From Moonshine to Microbrews

Yesterday found me back at the WRA bright and early for a full day of work. I had expected to return to AdvantageWest, but I was pleasantly surprised when Heather set me to another task after a brief discussion regarding events that are to transpire in October. October is “Archives Month” and the theme this year is “From Moonshine to Microbrews.” As the theme includes basically all things alcoholic in this region, and seeing as I am exceptionally interested in the history of food and drink (including, but not limited to, alcohol), I expressed a desire to assist in researching this topic for the archives and, perhaps, writing blog and/or Facebook posts for the archives about alcohol in Western North Carolina.  Since Heather is kind enough to match interns and volunteers up with subject matter of their choosing—whenever it is possible, at least—she put me to work perusing two scrapbooks from the Black Mountain College collection. The BMC collection is one of the most extensive and well-known collections available at the WRA. These particular scrapbooks were from the Drier series and consisted of notes, notices, pictures, and other information that had been posted on the communal bulletin board at the school. I was looking for mentions of student alcohol consumption. While I found quite a few mentions of requests for individuals to replace beer or whiskey that they had consumed without permission, I noticed after a while that I couldn’t really distinguish between notes written by teachers and those written students. I found out later that this was due to the fact that Black Mountain College was based on a democratic partnership between the staff and the students. Both parties worked to treat each other as equals: serving each other at meal times, attending each other’s dinners and parties, and addressing each other as equals would. While I was inclined to assume that a student would not drink a quarter of a professor’s bottle of Mt. Vernon Rye Whiskey (this was an actual occurrence), I knew I couldn’t really assume anything since the relationship between these two parties was quite different and much more personal than teacher/student relationships that we often experience in current times. I also discovered the members of BMC were extremely liberal, especially considering the time in which these artifacts were from (1937), and very snarky in their remarks! My favorite, perhaps, was from the individuals that typically oversaw tea time. On one particular day there was a note left on the board saying, “It will be noted that there is no table cloth. This is due to the fact that the one used yesterday was so saturated by having tea dribbled onto it that we had to boil it down and wring it out in order to make tea today. Yours, the tea-makers.” Another notice asked students to clean their rooms properly before leaving for vacation “on account of the day of judgement might arrive during the long vacation.” Overall my search was both fruitful and provided me with a couple hours of amusement.

`My search of the scrapbooks took up most of the day. However, Heather and I did talk about other ways that I could contribute to “Moonshine to Microbrews.” She suggested reaching out to places like Highland Brewing Company to see if they have archives of their own. Such archives would potentially contain information that we could include in the WRA blog and Facebook page. I also offered the idea of going to visit different wineries and the history of wine in WNC and possibly looking into Dr. Pierce and Dr. Dunn’s past research on the topic. I also wanted to consult with Heather on possible directions for the essay that I will write following this internship. Assuming that it is approved, of course, I was leaning toward examining the job of an archivist in its entirety—or to the best of my abilities. As I see it, the job of an archivist is not solely based in the archive. It involves reaching out to other parties, public relations, curating, writing interesting blogs and posts for current and potential patrons, going on trips and adventures to gather new information, and many other things. To link this idea with my personal experience will require me to go out and do many of these things in addition to experiencing the daily requirements of being and archivist, such as answering patron inquiries, processing collections, building finding aids, creating more exhibits, etc. My main concern was whether or not Heather thought this topic was feasible, but she had no problem with me pursuing this course of direction. From exploring the link between alcohol and WNC to possible topics for my own essay, this week’s experience at the WRA has given me plenty to consider!