Post 3 – Why It’s ‘Special’ Collections

To actually touch letters written by someone in the 1700’s or 1800’s is special and goes beyond reading about the letter in a book. Also each item has the chance to spark or support an idea. On Monday night, in Special Collections, I began by sifting through items in the Asa and Elna Spaulding materials. I didn’t find anything which assisted with the two topics I’m proposing or anything which suggested an interesting topic. I moved on to the Durham County Tax List from 1875. I love looking at this list. Interesting how a ledger, with only a few words of information about each person, can offer so much to the imagination. Why does this person, listed as ‘colored’, have more than 200 acres of land? How is that possible? Did he migrate here from the north? If a former slave, was he granted the land by his former owner? Related to the plantation owner? I’m particularly focused on these rare number of African Americans who managed to amass large amounts of land so shortly after Emancipation. Time in the reading room passed quickly once I started looking through the tax list. The edges of some of the pages are brittle and brown. Maybe it’s nerdy, but I like the way it feels when I have to carefully turn these aging pages.

I also enjoyed listening to my classmates when they found something interesting and shared it with me. Julie showed me something from the William A Couch items (Durham Co. plantation owner) which made me think of considering another topic all together. It was called the “Colored Race Book.” Sort of a propaganda book on how black folk should behave. Intriguing (to me) that it existed and equally intriguing that this white plantation owner kept this with his items.

Searching takes time. It can be tedious, but you never know when you’re going to come upon a hidden treasure in one of those boxes Will Hansen passes through the window.


About Melody Hunter-Pillion

Duke graduate student in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program. Former broadcast journalist, media relations professional. North Carolina native.
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4 Responses to Post 3 – Why It’s ‘Special’ Collections

  1. Gene Downs Jr. says:

    Melody: Great point about the tactile experience of handling these old, brittle, yellowed pages. Their fragility reminds us that history itself is fragile: easily lost, overlook or misinterpreted.

    • Melody Hunter-Pillion says:

      Thank you Gene. Your reference to history and its fragility puts my appreciation of these documents into perspective. Seems I’m not a nerd after all. Melody

  2. James Rose says:

    I like the way you imagine the missing pieces, Melody, and wonder what they mean. It inspired me to reconsider the tractor flyers, seed catalogs and other routine things I looked through. Although I considered them pretty mundane, you’ve helped me look at them the way their original owner may have – perhaps imagining how that tractor would look in my field, or how much more land I could farm. Perspective is very important!

    • Melody Hunter-Pillion says:

      As I listened to you and our other classmates last night I kept thinking, “Wow, his topic is neat, her topic is cool.” There are just some many interesting things waiting in all those boxes and we all have our own way of bringing the past back to life by picking up on different themes and perspectives. I can’t wait to see how you flesh out your topic. I’ll be seeing you in the Special Collections reading room! Melody

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