By Jordan Beach
Under the guidance of Dr. Donna Coffey Little, Reinhardt students continue to research local history that will later create an exhibit on campus.
Reinhardt University received the Humanities for the Public Good grant from The Council of Independent Colleges, allowing students to complete primary source research on Pine Log Mountain through an internship with Little, professor of English. Little’s background on the history of Pine Log Mountain stems from the extensive research she completed herself.
Little worked with five student interns in Fall 2019 and continues working with six student interns this semester to conduct their study on the mountain that lies just a couple miles west of the University.
“They have been researching topics such as the ties between Reinhardt and Pine Log Mountain, communities around the mountain such as Lost Town and Salacoa, moonshine, mining and convict laborers,” said Little.
Students utilize local resources as they contribute to “Spirits on Pine Log Mountain: An Appalachian Community, 1840-1940,” like the Bartow County History Museum, the Cherokee County Historical Society, the Etowah Valley Historical Society and the University of Georgia Special Collections, along with local caves and ruins.
Abigail Merchant ’20 is a studio art and history major with a museum studies minor and has been working in museums since she was 10 years old. Her internship research primarily focuses on Corra Harris, a traveling preacher’s wife and famous author, along with conservation techniques.
“I have loved learning about the community around Reinhardt University and Pine Log Mountain,” said Merchant. “I have been fortunate to meet and spend time with various individuals that are willing to share their knowledge and love of the area. I will treasure the friendship I have made while collecting my research.”
Throughout her internship, Merchant learned the many steps it takes to develop an exhibit and the methods used to collect research required to support it.
After a recommendation from Dr. Kenneth Wheeler, professor of history, Branden Blackwell ’23 decided to take the internship with Little because of his love for local history.
“I loved the idea of doing independent research in a small group setting,” said Blackwell, history major. “It is very refreshing to go out and discover things yourself rather than reading them out of a textbook.”
Blackwell lived in Waleska for most of his life and yet uncovered history through his research of the Salacoa Valley that he had been unaware of all this time.
“The most interesting thing I’ve learned would have to be how much history is right here in and around Waleska that I never knew about,” said Blackwell. “I have developed a lot of general research skills. I have learned that sometimes information you need is ‘hiding in plain sight,’ so to speak. I’ve learned a lot of skills for getting to information that isn’t always easy to find. We tend to look for information in books or the internet, but when the history is uncharted, sometimes the information lies in people and places instead.”
As with his experience during research, Blackwell hopes visitors of the exhibit will come to realize how much history can be found just around the corner from their day-to-day lives.
“I hope visitors will come to the realization that national history always starts on local levels, and that they will see connections between the two in things such as changing race relations, women’s rights, the education system and much more. I also hope that they will be able to view the people, places and events of the past on an individual level instead of just a statistic and make a personal connection between their lives and our own.”
Merchant also wants those who visit the exhibit to feel a connection with their past.
“I hope visitors will have an appreciation for the individuals who helped shape this area throughout the years. I want them to gain a love for the beauty of the landscape and the history of the surrounding area,” Merchant said. “Upon leaving our exhibit, I want visitors to desire to embark on a personal journey to continue exploring the area.”
Once the research is completed, the student interns will create the entire exhibit in Reinhardt’s Hill Freeman Library & Spruill Learning Center.
Photos provided by Abigail Merchant.