Professional scholars and local history enthusiasts alike can now delve into the extensive Shenandoah National Park Oral History Collection to learn more about life in the Blue Ridge Mountains before the park’s creation in the 1930s.
Professionals in James Madison University Libraries and Educational Technologies, where the resource has been housed in Special Collections, have digitized and compiled transcripts of the bulk of the 135-interview collection, making it readily available for study.
The oral history collection’s audio interviews, transcripts and photographs offer “an extremely important piece of historical information” for study by historians, anthropologists, artists, linguists and specialists in many other disciplines, said Trevor Alvord, Special Collections librarian.
The digital collection brings together interviews conducted primarily by Dorothy Noble Smith, a longtime writer for the “Page News & Courier,” a weekly newspaper in Page County. She published “Recollections: The People of the Blue Ridge Remember,” her findings based on the oral histories, in 1983. Members of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, park collaborators Eugene and Diane Zior Wilhelm, Darwin Lambert and other people also conducted interviews. The earliest interviews date to 1964.
JMU received the collection from Shenandoah National Park in 2001. Originally stored at the park’s headquarters in Luray, the documents were not available to the public because the oral histories were not considered official park records.
Topics discussed by interviewees include mountain folklife, music, food preservation, traditional medicine, agriculture and harvesting, bark peeling, moonshining, chores and family life, and schooling with additional references to the Civilian Conservation Corp, the New Deal, and residents’ feelings towards the creation of the Shenandoah National Park.