UNC Unveils First Exhibits in New Online History Museum

The University unveiled the first 15 special exhibits in a new virtual museum of University history this week at a public symposium.

The Web-based museum, a joint project of the UNC Center for the Study of the American South and the University Library, chronicles many of Carolina’s people and events from its founding to the present. The unveiling was held in Wilson Library’s Pleasants Family Assembly Room on Thursday.

The launch of the online museum was timed to coincide with University Day, the annual celebration of Carolina’s beginnings as the nation’s first public university. This museum is notably different than many American universities’ presentations of their own histories. UNC’s virtual museum contains blunt historical truths, including the role of slavery in the growth of the University.

“This project was born of both pride and responsibility,” said Harry Watson, director of the Center for the Study of the American South. “Carolina has a rich and complex story that includes some very painful episodes. It’s important to thoroughly understand our past in order to move intelligently to the future.”

The museum consists of general introductory material, links to bibliographies on University history compiled by the North Carolina Collection, and 15 special exhibits of about 20 screens each, covering topics including Carolina’s founding, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the coming of coeducation and modern developments like the rise of health affairs and the research mission. Throughout the exhibits are links to further information, including original source materials available through the University Library’s “Documenting the American South” and other online collections.

Chancellor James Moeser asked staff at the Center for the Study of the American South and the library to begin developing the resource after a symposium of historians in 2004 that examined the Reconstruction era at Carolina.

“I came away from those discussions believing foremost that at Carolina we needed to raise the basic level of understanding of our University history – among students, administrators, faculty and staff,” Moeser said. “As we develop the virtual museum, we are facing our proud moments together with some distressing historical realities, many of which are shared in our state and national histories.”

Moeser said the museum is not a complete University history, emphasizing that museum creators are aware of important omissions.

“This is an outstanding beginning, and we have a long list of topics we plan to include as we work to expand the museum,” he said. “The bottom line is that we need to continue to add to our understanding of history, not subtract from it.”

Thursday’s symposium included Watson; William Darity Jr., Boshamer distinguished professor of economics and director of the Institute of African American Research; James Leloudis ’77, associate professor of history, associate dean for honors in the College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Johnston Center for Undergraduate Excellence; and Jacquelyn Hall, Spruill professor of history and director of the Southern Oral History Program. The panelists explored historical perspectives on race and the university; service to the state and region; and gender and Southern education.

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