Welcome to the Gateway to “Cultural Crossroads: Migration and Community Transformation,” a course offered in the Fall semester of 2017 through the COPLACDigital Initiative (Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges) and generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This course was facilitated by Professors Alvis E. Dunn of the University of North Carolina Asheville and Leland Turner of Midwestern State University. Students from six campuses around the United States participated, creating outward-facing projects based on primary research that explored some facet of migration as it related to their communities.
These groups of students met with Drs. Dunn and Turner throughout the semester via Zoom Video-Conferencing Technology. After spending the opening weeks exploring perspectives on migration, learning about their local history, and becoming acquainted with scholarly digital tools, the students chose a tentative topic and set out to discover what their local archives, libraries, and collective memories could yield forth.
“Cultural Crossroads: Migration And Community Transformation” was originally imagined as a course that focused on migration into a place and all of the myriad reverberations and ripples such a movement would cause. As we began the course this idea was the guiding light for the students as they searched about their communities for that type of historical moment. Urging them to think broadly and work to unshackle themselves from traditional ways of seeing, they set out to explore local history — in search of the newcomer and the ‘things that they carried.’
Kristen Walden and Liz Torres from UNC Asheville chose to focus on the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the ways that roadway moved people in Western North Carolina while in Massachusetts Susannah Frey and Kaitlyn Vogel (MCLA) also connected with transportation by researching Irish migration and the construction of the Hoosec Tunnel in the mid-nineteenth century. To the north, Amy Schmidgall and Joy Stephansen of Minnesota Morris decided to compare the migratory experiences of European Apostolics in the early nineteenth century to the more recent settlement of Mexicans in their region. In Texas, Maria Peña (Midwestern State University) wondered what had been the story behind the forced migration OUT of her community by the Wichita, and in New Hampshire, Kerrin McTernan and Patrick Driscoll (Keene State) found and created a photographically rich narrative of Finnish migration to New Hampshire. Finally, Margaret Wilcox and Alexandra Vietor delved into a migration moment as it was happening by tracking the story of Congolese newcomers to Kirkland, Missouri (Truman State).
Thus, each student project pushed the boundaries of the original definition of the course but in truth that had been the hoped for direction — uncharted territory. Blogging and tweeting regularly, the students shared their thoughts, triumphs, and challenged regularly. Soon they began to find local records in archives and libraries and their stories began to take shape. Oral history became a large part of the Truman State project while local historical societies were important to the Keene State and MCLA narratives. In Western North Carolina and Minnesota there was a goodly amount of memory as well as archival material on hand, and in Texas the challenge was to knit together the story from smaller studies.
Ultimately, the six projects came together but not without the students confronting and overcoming technological, administrative, and even bureaucratic challenges of many stripes. Once the idea sunk in that the websites that they were building were to be shared with their communities, that they would be outward-facing repositories of migration stories that quite literally had an impact on their own surroundings, the importance of their mission began to come clearer and for many, their studies began to lean toward becoming a labor of love.
It is difficult to convey properly and completely the dedication that each partnership ultimately brought to their project nor is it easy to articulate how much was learned by all. And the depth of that learning experience most assuredly includes the instructors.
Please take some time now to explore the project sites. You will find a link to each in the sidebar below or you may go directly to them by clicking here.
Header Image: Ron Orman, Jr, “Suitcase on Railroad Tracks,” Royalty Free, Getty Images, Creative #167248597, http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/suitcase-on-railroad-tracks-royalty-free-image/167248597, Accessed January 4, 2018.