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For all those members of the Class of 2014 who are eyeing the May 11 graduation date like it just won’t get here soon enough — you are not the first Tar Heel to experience senioritis.

The condition has been around a very long time. While it’s not possible to ask a student from the antebellum period about it, James Lawrence Dusenbery provided some insight in his personal journal documenting his senior year here from 1841-1842. Now you can read his words online.

UNC scholars, librarians and graduate students launched the digital humanities project, “Verses and Fragments: The James Lawrence Dusenbery Journal,” in 2011 as part of the Documenting the American South online collection, an initiative of the UNC Libraries that provides Internet access to texts, images and audio files related to Southern history, literature and culture. The idea to publish Dusenbery’s journal originated with Erika Lindemann, professor of English and comparative literature, who discovered the journal during research for another DocSouth project, “True and Candid Compositions: The Lives and Writings of Antebellum Students at the University of North Carolina.”

Why focus on Dusenbery, an average student who was a native of Lexington, N.C.?

For one thing, Lindemann wanted to find a journal that would outline an entire year in a student’s academic life from that period. Dusenbery was not “famous,” but that’s precisely the point, said Lindemann, who is also associate dean for undergraduate curricula in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“History is told in the voices of ordinary people as well as college presidents,” she said. “The reason we are here is because of the students, so where are the students’ voices in the history of the University?”

And yes, Dusenbery did experience a bit of senioritis, even toward the start of his school year.

“The Di end of the West Building has always been characterized as the noisiest part of College & well does it deserve the appellation. … The noise was chiefly in my room on Monday night. Five of us were fighting with pillows. Beds were tumbled, hats crushed, my pillowcase torn to pieces & finally the candle thrown down & extinguished, when darkness put an end to the frolic.” – August, 29, 1841, from Dusenbery’s journal.

“He’s much more interested in his social life than academics,” Lindemann said. “He loves playing cards, going hunting, drinking, visiting the women of the town.”  Yet, despite an active social life, Dusenbery did manage to graduate, attend medical school, and live out the remainder of his life as a physician in Lexington.

The Dusenbery collaborators received some recent good news. In February, they learned that the site has been accepted for inclusion in NINES, a peer-reviewing organization that evaluates 19th century British and American digital projects and supports scholars’ best practices in the creation of those materials. It was important to Lindemann that the site undergo the same rigorous process that an academic journal article would receive in order to encourage younger scholars to publish digital humanities works.

The Dusenbery Journal joins only 127 federated sites that have been peer-reviewed by NINES. The William Blake Archive (with UNC English professor Joseph Viscomi as one of the co-editors and creators) is also a NINES peer-reviewed site.

“What attracts me to these digital humanities projects is that they truly open the doors to traditional scholarship to the general public,” said Natasha Smith, a former UNC digital librarian and co-director of the Dusenbery project. “There are no geographic or educational boundaries. You are not intimidated by the information. One of the goals of DocSouth is to make these collections as user-friendly as possible.”

Dusenbery’s world

In addition to being able to read the journal online, project creators wanted to enhance readers’ experiences by creating a “His World” section that illuminated six areas of 19th century Southern life — family, student life, debating societies, medicine, literature and music. The first half of Dusenbery’s journal consists of poems and other literary works that he copied down; in the second half, beginning on page 78, he chronicles the activities of his senior year.

Each module showcases a scholarly essay on the subject and supplementary materials — photos, maps, audio files — that give users an opportunity to dive deep into history of the period.

What was student life like for a senior in 1841? According to the University catalogue, students in the first session studied the sciences, Greek and Latin, mental and moral philosophy, and French. In the second session, they continued studies in Greek, Latin and French, but also added law, political science, chemistry and geology.

Dusenbery has this entry about fall session grades:

“The reports were made out last Monday. Mine was tolerable on Astronomy, very respectable on Greek & respectable on French, Chemistry and Political Economy.” – October 3, 1841, from Dusenbery’s journal

All students were members of a debating society, either the Dialectic Society or the Philanthropic Society; Dusenbery was a “Di.” Students were required to go to chapel. Upon graduation, students were invited to attend a commencement ball.

“There were no majors; you got a degree from the University and from your debating society,” Lindemann said. “Every student was exposed to the same curriculum, and it was because the purpose of higher education was not to prepare you for a job, which tended to be medicine, teaching or law. It was intended to prepare you to be a leader in society.”

April 9, 2014.