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Web Archive Of Rare Material Will Show How Railroad Brought Change To The Eastern Shore

April 24, 2003 -- In the late 19th century, the coming of the railroad to the remote Eastern Shore of Virginia profoundly changed the culture and environment of the Chesapeake Bay region, opening faraway markets for watermen and farmers and boosting a new industry: tourism.

Now an extensive archive of historical material about that era, collected over the years by the rural Eastern Shore Public Library, will be published on the World Wide Web through a collaborative project with the University of Virginia.

The “Chesapeake Bay Environmental History: The Eastern Shore of Virginia and the Railroad” will benefit research into environmental and public-policy issues and is thought to be the first online archive documenting a railroad’s effect on an American community.

The Virginia Center for Digital History at U.Va., a national leader in providing historical material for the Web, will develop the project with the public library in Accomac. The project is supported by an $85,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“It will make valuable material from a small, relatively inaccessible library available to anyone with access to the Web, on a subject of great interest,” said historian William G. Thomas III, director of the U.Va. center and author of "Lawyering for the Railroad: Business, Law and Power in the New South.”

The Eastern Shore Library’s broad collection includes historic maps, manuscripts, photographs, newspaper archives, promotional pamphlets, travelers accounts and other documents. The digital project will add other material from the Library of Virginia and the Virginia Coast Reserve Long-Term Environmental Research project, another U.Va.-affiliated program.

Brooks M. Barnes, the librarian who manages the collection at the Eastern Shore Library, has collected much of it himself for more than 25 years. A native of the area who holds a Ph.D.
in history from U.Va., he is co-editor of the book, “Seashore Chronicles: Three Centuries of the Virginia Barrier Islands.”

The library’s archive is well known to people interested in the region’s history, Barnes said. Making it available electronically will promote easier searching, better preservation and much wider access, he said. The material will be useful to everyone from historians to elementary school students.

When the railroad came down the Eastern Shore peninsula, the traditional industries of fishing, oystering and farming suddenly boomed, along with population. The entire landscape changed as whole new towns and roads sprang up, telephone and power lines spread, hunting and fishing lodges and tourism grew. Although historians have documented the changes brought by the railroads in America, few case studies have looked at how local communities themselves experienced change, Thomas said.

The Virginia Center for Digital History plans to use the project as a model for future collaborations with Chesapeake Bay area historical societies and libraries. The railroad project will be the first phase of an ongoing effort to study the bay and its history over the past 400 years.

The “Chesapeake Bay Environmental History” project will begin in stages soon on the Virginia Center for Digital History Web site at www.vcdh.virginia.edu/research.html

The Eastern Shore Public Library’s Web site, which contains a wide range of Eastern Shore historical and current information, is at www.espl.org

Contact: Bob Brickhouse, (434) 924-6856

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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Last Modified: Thursday, 24-Apr-2003 13:18:22 EDT
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