The first rule of creating a website: things are going to go wrong. It will be extremely frustrating and confusing. Images will refuse to adjust just right or codes may not operate as they should. Google-fixing problems will be a common occurrence. There will be a very real possibility that the project will not turn out as anticipated. The necessary information to create a full narrative may not be readily available or else difficult to interpret. The second rule of creating a website: none of this will matter. Despite all the difficulty faced, and regardless of whether or not the project turns out as expected, the final product will still be a great contribution to history and technology. In the process of creating Mecca for Motorists: A History of Migration on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we experienced all these things and more. At times it was exciting, as though we were the individuals planning a great scenic highway that would forever change Western North Carolina. Indeed, we had grand dreams of building a magnificent website that would be robust, full of history, rich with voices of the past. At other times, it felt as though we were actually laboring to build every inch of every mile, limited by the tools and sources available to us. And, as with every project, there wasn’t nearly enough time to research and include every bit of information we found, or to create and develop all the pages we wanted. However, in spite of the difficult journey we had along the way, I am reasonably happy with the result of our hard work.

Much to my surprise, I was more comfortable with the technological part of this project than the history component. I came into Mecca for Motorists having already created one website, so WordPress was not overly difficult for me to navigate. I experienced many of the same issues that I had last semester, such as placing images on pages without messing up the text. For the most part, however, I remembered WordPress’ layout and easily created pages and set up the menu. For me, the most exciting thing that I learned was how to embed a YouTube video. I know this sounds relatively easy, but I had a lot of problems getting the video adjusted just right on the page with the text wrapped around it. This required me to search for a code that would allow for such an action. After finding the code that I needed, I had issues getting WordPress to accept it. Finally, at long last, it worked. This was my first real experience embedding anything other than a Timeline. As I indicated in my blog, I found this to be quite frustrating, so it was an especially sweet victory when I got the video positioned properly on the page. I also struggled quite a bit with Timeline JS. As a free tool it is great, but it didn’t always want to accept the links that I was trying to insert. At other times links that previously did not work would work just fine. Perhaps this is an issue that future students should be made aware of. Another challenging—yet rewarding—experience was with the footnote code. Initially, we were unable to get the superscript to link to the footnotes section at the bottom of the page. After some much needed help from one of our librarians, we found a code that created the needed link. However, this wasn’t a simple plugin that we could activate… it was a code that had to be entered manually for every citation. That being said, as long as the code was inserted correctly for every citation, this wasn’t an issue. The problem was making sure the code was correctly entered on each page for each footnote.

For future students, I would highly recommend a few things. First, getting a good grasp of one’s topic as soon as possible so as to avoid trying to take on too much. Second, it is also imperative to begin visiting the necessary archives early on and as frequently as possible. There will be many times when a source (or multiple sources) will be dead ends. Lastly, when setting goals, understand that however long you think something might take you, give yourself twice the amount of time, if not more. It’s technology. Something will go wrong. This advice extends far beyond the scope of academic projects such as these, and so I feel like I can take this experience—along with the hard-earned skills and knowledge that I have gotten from it—to help me become better prepared for the next endeavor that I undertake. And, as far as my future studies, career, and life goes, I fully intend on becoming an archivist. I think this has probably influenced how I approach archiving practices. It has also challenged ideas that I had about how archives operate. In many cases, there really is just one lone archivist who is buried in a mountain of sources that need to be documented, cataloged, and preserved. After spending these past few months working with Jackie, I have immense respect or her and the efficiency with which she operates. Should I ever find myself in the position of the lone archivist, I hope I manage as well as she has. When the day comes that I work at an archive, I will be sure to remember the experiences I had this semester. Perhaps I can use my successes and struggles to help a fellow researcher.

This course was challenging in many ways. It pushed me outside my comfort zone, dared me to write a type of history that I had never attempted, and tested my skills as a historian and researcher (as well as my patience). It also brought me in contact with a very interesting piece of local history that I was previously unaware of. This was certainly one of the more difficult projects that I have attempted, but I feel we created a decent website in the time we had. If anything, it is a great foundation that either Liz or I—or the next person who comes along—can continue building on.

