A case study of a North Carolina mill community from Elon librarians at the St. Louis Fed

Jesse Akman and Betty Garrison present at Beyond The Numbers Conference at the St. Louis Federal Reserve, a biennial conference that addresses the challenges of economic information.

On Nov. 10, Jesse Akman, health and life sciences librarian and assistant librarian, and Betty Garrison, business research librarian and assistant librarian, presented “A Case Study of A North Carolina Mill Community: Using Archival Collections to Understand Economic Decline and Renewal” at the Beyond The Numbers Conference at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Beyond the Numbers is the Federal Reserve’s biannual economic data conference, and 2022 was its first in-person gathering since 2018.

The talk focused on ways to help Elon students become community members in Alamance County rather than temporary visitors by utilizing collections found in the Elon Archives. Daily, students live, learn and pass by buildings named for Alamance industry leaders without realizing their significance. Akman and Garrison used the May Family Collection of papers and photographs found in Elon Archives to trace the industrial boom in Alamance County in the early 1900s, led by the textile industry, and through the lens of industry and community explained how the Alamance neighborhoods went through boom and bust to the becoming a bedroom community and enabling the revitalization of historic industrial neighborhoods like Glencoe Village.

Furthermore, their presentation advanced the conference’s goal of data-driven economic instruction by showing how these archival collections can help undergraduates situate current economic conditions in their historical contexts. Through these collections, they were able to trace the history of the regional textile industry from its origins in chattel slavery, to its explosion in the interwar synthetic fabrics boom, and finally its apogee and decline in postwar America.