Project Abstract

The Southern Appalachian Migration Archive is an ongoing oral history project devoted to preserving the experiences of Appalachian migrants to the urban-industrial Midwest, to be managed and housed by the Collaborative for Southern Appalachian Studies and the University of the South. Building off the oral histories that I am conducting in the course of my dissertation research (“The Hillbilly Highway: A Social History of Transappalachia, 1918-1974”), the MigrationArchive will be the largest such collection specifically devoted to first-person accounts of the Southern Appalachian migration to the Midwest to exist anywhere in the region.

At its most basic, the Migration Archive will take the form of interviews with migrants and their family members, which will be preserved and made accessible to students, faculty, and researchers in digital audio formats as well as print transcriptions. Currently, I have conducted 30 of these interviews, all of which exist as digital audio files and about half of which have also been transcribed at this time. All told, there will be roughly 50 interviews in the Archive at its outset–the 50 that I will conduct in the course of my dissertation research–but the collection will be “open” and so therefore able to grow over time if and when other members of the Collaborative and/or their students conduct additional oral histories.

In ways that have not been fully fleshed out yet–and potentially in other ways that have not even been envisioned yet–the interviews will also serve as the basis for the development of additional classroom and online learning tools related to Southern Appalachian history and regional migration patterns. The growing field of Digital Humanities in particular presents a range of opportunities for using the data collected in these interviews to provide hands-on and innovative pedagogical experiences for Sewanee students pursuing a minor field in Southern Appalachian Studies, or simply learning more about the history of their neighbors and the local area. GIS-mapping services, digitization and transcription technologies, oral history and other community-based learning strategies are just a handful of the ways in which the Migration Archive project can function as a multimedia educational tool, in addition to its primary function as a repository and research archive.

Project Alignment with the Collaborative for Southern Appalachian Studies

I see the Migration Archive fulfilling the priorities of the Collaborative in three key ways. As an innovative and necessary addition to the existing archival record related to one critical aspect of the Southern Appalachian experience, it would represent an important new resource for research in Southern Appalachian studies. As an educational program providing an opportunity for undergraduates at Sewanee and Yale to conduct regionally focused research through direct engagement with members of the Appalachian community, it would serve as a model for the kind of community-based learning experience the Collaborative is seeking to develop. And as a potential bridge between students and scholars interested in the field of Southern Appalachian studies and the practice of oral history, as well as the growing field of Digital Humanities, a permanent collection of this sort would provide an ongoing basis for individual and collective interactions between members of the Yale and Sewanee campus communities.

Project Impact

The goals of this project are to a) create a permanent, publicly-accessible, multi-purpose archival repository and teaching resource devoted to first-person accounts of migration between Southern Appalachia and the industrial Midwest; b) develop ways to involve future generations of Collaborative members as well as their students at Sewanee and Yale in the expansion of the collection; c) develop ways to incorporate the Archive into course syllabi, minor/major-program research requirements, and other aspects of the undergraduate education experience; and d) devise ways of incorporating the technologies and techniques associated with the field of Digital Humanities to create an effective online platform for the Archive that adds additional value to the oral historical resources in the collection.

The Migration Archive will have an impact on many of the named groups. For scholars of Southern Appalachian Studies, it will represent a vital and exciting new collection of source material, and a major contribution to the field of research. Since the Archive will be devoted to preserving “their” stories, members of the broader Southern Appalachian community will find it an engaging resource, and one whose public accessibility could help bridge divisions between the larger community and the more exclusive campus setting. Lastly, students and faculty, especially at Sewanee, will have immediate, on-site access to the Archive, and so will have ample opportunity to incorporate it into their teaching and research about subjects of local interest.


Final Report