In the Valley

I came to the institute with two projects to suss out.  One is more immediate (it will be the focus of a 2015 public history course), and so will take more of my brain space during the two-week institute.  The focus of the project will be the Corra Harris homeplace and farm in Bartow County, Georgia.  The property, called “In the Valley,” belongs to Kennesaw State University and is under management of the Department of Museums, Archives, and Rare Books.

Harris was an active writer from the late nineteenth century until her death in 1935.  Her most famous work, A Circuit Rider’s Wife, was published in 1910, but she wrote twenty other book-length titles as well as numerous essays and newspaper columns.  Though her subject matter was fairly diverse over the course of her career,  she is remembered today for her reactionary conservatism–the kind that led her to defend lynching as a protection of southern white womanhood in an 1899 newspaper article (that, incidentally, launched her career).

A donor offered the property to the university in 2008.  KSU’s subsequent acceptance of the fifty-six acre site was met with anger by some faculty members and students, who called it an insensitive “bloody land acquisition” because of the brutality and racism that underlined Harris’ views.  This tension was never really resolved, despite (or because of) several “open forums” and dialogues hosted by administration to air grievances.  The property became the center of controversy again just this year when KSU’s Zuckerman Museum of Art, which opened in March, commissioned a work by sculptor Ruth Stanford that considered the property’s layered past and the legacy of Corra Harris.  Just before the museum’s opening night, the piece was censored by the KSU president–an act that was met with widespread condemnation, causing the president to reinstate Stanford’s piece several weeks after the opening.

All this is to say that the property is waiting (begging?) for the attention of public historians.  The original plan was to create an interpretive site on the physical property, but, as might be imagined, we’ve not had the support to see the plan through.  The alternative will be to create a web-based site that offers interpretation and some kind of spatial analysis of the property, which has a history of human interaction that predates Harris’ tenure by hundreds of years.  There’s a clear need to build a site that can raise questions and that can potentially be a repository for public reaction; a site that will consider both the history and the charged public memory of the property.

The second project (I hope) will be some kind of collaboration with organizations and community members in Clarkston, Georgia, a small town inside the perimeter of metro Atlanta that became a refugee resettlement site in the early 1980s.  The community is now home to settlers from over fifty countries and has resulted in a profound remapping of the area.  I see this as a more long-term project; though I’ve done work with Clarkston-based organizations during the past year, these relationships need more time to grow.  I could absolutely imagine a project that involves mapping, oral histories, and community-based interpretation of the changing fabric of the small town.  The next two weeks, I think, will give substance to these ideas!

Source: In the Valley

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