For Some Rural Communities, History Project Gives a Last Chance to Share Their Stories

Just because a community is fading doesn’t mean its stories can’t stick around. The “Voices from Small Places” project at the University of Texas at Tyler documents the histories of communities of 100 or fewer residents. Now they are gearing up to teach others to do the same.

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Voices from Small Places is a project that documents the history of rural communities with populations of 100 or fewer. These small communities, in many cases no more than a cluster of homes lining a country road, are what remain of once thriving small towns that served surrounding farms. Slowly unraveled by forces beyond their control, little by little, year after year, populations declined and businesses closed, eventually leaving only a few families who chose to stay against the odds.

Despite the loss of population, however, there is no loss of history. And it is this history that Voices from Small Places documents and preserves. It is a project that specializes in “history around the bend, in places others have forgotten, preserving the past for future generations of families and researchers alike.”

The idea for his project developed and matured over the course of six years, from an initial study in Overton, Texas, to the project pilot in Arcadia, Texas, and currently completing work documenting a network of communities with a shared economic and social history in East Texas. What makes Voices from Small Places unique is how the history of communities is captured and documented. We use a combination of four methods including photovoice, oral history, historic resource surveys, and archival digitization. Together, these methods combine to tell the story of a place through the eyes of its residents, and they make that history available to the public in and beyond those communities.

Without this project these communities would have gone largely undocumented, their histories forgotten and populations scattered. In some cases it is their last opportunity to come together and tell their stories for posterity.

Texas isn’t the only place where these community changes are occurring, of course. There are similar communities across this nation waiting for someone to listen and record their stories.

Starting later this month, the Center for Social Science Research at the University of Texas at Tyler and the Maya Research Program will conduct trainings to help more people learn how to research, archive, and share the stories about small rural communities. The workshops are free and are supported by a grant from Humanities Texas.

The participation of local residents is a key part of the program, according to the group’s website. The course will train participants in how to use the documentation tools and how to design a successful research project. The workshop will also cover the equipment requirements, best practices, project organization, and community relations that are needed to conduct a Voices from Small Places project and complete a community history.

 

Three workshops are available on different days in three East Texas communities:

Saturday Sept. 23, 2017
Tyler Public Library
10AM—5PM
Tyler, Texas

Saturday Nov. 4, 2017
Singleton Memorial Library
10AM—5PM
Rusk, Texas

Saturday Jan. 27, 2018
Marshall Visual Art Center
10AM—5PM
Marshall, Texas

Those interested in participating may call me at (903) 566-7434 to register or email ksnowden [at symbol] uttyler.edu. The workshops are free and open to the public. Lunch is on your own. Should you be coming from outside East Texas, we recommend that you attend either the Tyler or Marshall workshops. Both cities are easily accessible via the interstate, with Tyler and Marshall also accessible by air travel. Lodging is available in both cities, should you be staying overnight.

For more information about Voices from Small places, you can find us on the web at http://voicesfromsmallplaces.weebly.com/, or visit us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/VoicesfromSmallPlaces/.

This program is made possible in part by a grant from Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

 

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