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Collections >> Highlights >> DocSouth Launches Tenth Collection: The First Century of the First State University
DocSouth Launches Tenth Collection: The First Century of the First State University

Documenting the American South is pleased to announce the launch of our newest collection, "The First Century of the First State University" on June 19, 2006. This collection presents a wealth of sources documenting the creation and growth of the University of North Carolina during the period from 1776 to 1875. These primary sources include letters, books, maps, receipts, bills, subscription lists, trustee and faculty meeting minutes, architectural drawings, and catalogs. The collection is grouped into the following topics: the creation and governance of the university, the campus, the university buildings, the curriculum, the faculty, student life, town and gown, the university in the life of the state of North Carolina, and the university during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Most of the materials in the collection are from the University Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, primarily the North Carolina Collection, the Southern Historical Collection, and the University Archives, with additional documents supplied by the North Carolina State Archives and Columbia University.

Planning for "The First Century of the First State University" began early in 2004. The collection was funded by the University Library, using monies primarily from the Samuel and Gertrude Willis Memorial Fund. This generous funding permitted the selection, transcription, digitization, and encoding of 319 manuscripts (1,250 scanned page images with text transcription), 24 books, and the creation of 273 biographical sketches.

Project staff transcribed most manuscript documents, though some transcriptions were taken from R. D. W. Connor's A Documentary History of the University of North Carolina, 1776-1799. Project staff and former staff members of the University Library created section introductions as well as annotations for people and places mentioned in the documents. The collection also includes an extensive bibliography of materials held by the University Library that illustrate the main topics related to the first hundred years of the university. Essays by Professor James L. Leloudis and Botany Librarian William R. Burk enrich the site, providing valuable historical and contextual information for the collection. Each transcribed primary document is accompanied by page images of the original so that users can see the handwriting, paper, and other artifactual qualities of the manuscript.

"The First Century of the First State University" begins with the documents that outline the General Assembly's creation of a board to oversee "an university supported by permanent funds," and William R. Davie's description of the land upon which the school would be built: "The seat of the University is on the summit of a very high ridge, there is a gentle declivity of 300 yards to the village; which is situated on a handsome plain considerably lower than the site of the publick buildings, but so greatly elevated above the neighboring country, as to furnish an extensive and beautiful landscape, composed of the heights in the vicinity of Eno, Little and Flat rivers." The collection goes on to chronicle the university's growth as well as the lives of UNC faculty, staff, trustees, and students. For instance, the collection includes a dozen primary documents detailing Benjamin Sherwood Hedrick's dismissal from the faculty for, and his defense of, his views on the extension of slavery to the new territories. The hundred-year growth of the university ends with the hardships brought on by the Civil War and then Reconstruction, and several documents demonstrate the difficulties the university struggled with as it closed its first century.

"The First Century of the First State University" complements "True and Candid Compositions: The Lives and Writings of Antebellum Students at the University of North Carolina". Between these two collections, users can browse and search 440 primary documents by proper names, including personal names (1809 unique people), places (419 unique locations), and organizations (167 unique groups). With this feature, readers can trace names across multiple documents and conduct broader research about the history and actions of these people, places, and groups. Taken together, these two collections provide a rich source of university history for students, scholars, and other patrons who visit Documenting the American South.

DocSouth staff