- Associated Press - Saturday, July 5, 2014

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) - Archivists say a recently discovered University of Georgia photography archive documents not just a century of Cooperative Extension, but Georgia folk life and agriculture during that period.

Turned over by UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences to the university’s Hargrett Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, the collection numbers tens of thousands of negatives and prints, including old glass negatives and lantern slides as well as more modern 35 mm negatives. The images show scenes of Georgia farms, 4-H livestock shows, livestock sales, home craft demonstrations and much more.

Student workers are systematically scanning the images into university computers, and now the first fraction of the collection, nearly 1,300 images, is available for public viewing at the Digital Library of Georgia at dlg.galileo.usg.edu/CollectionsA-Z/#caes.

The library contains thousands of other Georgia-related images and documents, but the agriculture collection is something special, said Caroline Killens, the Hargrett’s head of archives and records management. She is overseeing the process of cataloguing and digitizing the collection.

“Not often do you get a collection that is so well documented,” she said.

For many of the images, Cooperative Extension (now called UGA Extension) agents or photographers recorded the date and place as well as the names of people in the photographs.

And in many of the images, there’s not just a glimpse of what life was like in the 1920s, 1940s, 1960s or whatever era the photograph was made, but a whole family history behind it.

One photo shows a young girl whose family has running water in their home for the first time. Another shows an unidentified young man whose handsome cow is the “Negro Grand Champion” in a 1930s livestock show. Another shows a group of men raising a barn, and another a pantry filled from floor to ceiling with home-canned vegetables, a mark of a prudent family in years gone by.

“I think they do really depict how far we’ve come, and how we work with people one on one to solve real problems,” said Beverly Sparks, associate dean for Extension at the UGA College of Environmental and Agricultural Sciences.

Brian Watson, associate director of information technology for the college, started looking through the forgotten collection more than two years ago as offices were being shifted around in the Hoke Smith Annex building on Carlton Street. The negatives and images were in filing cabinets stuck out in a hall, filed along with old documents.

“We had filing cabinets stacked up with random boxes of stuff,” Watson said. “We started going through them and realized what was in them.”

Someone a while back had started to catalogue the contents, but didn’t finish, Watson said.

“We pretty quickly turned it over to the library. We wanted to take measures to preserve it when we realized how valuable it all was,” he said. “I was really amazed at the quality of the images.”

Watson was particularly struck by some of the home demonstrations photographs.

“It was a really stunning depiction,” he said. “I don’t remember seeing anything that clear and striking from that period.”

Another showed a station wagon pulling a spray rig through a field.

The images come from every corner of Georgia, including many images from the Athens area.

Josh Paine, marketing specialist for the agriculture college and UGA Extension, has a personal connection with the collection; they include photographs of him, since he’s been active in 4-H most of his life.

Paine, 24, has gotten a new sense of Extension and 4-H history.

“It just brings the organization to life,” he said.

Paine has been sorting through images “pretty much nonstop for the past nine months” and a few of the images stand out for him, like photographs of the state’s very first extension agent.

“You hear about all these things, but seeing these photos reminds you how different life was 40 or even 30 years ago,” he said.

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