Mr. Davis for whom these fellowships are named was a 1932 graduate of the University of North Carolina. He returned to school there after retiring from Wachovia Bank and Trust Company as chairman in 1974. His history master’s degree adviser at Chapel Hill was Dr. H. G. Jones, who founded the North Carolinina Society in 1975, the same year Mr. Davis finished his thesis. Later Dr. Jones recalled that his adult student was a fine writer who had a tendency to “chase rabbits” in his research. Mr. Davis complained that his professor was killing a good story by cutting the manuscript. Eventually this give and take produced a 1,400-page master’s thesis. In 1985 it became a biography destined to be legendary from UNC Press entitled Boy Colonel of the Confederacy: The Life and Times of Henry King Burgwyn, Jr.
In November and December 1987, Mr. Davis was retiring again, this time as chairman of the Research Triangle Foundation Board and as president of the North Caroliniana Society. His successor as president of the Society was UNC President William C. Friday who had raised a quarter of a million dollars to establish an Archie K. Davis Endowment Fund. Its annual earnings only would be available for Davis Fellowships. That first year, 1988, the new program funded five scholars, their fellowships ranging in value from $750.00 to $2,000.00.
Each fellowship, today as then, serves the special purpose of funding an individual scholar’s access to documentary materials wherever they are preserved. The resulting scholarship has produced numerous professional papers, hundreds of articles, and scores of books. In 2010, for example, the May issue of the Journal of Southern History published reviews of six of the fourteen books recently published by Davis Fellows. At the Southern Historical Association that year, fourteen former Fellows presented papers. Moreover, through 2010 the amount of money spent directly on Davis Fellowships equaled the total amount of the original quarter of a million-dollar seed money donated to the program by the Research Triangle Foundation.
Since 2010 the Archie K. Davis Fellowship Fund has continued its distinguished record of both portfolio management and distinguished scholarship about North Carolina’s cultural expression. Davis Fellows Glenda Gilmore (1991), Patrick Huber (1998), Karl E. Campbell (2002), Mark K. Bradley (2003), Elizabeth Gillespie McRae (2004), J. Vincent Lowery (2013), Warren E. Milteer, Jr. (2014 and 2016), and Thomas L. Howard, III ( 2017), have claimed the coveted Robert D. W. Connor annual prize for the best article in the North Carolina Historical Review. Two of these same Davis Fellows, Drs. Campbell and Bradley, have also won the North Caroliniana Book Award, inaugurated in 2003. Without regard to genre, this prize goes to men and women whose books are judged to have the best chance of becoming classics works of North Caroliniana. Other Davis Fellows who have won this annual award are Catherine W. Bishir, Anna R. Hayes, David Silkenat (twice), Sarah C. Tueusen, and Larry Tise.
As Archie K. Davis Fellowships embrace the next era of scholarship about North Carolina history and culture, the North Caroliniana Society is poised to support this established research program through funding, administrative services, and communication links with applicants and grantees. Especially Research and Instructional Services headed by Jason Tomberlin in Wilson Library at UNC-CH is in the vanguard of this collaboration that includes, among many other records centers, the North Carolina Collection and the Southern Historical Collection at Chapel Hill and the NC Division of Archives and History in Raleigh. Almost every year several Davis Fellows include foreign travel in their plans.