Back Ways explores the rural South by following the paths southerners created to visit one another, to shop and trade, to reach homes and churches, and to avoid one another. The project began with a provocative premise: did white-run municipalities in the Jim Crow South deliberately neglect roads that led to and from important black institutions? And if so, did the eventual decline of those roads harm those communities?
Answering this question requires a new kind of oral history and archival research: seeking out records that might indicate neglect rather than aggression, maps that might show the appearance and disappearance of roads and other features, and oral narratives that delve deep into space and place.
It also demands thinking hard about how we present our research. Oral historians have long been at the forefront of digital humanities work, even if they didn’t name it as such. This project requires pushing still farther into the digital realm and exploring ways to represent human voices among built and unbuilt environments. This blog will serve as a means of reflexivity so the developing Back Ways Project can stay true to that aspect of its mission.
During the summer months, the Back Ways project team visited the archives and collected oral histories. Additionally, we visited some of the field sites of interest. Some of these are in the front yards of interviewees. One of the most salient issues, in regards to eventually creating some digital presence for the project, is how field, sites such as the Ray Family Cemetery, have come to seamlessly blend with forested landscapes. What does this mean for visually presenting photos of these sites via a digital project? How can we capture and present the historical processes and stories which should not be severed from the materiality of these spaces? These are some of the issues of digitization. I invite you to keep an eye on this page to stay up-to-date with Back Ways.
-Darius, SOHP Field Scholar