The Tennessee State Library and Archives has launched an awesome new project:
The first of its kind in the nation, the Tennessee Civil War Geographic Information System (GIS) Survey shows hundreds of locations where Civil War battles, engagements, skirmishes and other military actions took place. The interactive GIS application for the Civil War in Tennessee is now available at: http://tnmap.tn.gov/civilwar/.
The web site allows modern aerial photography, street maps and land use maps to be overlaid onto sites where Civil War actions occurred in Tennessee. It also links narrative information about these events from the Tennessee Civil War Sourcebook. Complete accounts of all the state units that served in the war are searchable by county along with 1860 United States Census data.
This is one of the most comprehensive and useful online historical tools I’ve ever seen. You can select any engagement and get its location on a modern-day aerial, street, or terrain map, along with primary source material; instantly access unit histories relevant to each county; see the locations of historic markers across the state; and more.
I clicked on my home county and found OR reports for actions in my hometown, along with descriptions of all the units that included local boys. Pretty cool! Go check it out.
Try as I might, I still can’t manage to suppress my irritation at some of the thick-headed arguments being espoused in favor of slashing the Tennessee State Library and Archives budget.
Last time I quoted one Concerned Citizen who remarked, in response to Mark Cheathem’s pro-TSLA editorial, that he was being asked to pay taxes to support a service that would benefit someone else. Since this is basically how taxation works, it’s a rather odd argument. It’s odd also because the fellow is assuming that academic researchers are TSLA’s main—if not sole—constituency.
Here’s a nugget of wisdom from another commenter: “By the way, this article does fail to point out one group that will be dramatically affected by libraries closing: The Homeless. At least in Nashville, they used the library more than anyone else and form a line on Church Street every morning – I guess Homeless people read more than most of us.” I guess they do, since they’re informed enough to be able to distinguish between TSLA and the regular public library—a distinction that the commenter is apparently unable to make.
Another reader stated that institutions like libraries “are non-critical even if very desirable. They should all be at the front of items to be cut to balance a budget.” Let me submit to you that archives are more than “very desirable.” Indeed, preserving and maintaining records has been a function of governments since the days of the first civilizations. This isn’t a Republican or Democrat thing; this is an obligation to society thing.
It seems that too many of us are simply ignorant of the scale of contributions that institutions like TSLA provide. So here, for the enlightenment of those who think the state archives exist only for the benefit of researchers and history buffs, is a sampling of some services we Tennesseans enjoy thanks to these folks:
- TSLA administers the Tennessee Electronic Library, an online collection of hundreds of thousands of reference resources provided free of charge to the state’s schools, libraries, and colleges. For all these institutions to pay for this service on their own, the cost would be over $90 million annually, but TEL pays $1.5 million per year to provide this material at no cost to the state’s citizens. TEL users conduct over 30 million online searches every year.
- TSLA conducts free workshops for Tennesseans who are trying to trace their family history and provides information on preserving family records and materials.
- TSLA provides a free library service geared specifically toward the blind and visually impaired, providing braille and large print materials to Tennesseans who would not otherwise have access to this reading material.
- The Archives Development program makes TSLA’s expertise available to smaller repositories throughout the state, ensuring that local and county records are maintained for the benefit of people who live in these communities.
- TSLA’s Education Outreach program provides teachers and children with access to primary source material for use in the classroom, which is a tremendous enhancement to Tennessee education provided without cost on the part of county or city schools.
I could go on, but the point should be clear. State archives and library facilities do more than give us history nuts a place to do research. Schoolkids, teachers, local officials, and the disabled are just a few of the other groups that benefit from these facilities, even if they never set foot in the facilities themselves.
If you haven’t already, please read fellow blogger Mark Cheathem’s editorial on the budget cuts faced by the Tennessee State Library and Archives. TSLA is a fine institution, and it deserves better than having its hours and personnel slashed.
Drop a line to the governor and to state legislators so we can let them know that there are quite a few of us out there who think archives are important. Click here to get in touch with Gov. Haslam, and here to identify and contact your state legislators.
Then, if you’d like to see the kind of attitude that puts archives in a precarious position, take a look at some of the dazzlingly ignorant comments that irate readers have left on Mark’s op-ed. A sample: “Again, the taxpayer is being asked to fund a function to benefit the letter writer. It is exactly this type of expectation that has created the situation we are in as a state and country.”
Yup, that’s how it works. Citizens pay taxes which help fund government services that benefit you, and then you in turn pay taxes to help fund government services which benefit still other citizens. It’s called “society,” and we’re glad to have you aboard.
That was actually one of the more intelligent comments. It’s this sort of thing that helps answer my oft-asked question of why we Tennesseans have such amnesia when it comes to our history.
Look, I’m all for fiscal prudence in government. But maintaining important records and ensuring access to them is simply too important a task to handle in a cavalier, ill-informed fashion. You can’t have a responsible government without an informed citizenry, and you can’t have an informed citizenry without the services that archives provide. If sentiments like those quoted above are typical of how little we Tennesseans regard information about who we were and are, then an unbalanced budget is the least of our problems.
…for history institutions, and this time it’s in my home state. Gordon Belt has the details.