To be Immersed in the History of My Home

My name is Patrick Corcoran and I was born and raised in southern West Virginia. Thirteen years ago, I learned about the Americorps VISTA program, and subsequently served as a member with the Coal Heritage Trail Authority, based out of Beckley, WV. At the time, in that position, I was able to use my recently attained Bachelor’s Degree of Arts (Glenville State College-Glenville, WV) in history and political science, to help alleviate poverty throughout my home region. This was done by helping build community capacity, as well as, raising awareness regarding the heritage tourism industry.

In front of Eastern Regional Coal Archives artifacts at beginning of my term of service (Summer 2016)

Most recently, I received my Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science, along with a Graduate Certificate in Archives and Special Collections, from University of Southern Mississippi. As part of the certificate program, I spent the summer of 2014 in their British Studies Program, touring libraries, archives and museums in and around London and Edinburgh. My new AmeriCorps volunteer position, at Eastern Regional Coal Archives, dovetails perfectly with this newly acquired education. My scholastic experience is being practically applied in the field, creating valuable hands-on opportunities.

I chose to enlist a second, nonconsecutive term of service with AmeriCorps because I wanted to continue an institutional relationship that had begun in the summer of 2015. To elaborate, my graduate certificate program required an informational repository internship, which allowed me to work with Eastern Regional Coal Archives last summer. To be honest, I knew I wanted to continue assisting ERCA when I finished my degree, but didn’t know how to approach the issue, since I knew they operated on a tight budget. Toward the end of my collegiate program, while pondering the idea of re-enlisting with AmeriCorps, I had the exciting realization that ERCA might be able to become a host site for me. After several phone calls and meetings, in a relative blink of time, the process was underway. Through collaboration with the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia and National Coal Heritage Area, this dream with ERCA became a reality.

Atop Lookout Mountain in Denver, CO (Summer 2016)

Since beginning my year, it has been an exciting time for all of us at the archives. In part, because this is the first time that an AmeriCorps volunteer has been stationed here. Therefore, we are all learning as we go. We are making and taking our projects one day at a time, after having created short and long term goals for the year. A strong personal reason for wanting to be at Eastern Regional Coal Archives is to be immersed in the history of my home. Volunteering with the archives allows for research and projects that connect me to the past, and occasionally, to my hometown of Welch, in McDowell County.

Eastern Regional Coal Archives is a repository of coal-related history. The scope of this archives focuses on the Pocahontas Coalfields, which is mostly under southern West Virginia and a bit into southwestern Virginia. Mining company records, correspondence, industrial artifacts, railroad memorabilia, photographs, architectural materials, et cetera consist of the core of the archives. ERCA was founded in 1983, during the centennial celebration which marked the opening of the Pocahontas coalfields, a main seed collection being donated by the Pocahontas Operators Association. The archives are located on the second floor of Craft Memorial Library in historic downtown Bluefield, WV.