The Alabama Cultural Resource Survey

August 27, 2015 § 5 Comments

Alabama is one of the forgotten states.  The chair of my department calls it a fly-over state, a place you look down upon when flying from Miami to Chicago.  The only time Alabama ever seems to enter the national discussion is when something bad happens here, or when the University of Alabama or Auburn University’s football teams are ranked in the Top 25.  But otherwise, Alabama only makes the national news when bad things happen.  It’s like Alabama is the butt of a joke the entire country is in on.

Not surprisingly, I find this problematic.  Alabama is a surprisingly diverse place, both in terms of racial politics, politics in general, and culture.  Like most states, the population and culture is not homogenous. Where I live, in Northern Alabama, the area is more culturally attuned to Nashville and Tennessee as a whole, rather than Birmingham or Montgomery.

The town I live in, Florence, is an amazingly funky little college town.  We have a bustling downtown with restaurants, cafés, nightclubs, and stores.  There are a series of festivals here and the people of Florence take pride in their downtown, which has been rejuvenated despite the fact the city is ringed with stripmalls, including two Wal-Marts.  Like many other towns and cities across the state, Florence is the beneficiary of Main Street Alabama, dedicated to the revival of the urban cores of the state.

Across the Tennessee River are three more towns (Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia) and collectively, the region is known as The Shoals.  Anyone who knows anything about music knows about the rich musical history of the Shoals area.  Every time I turn around, I see more potential public history projects.

One thing that we are involved in is the Alabama Cultural Resource Survey. This project is a collaboration between the Public History programme here at the University of North Alabama and the Auburn University History Department.  Since I arrived in Alabama last month, I have been to a series of meetings around Northern Alabama talking to people about the survey and its importance in leading up to the 2019 Alabama Bicentennial.  This project is unique, I cannot think of anywhere else in the United States or Canada where such a project has been undertaken.  We are asking the people of Alabama to contribute to a telling of their history for the Bicentennial.  Eventually, this survey will migrate over to the Archives of Alabama website.

So far the response has been impressive.  Alabamians are anxious to tell their stories, multiple and multifold as they are, to have them entered into this massive database for themselves and their descendants to use.

But this isn’t the kind of thing that Alabama makes the news for.  Maybe that’s a good thing, we can keep all the good stuff going on in our state to ourselves.

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