Last year students in several of my classes contributed research to an ongoing digital history project called “Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina,” directed by Fitz Brundage at UNC-Chapel Hill. The goal of CommLands is to document North Carolina history through a “spatially based presentation of commemorative monuments, shrines, and public art.” My students researched individual sites of memory in the state’s western mountains, creating material for CommLands’ growing database of North Carolina monuments. This material will start appearing on the site later this year.
One of my goals in using the CommLands projects in my teaching was for students to gain an appreciation of the complex histories behind these ostensibly simple memorials. The presentation of data on CommLands, however, is rather linear and straightforward, only hinting at that complexity. I would like to use this institute, then, to consider more elaborate ways of recounting the biographies of particular sites of memory – through, for instance, a layering of images, documents, contextual material, and contemporary reflection by residents of southern Appalachia.
I should add that my current research also deals with questions of public memory. I’m finishing up a book on the public memory of Cherokee removal in the modern South (basically, I’m trying to shove a Native American studies topic into the literature on “southern memory”). The sites and monuments I am most interested in exploring, then, relate to Cherokee history in the southern highlands.