NEH Challenge Grant

Mars Hill University received $250,000 from the A.V. Davis Foundations for the National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant for the Southern Appalachian Archives.

The Vetust Study Club donated proceeds from the Asheville Antiques Fair, November 4 – 6, 2011, to Mars Hill University in support of the Challenge Grant. See the Asheville Antiques Fair web site for details.

An endowment in support of the Ramsey Center’s Southern Appalachian Archives has been made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities :  Exploring the human endeavor.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this Web resource do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.



With the award of a highly competitive Challenge Grant, the National Endowment for the Humanities recognized the value of the Southern Appalachian Archives collections and enabled Mars Hill University to meet the stewardship challenge these collections represent. The grant provided $500,000 in federal funds, the maximum award possible. The award required the university to raise $1.5 million in matching funds.

The $2 million total has established an endowment to
• permanently fund a professional archivist for the Southern Appalachian Archives
• establish a preservation and programming fund
• provide three years of bridging costs so the work can begin


Each year of the bridging period highlights collections from the Southern Appalachian Archives for
• preservation
• creation of online finding aids
• digitization projects
• development of teaching resources
• community programming—speakers, tours, performances, and workshops

The 2008-2009 academic year focused on the Gertrude M. Ruskin Collection of Native American artifacts. Items in the Ruskin collection date from 3,000 B.C. to the early 20th century and include a rich assortment of points, pottery shards, pipes, sculpture, and other artifacts from the Cherokee and other peoples of the Southern Appalachian region.

Ramsey Center Fellows Dr. Phyllis Smith, associate professor of history, and Mr. Tyler Greene, history major, were selected to work in the Ruskin collection. Dr. Smith developed teaching resources for the Liberal Arts in Action Civic Life course, and Mr. Greene wrote an academic article for presentation and possible future publication. They were assisted by the Archivist, Dr. Karen Paar, who was able to do significant work in the above-mentioned areas of preservation and cataloging. Their work was showcased in the first annual “Unveiling Our Treasures” event.

The 2009-2010 academic year drew on the James G.K. McClure Farmers Federation Collection of more than 3,000 photographs, as well as manuscripts, scrapbooks, publications, and recordings that provide a window onto many aspects of life in western North Carolina in the early twentieth century. Ramsey Center fellows Dr. John Gripentrog, assistant professor of history, and history major Amanda McMahan worked extensively with this collection in the fall of 2009.

The 2010-2011 academic year centered on the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Collection of over 2,000 handwritten ballads and folk songs, as well as letters, photographs, musical recordings, and an enormous scrapbook that document the rich musical heritage of Southern Appalachia. The first Hart-Melvin Archival Research Fellows, Dr. Carol Boggess, professor of English, and English major Kristina Blackford, centered their investigation on the rich folk song and ballad collection.


We met our goal to raise the $1.5 million in matching funds in 2012 and, with the $2 million endowment, permanently fund a professional archivist position and a preservation and programming budget for the Southern Appalachian Archives. This endowment will ensure that these materials survive for future generations and allow our collections to continue to grow.