New Book Chronicles U of A’s Five-Year Arkansas Delta Oral History Project
A new book provides a voice for high school students in the Arkansas Delta who participated in a collaboration with the University of Arkansas that encouraged them to celebrate their region’s history, customs and culture.
The Arkansas Delta Oral History Project: Culture, Place and Authenticity provides a detailed account of a five-year initiative that began with a simple, straight-forward question for students in east Arkansas high schools: What do you want to write about?
“We developed a literacy initiative that would help these young people in these areas understand their hometowns and home regions as places worth revering, places worth saving,” said David Jolliffe, professor of English in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, who led the project and is one of the book’s co-authors. “We wanted the teachers to help their students, collaborating with University of Arkansas mentors, to propose and carry out oral history and literacy projects of the students’ own design.”
Through the project, trained U of A student-mentors worked with the high school students on in-depth writing projects that grew out of oral history interviews. The undergraduate and graduate students served as online and face-to-face writing coaches and mentors for students who attended primarily small, poor, rural high schools in the Delta. Many of the U of A undergraduates were enrolled in the university’s Honors College.
As the project progressed, three themes came to the forefront: race, religion and food. These topical areas exemplified the best, most authentic work in the project, according to Jolliffe.
“The students became studiers of culture,” he said.
An unexpected benefit of the collaboration was that it evolved into a high-school-to-college transition program.
“For a great many of those high school students, their participation in this project became evidence that they could go to college, even to the University of Arkansas – all the way across the state,” he said.
Jolliffe, who holds the Brown Chair in Literacy at the U of A, is one of four co-authors of the book. The others are Christian Z. Goering, associate professor of English education at the U of A; Krista Jones Oldham, U of A graduate who is now a special collections librarian at Haverford College in Pennsylvania; and James A. Anderson Jr., a U of A graduate who is now an assistant professor of English education at Lander University in South Carolina.
The Arkansas Delta Oral History Project is published by Syracuse University Press.
The endowed Brown Chair in Literacy funded the oral history project. The Brown Foundation Inc. of Houston gave the U of A $1.5 million in 2003 to establish the Brown Chair.