Collecting History: TROY’s Wiregrass Archives paints portrait of past through preservation
Old contestant applications from the National Peanut Festival’s Peanut Queen Pageant might seem like documents of little historic value — hardly worth saving. But to Dr. Martin Olliff, director of the Archives of Wiregrass History and Culture at the Dothan Campus, they are a treasure trove.
“There are all kinds of information on these forms,” Dr. Olliff said. “They not only give us a glimpse of what these young women were like … but they are also a reflection of the society at the time.”
The old pageant forms are among the numerous seemingly ordinary items stored in the Wiregrass archives, including letters, deeds, journals, blueprints, diplomas and fading black and white photographs. Viewed together, these salvaged records form a picture of the growth and development of the Wiregrass region.
“An individual document might not tell you much, but when you start to get a large amount of material together you can get a good idea of what was going on during these times,” Dr. Olliff said.
The Wiregrass Archives opened in 2002 and is housed on the second floor of the Library/Technology Building on the Dothan Campus. Its mission is to collect, preserve and make available the historical records of the Wiregrass regions of Alabama, Florida and Georgia.
Lining the shelves of the archives are rows of white boxes filled with the personal and economic records of community leaders and ordinary citizens, businesses of yesterday and today, government and community organizations.
The materials stored in the Wiregrass Archives fill an overlooked niche in the historical record of the Southeast, Dr. Olliff said.
“[The Wiregrass] is a much neglected area of history research and publication,” he said. “Even state history textbooks barely mention the region. Collecting these documents will assist scholars in compiling the history of this area which will enlighten our view of the United States and of world history as a whole. ”
Planning for the archives began in 1999 when former Troy State University Dothan President Michael Malone arranged for the campus to house the congressional records of U.S. Rep. Terry Everett. The vision for the archives soon began to expand, and a $142,000 grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services enabled the archives to move beyond just housing the Everett papers to become a full repository for all historic information about the Wiregrass.
Today, the archives house personal and institutional records dating back to the 1800s. Dr. Olliff said the archives are still in the collection development phase and he works closely with local historical societies, libraries, institutions and private individuals to expand and secure more materials.
“My goal is to continue to collect and get enough momentum so that material will keep coming in,” Dr. Olliff said.
The archives are open to the public and are a valuable research tool for historians, students, genealogists and many others. They are also the basis for TROY’s Minor in Archival Studies program, the only undergraduate program of its kind in Alabama.
The program exposes students to the work archivists do and prepares them to pursue graduate education or enter the profession.
“Archivists are the watchdogs over our institutions, the custodians of our collective memory and the emissaries of our history,” Dr. Olliff said.
For more information on the archives, call (334) 983-6556, ext. 1-321 or visit the archive online at www.troy.edu and click on Community Outreach.
Clower is a university relations coordinator.