the Southern Historical Collection to a section on the student-authored musical, “Spring For Sure.”
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Clockwise from top right:

Poster, Spring for Sure, 1952. Lynn Gault Papers (#4987), Southern Historical Collection.

Letter, Loren MacKinney to Lillian Hughes Prince, circa 1952. – William Meade Prince and Lillian Hughes Prince Papers (#3660), Southern Historical Collection.  

Photograph, Production of Spring For Sure, 1950, Chapel Hill, N.C. – Photographic Laboratory Collection (#P0031), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives. 

Playbill, Spring for Sure, 1952. – William Meade Prince and Lillian Hughes Prince Papers (#3660), Southern Historical Collection.  

Photographs, Playmakers touring Spring for Sure, 1952. – Department of Dramatic Art Photographs and Related Materials (#P0035), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives. 

Research Repositories and Local Historical Organizations: Working Together with Complementary Purposes

I think research repositories and local historical organizations can work to each other’s benefit much more than they traditionally have done, and that a little thinking upfront about differing missions and needs is important if this is to happen.

Local organizations often use their excellent contacts in the community to collect documentation that has research value. Repositories have the facilities and know-how to preserve that documentation and make it available to community members and others over the long future.

Here are what I think are important considerations:

For research repositories:

  • Recognize that the primary purpose of local historical organizations is to help build and deepen community by giving local citizens a sense of their past.
  • Be ready to stretch usual procedures to do what is possible to make documentation acquired from the local organizations easily accessible to them and their communities.

For local organizations:

  • Recognize that the main purpose of repositories is to preserve materials that will be useful for research.
  • Be ready to stretch to obtain the agreements and permissions from donors and informants that will make placement in repositories possible.

Two collections in the SHC resulting from collaborations like this are the Caswell County Historical Association Records (http://www.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/c/Caswell_County_Historical_Association.html) and the Penn School Records (http://www.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/p/Penn_School.html).

I’d be interested in others’ thoughts about this.