Project to digitize county history

LAURINBURG — After decades of collecting dust in local attics, albums of faded family photos and crumbling vintage festival fliers, event programs, and athletic rosters will be given new life as part of a digital portal to the past being compiled by the Storytelling and Arts Center of the Southeast.

Styled “Echode,” the project will create an online repository of Scotland County history, unearthing artifacts from a time when the minutiae of life were not recorded on social media.

The project’s director, McNair Evans, is a Scotland County native and California resident.

“This would be a platform that would allow people to log on and interact with the shared history of our county,” Evans said. “It would also allow people to add content to that platform, so they could contribute. It would also allow people to curate or save stories from that platform and then share them.”

SACS, which is recognized by the state as the Scotland County Arts Council, received a $15,000 grant from the North Carolina Arts Council to fund the project over two years. Those funds have been matched by Service Thread and the Laurinburg Downtown Revitalization Corporation to put $30,000 of computers, scanners, digital projectors, and web design behind the project.

In addition to photographs and other media lurking throughout the county, Echode will also draw from existing state and national archives for relevant content, as well as from books printed about the area and photos submitted over the years to The Laurinburg Exchange.

“Our first year really is getting our hands on as much of that content that is not digital and getting it digitized,” said SACS Director Erin Rembert.

Volunteers, regardless of computer skill level, will be needed to assist in digitizing photographs and other content. High school students will be involved through internships, and Evans said that he hopes to pair youth with elderly county residents who are more historically savvy to upload and caption photos.

Locals — and Scotland County expatriates — are encouraged to lend anything that can shed light on local history, whether school and church photos, snapshots from a public event, or even newspaper and magazine advertisements.

“All of that stuff is part of our history and all of it is so important, so it’s not just major events, it’s things that make up who we as individuals are, which in turn makes us who we are as a community,” said Rembert.

When complete, Echode will be fully interactive, allowing users to add information or create a history of their church, family, or school. The project’s web application, Evans said, will be one-of-a-kind.

“This will be unlike anything that exists, primarily due to the storytelling capacity,” he said. “This is a social platform; it’s not just an archive that you would think of using at a library, but it’s a place where people can comment on photographs, they can add those names that are missing. It facilitates oral history taking place in the digital sphere.”

The project also has potential in the physical sphere, as a photographic depiction of life in southeastern North Carolina over the last century.

“Our goal with this project is to foster a greater connection between people who live here and the shared history, because we feel that by knowing where we come from it can help us better identify new directions to go,” Evans said.

Anyone interested in volunteering or submitting photographs or other items for the Echode project should call the Storytelling and Arts Center at 910-277-3599.

Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.