This is Home: Western North Carolina, Past and Present is a 2022 online lecture series that explores key historical, cultural and ecological aspects of the Western North Carolina region. In this series, researchers and experts from across the country present on the human and natural forces that have shaped the region, bringing these histories into a present-day context. This year, learn more about the place you call home by exploring topics including the Cherokee language, human history along the French Broad River, the formation of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, the history of African-American communities in the region and much more.

When & Where: WNC, Past and Present lectures take place Monday evenings from 6:30pm to 8:00pm EDT, online via zoom.

Cost: Tickets are FREE for museum members who use their promo code, $10 (plus fees) for general admission. Each lecture will be recorded and will be made available to attendees after the event. Scholarships for each lecture are available for students, veterans, BIPOC, and seniors. Please email to request a scholarship for a lecture or lectures.

This series is sponsored by the AARP Mountain Region

2022 Series: Details and Registration

Monday, October 3, 6:30pm-8:00pmExploring the Brown Mountain Lights, with Dr. Daniel CatonScroll down for details, or click here to register.
Monday, November 7, 6:30pm-8:00pmAndré Michaux in Western North Carolina, with Charlie WilliamsScroll down for details, or click here to register.

Upcoming Events

October 3rd: Exploring the Brown Mountain Lights

Dr. Caton will describe the Brown Mountain Lights and explore the possible explanations for this popular WNC phenomenon. He will review observations form his student research team, which has spent several years studying the light, and continues to do so today. Dr. Caton will also describe what has been mistaken for the lights, and how you can observe them yourself. REGISTER HERE

About Dr. Daniel Caton

Dr. Caton is a tenured professor of physics and astronomy, and Director of Observatories at Appalachian State University. His area of expertise is in the study of binary stars–pairs of stars that orbit each other. Caton also works to debunk pseudoscience and at the same time investigates claims of the paranormal in such phenomena as the Brown Mountain Lights, having appeared on specials on Discovery Kids, the Travel Channel, and the National Geographic Channel. He is part of a group of researchers on the lights, and operates two cameras nightly imaging the mountain and the Linville Gorge. As the founding president of the North Carolina Section of the International Dark-Sky Association, Caton works to reduce light pollution in the state.

November 7th: André Michaux in Western North Carolina

George Washington had been President of the U.S. for only six weeks when French botanist André Michaux, in the middle of his fourth year in North America, reached the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, hired a local guide, and plunged into the wilderness of the Black Mountains. This intrepid botanist and explorer would make four more trips into our mountains before he returned to France and disappeared into the mists of history and legend.  Appropriately, our attention has focused on his storied ascent of Grandfather Mountain where it can be said that he began the tradition of “singing on the mountain” with his heartfelt rendition of the French national anthem from the summit.  However, in 2020 the full story of Michaux’s travels became available to the public in English through the efforts of Charlie Williams and his partners who translated all his extant journals for the first time.  This lecture will focus on Michaux as an explorer of northwestern North Carolina and adjacent east Tennessee–identifying the places he went, some of the early settlers who were his hosts and guides, and the then-unknown plants that drew him into these rugged mountains. REGISTER HERE

About Charlie Williams (click here)

As a young librarian leading friends on outings to the Western NC mountains five decades ago, Charlie Williams noticed along their routes NC Historical Highway Markers honoring André Michaux. The markers said only that he was a “French botanist, pioneer in studying the flora of western North Carolina,” but viewed repeatedly, they sparked in Williams a lifelong adventure. Curious to know more, he began studying Michaux.  Study led to writing and eventually to speaking about the botanist–first in gardens and living rooms, but eventually at the Smithsonian in Washington DC.  He took the lead in organizing events honoring Michaux, and even began performing in period costume as Michaux. It complemented his 35-year career as a public librarian and then provided him with a unique occupation in retirement.