The Final Stretch

Presentation day is nigh upon us as we put some finishing touches on Mecca for Motorists.  It has been a trying semester, and I am certain we will still have plenty of touch ups left to do before the final site is submitted, but we are happy with how our project has turned out From now until presentation we will spend our time double checking footnotes and the bibliography, ensuring all images can be enlarged (something that I was struggling with), and double checking links. Tonight’s practice presentation also went as well as we’d hoped for. We clocked on at an almost perfect time and feel we thoroughly—albeit quickly—covered all the necessary information that we would like our audience to be aware of.

This entry is a good deal shorter than my others but at this point there isn’t much to say. I am sure I’ll have plenty to ponder after the presentation is over and we get feedback, but until then we will be focusing on making both the website as well as the presentation as perfect as we possibly can.

Moving Along

This week I made some progress on the “Economy and Culture” page. I adding some more text to “Culture” concerning the Folk Arts Center. This particular institution was designed by the Southern Highland Crafts Guild to help promote, sell, and conserve Appalachian arts and crafts. I also added a few pictures to the “Natural” page under Locals and to the “Economy and Culture” page and fixed the text around the YouTube video! That particular issue gave me quite a bit of trouble, so I’m relieved to finally have it fixed. After reading one of Leah’s comments in Slack, I activated the Jetpack plugin in hopes that it would let me modify the CSS code as the main issue seemed to be WordPress rejecting the code I put in to make the text wrap around the video. I’m not sure if that’s what finally made it work, but it looks much better now!

There is still PLENTY of work to do before presentations. My next step is to finish with the “Economy” portion of the page and fix citations. I don’t foresee this step taking a very long time. From there I will turn to the “Land” page where I will put up more information about buying and selling and (hopefully) add a nice image of one of the maps showing private property that was effected by the placement of the BRP.

At this point we probably have missed a few of our milestones. Nevertheless, we feel like we are making good progress and will have the site done in time. I can personally speak for the many roadblocks (pun may have been intended) I have run into as I have built my pages, but many of these issues have turned out to be a blessing. The website is turning out quite differently than I had imagined it would, but it is far better than I had anticipated. I look forward to showing you all the end result!

Onward and Upward!

This week did not see much progress on the website, unfortunately. I added some more information under the “Economy and Culture” page, and more specifically under the Culture section. What I added dealt primarily with music, but I plan on including a short paragraph about the Folk Art Center as well. This new information changed my overall take on culture a bit. Originally, it had a slightly negative tone that suggested the local culture was somewhat stagnant. However, this new take doesn’t actually imply the culture was stagnant so much as it indicates locals used tourism and the Parkway to help keep aspects of their traditional culture alive. I attempted to include a YouTube video of a WNC Folk artist on the page and, although I successfully embedded the code, the words will not wrap around the video as I had hoped they would. I am certain I will figure out a way around this, but so far all of my attempts to correct this have failed. After our meeting with Dr. Dunn on Thursday we got plenty of ideas about logistics and organization, corrections that need to be made, and what direction we would like to continue in.
Tomorrow Liz and I are set to meet Jackie at the BRP archives at 10:30 to look through some more images. We plan on focusing on mileposts and overviews but I am hopeful I will be able to locate images displaying recreational activities on the Parkway and perhaps even pictures of locals as well.
Naturally I am disappointed in my lack of progress this week. These things understandably happen and serve as a good reminder that things do not always go as planned, but I am looking forward to doubling my efforts in the week to come. In the meantime I want to thank Liz for setting up tomorrow’s meeting with Jackie. We are excited about getting some more pictures up on the website to make it a little more aesthetically pleasing. Onward and upward!

Footnotes, Formatting, and Coding

After a few days of going over feedback from the rough draft of the site, I have finally begun making some edits. I haven’t gotten as far as I would have liked, but I am pleased to say things are definitely moving along. Today I made some adjustments to the Home page, adding some additional instruction on the structure of the website and what visitors may expect to find. Based on feedback regarding our menu, I added a description of the different sections and their subpages. I linked every page so that a visitor may click on Locals, for instance, and be taken to that page, or they can click on Economy and Culture to go to that page. I am hoping that this description will be sufficient in explaining the website so as to avoid any confusion concerning the structure. I have also begun linking all abbreviations so that clicking on them will redirect a visitor to the Glossary and Bibliography page. So far I have only completed this task on the Home page, but since we have decided this is the direction we want to go in, it should be easier from here on out to link all other abbreviations on the site.

