Elizabethton High School building archives for student research

Joe Penza and Dustin Hensley, photo by John Thompson
Posted On: Wednesday, January 23, 2019

BY JOHN THOMPSON, Johnson City Press

ELIZABETHTON — Part of nearly every high school student’s educational experience is the writing of research papers. While this is important experience for future college courses and future jobs after college, there may not be enough primary sources to meet the needs of all these students.

Joe Penza, archivist for the city of Elizabethton, and Dustin Hensley, librarian for Elizabethton High School, recognized this need and have worked toward a solution.

Penza is the custodian of thousands of primary source documents in his job, and knew that these could be valuable assets to the high school library and allow students to write more on local themes with lots of primary material. Penza said his solution is to copy many of his archive files for the high school library and set up a satellite location for the city archives.

Last week, Penza brought the collection to the high school and left it in the care of the library and the students. He said it contains approximately 90 gigabytes of local primary sources. The collection contains city ordinances, minutes of meetings and local legal documents going back a century.

But there is a lot more than just legal documents. Penza included city maps going back to 1893. There are old photographs and post cards going way back. Other material includes family histories, newspaper articles, obituaries, death records and cemetery records.

The archives are not just images. There are audio recordings of oral history. There are videos going back to the building of the rayon plants in the 1920s.

Now that the students have possession of the images, Penza said they will mold the collection to suit their needs. He will provide copies of more documents as needed. But he knows the interests of students will lead them in new directions, and they will obtain lots of documents from families and other sources that are not a part of his holdings.

Eventually, the archive will become more than just a satellite of the city’s archives and will truly be an archive of the high school and the thousands of students who wrote research papers there.

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