Past 2022 Events

March 7th: The French Broad River, Past and Present

While the Great Smokies are not among the oldest mountains in the world as often claimed, the French Broad may well be one of the planet’s oldest rivers. In this presentation, John Ross, author of Through the Mountains: The French Broad River and Time, will take the audience on an aerial tour of the French Broad’s natural and cultural history. Ross’s book carries readers through the French Broad watershed’s history from why the river flows where it does, through 14,000 years of human history, and into the present era where citizen conservationists revived dioxin-plagued Hartford, Tenn., once known as Widowville and are preserving the region’s natural resources for future generations. For those interested, Ross’s book can be purchased at Sassafras-on-Sutton in Black Mountain, Malaprops in Asheville and through Barnes and Noble.

About John Ross (click here)

Trained as a geologist and journalist, while a college student John Ross investigated damsites in the upper French Broad and Pigeon watersheds before embarking on a communications career that included, newspaper reporting, PR for colleges, and freelance writing for outdoor journals. A resident of Asheville, he is the author of a number of books including Rivers of Restoration. Through the Mountains is a finalist for the 2022 Phillip D. Reed Environmental Writing Award organized by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC).

April 4th: The Formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the system. The history of its establishment is a fascinating, and unlikely, story involving early conservationists, school children, regional boosters, and politicians. This talk will explore the complex interactions that created one of the great treasures of Western North Carolina that both protects an internationally important biosphere and generates billions of dollars in revenue for Western North Carolina and East Tennessee. REGISTER HERE

About Daniel Pierce (click here)

Daniel S. Pierce is the author of seven books, including four on the Great Smoky Mountains. He serves as Interdisciplinary Distinguished Professor of the Mountain South and resident professional hillbilly at the University of North Carolina Asheville where he teaches courses on the South, Appalachia, North Carolina, and the National Parks.

May 9th: Exploring the Buncombe County Turnpike through a 19th-Century Artist’s Eyes

Twelve years ago Preserving a Picturesque America (PAPA) was founded with the mission of preserving natural and historic locations through the power of the arts. The organization searches for almost 1000 locations depicted in the original Picturesque America publication. Recently the project found its way to WNC to rediscover the locations depicted in 1873 serial entitled “The French Broad.” This presentation will include the organization’s retracing of the path of the artist who created the original pieces along the original Buncombe Turnpike by foot, horseback and boat. Full of history, adventure, and art you will see how these locations have changed over the last 150 years and what can be done to protect them. REGISTER HERE

About Scott Varn (click here)

Scott is a Fine Arts and Media Arts graduate from USC who is rarely caught without his hiking stick or sketch pad. For Scott, a storyteller, artist, Scout Master and long-time environmental educator, founding PAPA is simply the merging of his skills and passions to help save our amazing natural wonders.

June 6th: Making the Invisible Visible: The Lives and Music of African American People in Far Western North Carolina

Ann Miller Woodford is the author of When All God’s Children Get Together: A Celebration of the Lives and Music of African American People in Far Western North Carolina. In this presentation, Ann will share historic images and discuss some of the significant people, communities and musical traditions that comprise African-American histories in far Western North Carolina, particularly from the 1950s-1960s to the present day. REGISTER HERE

About Ann Miller Woodford (click here)

Ann Miller Woodford holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio and is working on a Master of Arts Degree from Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina. She is a visual artist who works in oils, pencil, charcoal, and ink. She is an activist/regional historian, speaker, and author of the book, When All God’s Children Get Together: A Celebration of the Lives and Music of African American People in Far Western North Carolina. The book contains literary portraits that highlight the lives of some of the seemingly “invisible” African American people in the far western mountains of North Carolina who have helped to build the social, economic, and spiritual cultures, west of Asheville, North Carolina.

