This Wednesday, Wilson Library and the UNC Department of History are putting on the first of two events that are 100 years in the making.
It all started in 1915, when former UNC president Kemp Plummer Battle presented the North Carolina Historical Society with a sealed tin box. The box contained a Montgomery Ward catalog and was accompanied by a letter that outlined an unusual request. He asked that in 1965 and 2015, a member of the University community be appointed to write an essay on the changes in American life the catalogs showed.
In 1965, Chancellor Robert B. House was appointed to take on Battle’s challenge, writing an essay called “Great and Important Changes.” After comparing the 1915 and 1965 catalogs, House returned the 1915 catalog to Wilson Library and added the 1965 catalog for use in 2015.
This year, the University is taking on the challenge with two lecture events. On April 8th, John Kasson, UNC professor of history and American studies, and Dana McMahan, UNC professor of journalism and mass communication, will address the topic “Mail Order Catalogs and Consumers.” In September, Peter Coclanis, UNC professor of history, and Dr. Lee Craig, professor in the Poole College of Management at NC State University, will speak on “Mail Order Catalogs and the American Economy.” Both events will be moderated by Fitz Brundage, chair and professor of history.
At both events, there will be a display of items related to the challenge, including Battle’s original instructions, the 1915 and 1965 catalogs, and Robert B. House’s 1965 essay. Light refreshments will be served.
Please join us at 5:30 this Wednesday in the Pleasants Room of Wilson Library for this exciting event!