“Diversifying the School of Agriculture and Life Sciences” Exhibit

Diversifying the School of Agriculture and Life Sciences” is a digital history exhibit about the integration of women and African Americans into North Carolina State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). The exhibit is a part of a larger project titled “Agricultural Empowerment in Academics, Research, and Extension.” The exhibit is embedded in NC State’s History Department webpage The State of History.

This exhibit addresses land-grant institutions, formal agricultural education, educational access for women and African Americans, and Affirmative Action. NC State was founded as a white male only land-grant institution. In the early years, women were not considered students and could only attend special courses in agriculture. After 1940, women began pursuing formal education in agriculture, but the administration did not actively speak of women’s roles until the 1970s. Though African American women and men attended NC State’s Agricultural program, the administrators of the program only actively sought their attendance in the 1980s after North Carolina public universities came under fire for noncompliance with Affirmative Action. My part of the exhibit deals with the administrative pursuit of these students.

The major interpretive challenge I faced was a lack of student voices in the Special Collections. The CALS program has preserved mainly administrative records and memos, therefore this exhibit mainly explores how administrators felt about broadening educational empowerment beyond white men. Any quotes from women come from the CALS annual reports. The USDA reports of the African American students gave the most genuine glance into black student’s perceptions of the program.

As a digital history exhibit, my professor stressed the importance of making our sources available to the public. The majority of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences reports on students were not digitized by the NC State Special Collections Research Center. Therefore, to expand access to this collection I digitized close to one hundred pages of Annual Reports and records from the College’s work with the USDA for the exhibit. The collection also includes fellow project member’s digitized documents.

The class’ final presentation is featured on NCSU Libraries page under “Graduate Students Interpret the “State of History” at NC State,” written by Gwynn Thayer.

Here is an excerpt of the article, discussing the challenges we faced uncovering NC State’s history through university sources. My greatest challenge was uncovering the voices of the students, because the majority of the College (School) of Agriculture and Life Science’s preserved documents are administrative. This is a good lesson in the power of the archives – often many voices are silenced, and we must dig to uncover!

“A number of the students acknowledged that one of the most difficult tasks that they faced was digging through the primary source materials in order to find the voices and testimonies of those who participated in specific historic events. As graduate student Josie Titus discovered, it was difficult to find documentation that reflected the voices of the workers when she tried to research the history of African-American university employees. Likewise, graduate student Rebecca Lowe found that it was a challenge to uncover the voices of students who were enrolled in the School of Agriculture and Life Sciences (SALS) from the 1960s to 1980s. As the students grappled with these problems, they learned to understand what is and what is not preserved in the historical record – and why.”

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