I have added the “UP NEXT:” area at the bottom of the Home, Locals, Land, and Economy and Culture. I also added an image on the Land page that I feel illustrates “land leases” and “scenic easements” nicely. Perhaps one of my biggest successes concerns footnotes. While building my last website, I experienced absolutely no trouble linking footnotes, but I was told that not every theme is as footnote-compatible as the one we used, so it wasn’t unexpected when I faced difficulties with the BRP site. After much help from Amanda, one of UNCA’s magnificent librarians, we obtained a code that would allow us to link the superscript number to the footnotes section at the bottom of the page. Amanda took care of the one footnote on the Home page and left me with the code, but it proved more challenging than I expected. After a lot of confusion and links that led nowhere, I finally got the code to work properly on the entire Locals section! I still haven’t figured out how to force the link to take the viewer directly to the coinciding note below, but it does in fact redirect the reader to the footnotes portion of the page. I’m not sure I can articulate the relief that I felt at that moment.

Although the site is coming along nicely, I still feel a small amount of anxiety regarding our primary sources (or mine, rather). There has been—and still is—so much to sift through. From maps to superintendent reports to newsletters to oral histories, the amount of information that we have to process is overwhelming. However, anxieties aside, I have every confidence that the website will turn out fantastic. At the very least I have managed to gain the attention of a certain Dr. Anne Whisnant on Twitter! Perhaps this is due to the hashtags that I use fairly regularly or because someone from the UNCA History Department professor mentioned our work to her, but either way we now have outside professionals paying attention to our project which is perhaps the most exciting and terrifying thing that an undergraduate student can experience.

Completing the First Draft

Having completed the first rough draft of our website, we realized that things turned out a bit differently than we had expected. I don’t think this is a bad thing, just different. As a History student I am quite used to my research taking an unexpected turn, so this wasn’t difficult to cope with. I was happy to see that there ended up being more writing on some of the pages than I had originally anticipated. Even the most of the shorter pages have a footnote or two! We are also relieved that we have finally settled on a menu, subpages, and colors for the site.

Even with our little successes—the footnotes, a decent homepage, a glossary and bibliography that are slowly but surely growing—we realize where we are lacking. We did not include all of the pictures that we have on the actual website yet, but we didn’t need to in order to realize that we need to obtain some more images. I also recognized where I needed more sources and what sources were absolute goldmines.

It has been a long and stressful couple of weeks, but it is nice to have a (very) rough outline of our website. At the very least, it gives us a better idea of how we would like to develop the website from here on out.

Progress on “Locals,” Images to Come Soon!

As my research progressed this past week, I began to get a clearer idea of how my “Locals” section is going to pan out. I have already expressed the fact that the menu would be changing slightly, but I have settled on two subtopics: “Land” and “Economy”. “Land” will explore the connection between the Parkway, locals, and issues with land. In many cases locals had to evacuate their land because of the Parkway and in other cases they did not have to leave. I feel this is important to explore because it directly affected the lives of locals and in some cases the agriculture as well. Supporting primary sources for this section are the records of land sales, complaints from locals, and information within BRP documents about other ways locals have interacted with Parkway land. “Economy” will focus largely on the proposed effect the Parkway would have on the local economy versus the actual affect that it has had. This sections is perhaps one of the most notable ways that tourist migration on the Parkway has helped shape WNC. In this section I plan on pulling a goodly amount of information from the visitor reports as well as some of the arguments from primary sources that pushed for the BRP to run through WNC in order to boost the economy that had never quite recovered from the Great Depression.

I also wanted to include a section about culture, but I am still unsure whether or not “Culture” should be its own page or should be combined with another. Would “Land and Culture” work, or is “Economics and Culture” better? Or, as I said, should “Culture” become its own freestanding page? Either way culture will appear on the website under “Locals.” As per the course description on the Cultural Crossroads course website, we are encouraged to look at how our migrant community has influenced music, labor relations, agriculture, and arts and crafts. So far my research indicates that the Parkway has effected these institutions by, well, encouraging them to remain the same. One might even say that in the early days of the Parkway local culture was actually urged to present itself as imbibing all the stereotypes that the rest of the nation had in regards to “mountain folk.” Personally I find this a bit depressing since generations of my family have lived here. I mean, who actually enjoys reading stereotypes about their people? Still, it’s interesting to see how locals and surrounding communities may have played on these stereotypes in order to attract visitors. Clearly I still have some things to work out, but I have a much better sense of direction than I did a week ago and have put up a rough draft narrative on my “Locals” landing page. As I continue working on “Locals,” I am also starting to think more about the “Tourists” section that Liz and I will work on together. But we will cross that bridge when we get there.