July 11th: Asheville and Buncombe County: 1792 to the Turn of the 20th Century

Much attention is paid to the late 19th century boom of Asheville and Buncombe County; the coming of the railroad, exponential population and economic growth, and Gilded Age “social uplift” projects. However, the groundwork for those stories was laid much earlier. The land that we now call Asheville and Buncombe County has been home to communities of indigenous people for more than 10,000 years and has changed much since initial European settlement in the wake of the Revolutionary War. In this talk, we’ll explore the early development of Asheville and Buncombe County, focusing on the changes and developments in the region between the founding of Buncombe County in 1792 and the turn of the 20th century. REGISTER HERE

About Katherine Cutshall (click here)

Katherine Calhoun Cutshall is a proud alumnus of UNC Asheville where she earned her BA in History (2016) and an MA in Liberal Arts and Sciences (2019). Katherine began her career in local history at the Vance Birthplace State Historic Site researching the lives of enslaved people of Buncombe County, and has served on the African American Heritage Commission of Asheville and Buncombe County, and as the Assistant Director of the Swannanoa Valley Museum and History Center. Today, she is the collections manager and lead archivist of the North Carolina Collection at Pack Memorial Library. Her research interests include the enslaved people and women of Buncombe County and the long term history and effects of tourism on the local economy.

August 1st: We Will Speak: Learning About Cherokee Language and Language Revitalization Initiatives

In this seminar, you will be introduced to the sounds and introductory phrases of the Cherokee language via interactive Cherokee language revitalization techniques.  We will also be discussing the State of Emergency declared by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Cherokee Nation, and United Keetoowah Band and how the tribes are working together and working against a clock to save the Cherokee language. We will discuss and demonstrate various language revitalization techniques, including Master-Apprentice, Total Physical Response, and immersive classroom group activities.  REGISTER HERE

About Rainy Brake and Louise Brown (click here)

Rainy Brake (also known as Agasga) has worked in Cherokee language revitalization initiatives for over thirteen years. After completing a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature at East Carolina University, Rainy moved to Cullowhee to attend Western Carolina University, where she studied TESOL, with an emphasis on applied linguistics.  After studying the Cherokee language and receiving a Graduate Certificate in Cherokee Studies, she became the first certified K-5 teacher at New Kituwah Academy, the Cherokee language immersion school located on the Qualla Boundary.   For ten years, she taught Cherokee language immersion along with Louise Brown, learning the Cherokee language along the way.  For the past three years, Rainy and Louise have worked at Western Carolina University as Cherokee language instructors, developing curriculum to teach WCU students about Cherokee language and culture.  

Louise Brown is a member of the EBCI and a first language Cherokee speaker.  Throughout her life, Louise has worked in the EBCI communities.   In 2006, she began teaching Cherokee immersion at New Kituwah Academy, working with early childhood students.  In 2009, Louise became the first Cherokee speaker to teach in the New Kituwah Academy elementary school, along with Rainy Brake.  Our Master-Apprentice journey began in 2009, and Louise and Rainy have worked closely in language revitalization ever since.   Currently, Louise and Rainy work at Western Carolina University, developing and teaching Cherokee language curriculum and hoping to develop future teachers of the Cherokee language.

September 12th: Understanding Southern Appalachian Biodiversity

Why is there such high biodiversity in Western North Carolina’s Southern Appalachians? Western North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains boast some of the highest biodiversity in the world and are legendary for the magnificent variety of spring wildflowers as well as surprising numbers of salamanders. This presentation will describe some of the diversity that exists in the region among both plants and animals, and will explain what factors contribute to the region’s biodiversity. REGISTER HERE

About Dr. Jennifer Frick-Ruppert (click here)

Dr. Jennifer Frick-Ruppert is a professor of biology and environmental science at Brevard College and chair of its science division. She is author of the popular book, Mountain Nature: A Seasonal Natural History of the Southern Appalachians, which describes some of the most interesting plants and animals of the region, Waterways: Sailing the Southeastern Coast, and Spirit Quest: The Legend of Skyco. She makes frequent presentations in the area about natural and cultural history and is an award-winning teacher.