Fairgoers, teachers, and students: the North Carolina State Fair is just one of the 90,000 reasons to use North Carolina Digital Collections!
Sow and Piglets, 1941 NC State Fair Premium, on GHL Flicker Photostream.
The North Carolina State Fair begins tomorrow! And apparently there will be a tasty new treat among the food vendors: The Twinx — a batter-fried bacon-wrapped Twinkie with a Twix bar in the center. Yes, it’s true! But putting such culinary miracles aside, the State Fair provides an opportunity to look at the GHL’s government publications and digital collections in a whole new light. At the moment I’m especially thinking about the creative ways history and social studies teachers can use the State Library and Archives North Carolina Digital Collections as primary sources to share the state’s cultural history through a variety of documentary forms.
First, a little history. The State Fair dates all the way back to 1853 and efforts by antebellum agriculture advocates to promote reform and farming method improvements for the state’s struggling farmers. The editor of the state’s fledgling agriculture journal John F. Tompkins assembled a meeting of advocates from the Agricultural Society in 1852, and a year later fairgrounds had been obtained with the help of the city of Raleigh and the first fair was launched with $524 in prizes — called “premiums.” The prizes, for a vast range of categories from ears of corn to cattle to horses to handicrafts and baked goods, in effect encouraged farmers and producers to produce and exhibit their best. The “premium list” became the publication that listed all the categories, the criteria, and the awards, with lists published from the inception of the fair.
Aerial Mitchell’s Revolving Ladder Act, State Fair 1916, from the GHL Flickr Photostream.
A list sounds pretty dry! But the premium lists are anything but dull: they’re a treasure trove of information about North Carolina agricultural life, practices, and culture with images and a fabulous array of advertisements going well beyond farms and produce. Even better, the premium lists showcase the entertainments and food available at the fair adding to the illustrated social history of the annual event.
The premium list is a state government publication by the Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and today the state fair premium lists from 1853 to 2010 are digitized and freely accessible as part of the NC State Documents Collection on North Carolina Digital Collections (with over 90,000 additional documents and photographs). And while we may tend to associate “government publications” with laws and images of formulaic reports, the premium lists prove that government documents can even be fun and exciting.
North Carolina State Fair Premium List 1971, from NC Digital Collections.
For starters, just take a look at the evolution of the cover art! But don’t stop there, open them up and explore what’s inside.
To learn more about the State Fair and its history, visit these resources from the GHL:
– Kelly Agan, Government & Heritage Library, Digital Media Librarian