The website is slowly—piece by small piece—coming together. Liz has added some information in about COPLAC and the project. We are also toying with the idea of having “Did You Know?” or “Fun Fact” sections throughout the website. These wouldn’t be large. They would essentially be small images that would give our readers some fun facts about the BRP. After all, we have gained quite a bit of random information that doesn’t necessarily fit into our actual narrative, but it would be a shame not to use it somehow! Tomorrow Liz and I will go back to the BRP archives to meet up with Jackie and scan some images. We have chosen a variety of pictures that we thought highlighted the history of the Parkway. I am sure we will eventually find some more, but we have over twenty to choose from as of now. We are looking forward to adding some visual primary sources to the website!

Archives and the Art of Digging

Today (and the past few days, really) were spent with primary and secondary sources. On Thursday Liz and I paid a visit to the Blue Ridge Parkway archives on Riceville Road. I found some reports on visitor usage of the Parkway, including recreational, non-recreational, and overnight. Liz and I also found some correspondences on land acquisition. Apparently selling land to the Parkway was…. not usually by choice in North Carolina. If a landowner refused to sell the state would “condemn” the property, which means the owner would still get money for the land, but they were forced to evacuate it as they could not live on condemned property. It was a pretty messed up way to go about it, but there you have it. This wasn’t always the case but it did happen sometimes.

I also purchased a copy of Anne Whisnant’s book, Super Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History. I knew it would be invaluable, but it was absolute gold! Not only did it point me in the direction of more primary sources, it also gave me some ideas for the website. Now I am sure our “subtopics” will change, but reading Dr. Whisnant’s book really got me thinking about how I am going to construct the “Locals” section. I am not going to divulge quite yet what I think the new subtopics may be, but I have a few ideas that I hope to play around with in the next couple of days. Our next milestone is October 26th. By this date Liz and I agreed to have a narrative on the Home, Acknowledgments, and About Project pages as well as each of the landing pages for Construction, Locals, and Tourism. We also intended to complete at least one subpage under Construction, Locals, and Tourism done. That being said, we need to figure out our menu and subtopics soon!

While we ponder over our menu we will be visiting the BRP archives again (on Tuesday, I believe) where Jackie has more than enough documents to keep us busy. And in between visits to the archives we have digitized primary sources to explore, the website design to work on, and secondary sources to peruse. So much to do, so little time!

History, Mystery, and Political Intrigue?

Weede, Fred. Battle for the Blue Ridge Parkway. 1957. Buncombe County Public Library. Asheville, North Carolina.

The mystery! The political intrigue! A previously hidden history! Fred Weede promised all of this in the foreword of his document (a memoir, perhaps? I am not sure at this time what it is) that provides an insider’s view of the battle between North Carolina and Tennessee for the Parkway. Weede, former Manager of the Asheville Chamber of Commerce, had left files on nearly half a century worth of Asheville and Western North Carolina history, which his successor apparently had destroyed. At this time (I am about 9 pages in) I have not discovered why all of these valuable documents were destroyed, but I found this intriguing! However, upon retiring Weede had taken a few letters with him which were “of such personal nature that I felt their contents should not be available to anyone else, since the writers were still living and might be embarrassed should their correspondences with me be made public.” Again, I have not yet reached the part where Weede reveals the contents of the letters, but I was hooked. Weede indicates these letters will be included in his narrative. What was so sensitive that Weede insisted on waiting until his Correspondences had passed away to reveal the contents of the letters? He also promises to relate all that transpired, “in the open and behind the scenes,” as he was informed of every movement along the way. Apparently, according to the author, at the time he wrote this document there was only one other living individual who knew as much as he did about what transpired in the open and in secret.

Now, did Weede take a more dramatic tone than necessary? Did I simply misinterpret the meaning behind Weede’s foreword? Or will Weede deliver the political excitement and secrecy that he promised? And WHY were all those valuable documents destroyed? I later read that Weede’s successor had them burned. I cannot for the life of me figure out why someone would do this instead of turning it over to an archive. I have yet to learn the answers to all these questions but will surely keep you all updated as I uncover Weede’s truth. At this point it seems like the battle between NC and TN for the Blue Ridge Parkway was rather intense!

For an update on our progress: Yesterday afternoon Liz and I took a trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway Headquarters to meet with Jackie Holt. While we didn’t look at as many actual primary sources, the folks at the BRP gave us plenty of sources on a flash drive! In addition, Jackie gave us a couple of oral histories of individuals who were at the CCC camp in North Carolina. We also had a nice talk with the landscape architect. He knew a bit more about how the Parkway acquired land from locals (hint: in NC the land wasn’t given up voluntarily) and gave us maps of some of the land acquired by the state from individuals for the purpose of the Parkway. It was overall an extremely productive visit. We are going to meet Jackie at the BRP archives tomorrow to possibly get our hands on more sources. In the meantime we have more than enough digital sources to keep us busy. Now that we finally have to opportunity to start digging into primary sources, I am both relieved and intimidated. There’s so much to sort through and interpret, so much information to organize. And then there is the matter of putting it into a form that the public can take in and absorb. I’m sure we will get through it all, so for now I will just focus on interpreting each document in turn.

Archives, More Archives, Dirt, and Structural Changes (on the Website)

Liz and I visited the Western Regional Archives (WRA) on Thursday for our first real session at the archives. There are a couple different collections that we are interested in, but we spent Thursday going through the Blue Ridge Parkway photograph collection. This collection consists of somewhere around 15 boxes or so of images of the construction of the Parkway.  We saw more rocks, dirt, and felled trees that we could ever want to see. Some pictures were literal just dirt… no indication of what was going on or where the images was taken. We also found plenty of pictures of random objects placed on the gravel-covered ground. This was for a size comparison, I’m sure, but it was bizarre how many size comparisons the photographer felt was necessary. Liz and I now have a great idea about the size of the gravel in comparison to coins and pens. While it wasn’t quite what we anticipated, we still found some materials that we believe we can use! Liz will be creating a section on the website that discusses the construction of the Parkway, and I will also briefly visit the topic while researching locals who helped with construction. We found plenty of images of men working on the BRP that will fit in nicely as illustrations of our narrative. We also found some nice scenic shots to use as background images and on the home page. Heather South at the WRA also gave us a couple of really useful secondary sources to look at. We are happy with the progress that we made, but needless to say we will be going back soon.

I did make some personal progress on the website. I finally completed my timeline, footnotes and all! I may go back and tweak the description on the individual newspaper articles, but for the most part it is finished, although it’s a week later than our personal schedule of milestones indicated. It was a relief to complete the timeline, especially since I continued to experience difficulties right up until the very end with getting images to load. Other progress that we have made on the website is actually a regression in some of the ideas that we had. We initially had all these wonderful pages laid out but have since realized that we may not find enough information on each individual subjects to warrant a separate page for each, so we will most likely end up combining some pages. This wasn’t completely unexpected—we even indicated in our contract that our “subtopics” may change depending on the sources available. While slightly disappointing, this is both a setback and a blessing. We would have really loved to develop this website to its fullest extent, but given the time that we have to complete everything and the possible lack of resources on some topics, we simply will not be able to create all the pages we wanted. However, this is probably best for us since it takes a lot of pressure off our shoulders to find enough sources to support every single topic to the extent that a full page can be created for it. We will also be able to give more attention to the pages we do have, meaning we can make sure these pages are top notch. We aren’t sure exactly how this will play out quite yet, but we are prepared for the possibility of topic changes/combinations.

I plan to spend the next couple of days looking through all the documents that Jack Holt (curator for the Blue Ridge Parkway) gave Liz. I have already uncovered an interesting report on African Americans and their interaction with the Parkway, including how their use of the Parkway was shaped by segregation laws. Liz and I have also set up a time to meet with Jackie on Tuesday to possibly view some other primary sources that are of interest to us. We may or may not be in class on Tuesday, but regardless we will be spending this time focusing on the website!