Looking South

Exploring Southern Spaces
The new terrain of Emory’s multi-media scholarly journal
Allen Tullos, Associate Professor of American Studies, Graduate Institute
of the Liberal Arts, and Senior Editor, Southern Spaces

The Near Past: Tone and tension in writing about the modern South

Vol. 10 No. 3
December 2007/January 2008

Return to Contents

Prediction as the Cure
Gazing into the human body's crystal ball

The "engineers" in bioengineering

“I find it interesting that it’s incredibly difficult to define health without talking about a default position—you know you have health because you’re not sick.”

“There’s significant new ethical ground to be broken here. . . . We’re collecting a large amount of personal information. How do you protect it, who stores it, how do you store it, who has access to it?”

Defending basic science

Looking South Exploring Southern Spaces
The new terrain of Emory's multi-media scholarly journal

The Near Past
Tone and tension in writing about the modern South

Stories from the Frontlines
Or, How to survive co-authoring a book (with your spouse


Whenever the latest thousand-page state encyclopedia published (in eye-squinching type with a scattering of thumbnail-size black and white photos) by a university press lands with a heavy thud at the front door, already in need of updates, additions, and revisions, it’s time to ask which comes last, the dinosaur or the egg? Not that digital publishing will, or should, replace books in print, but digital formats have distinct advantages in immediacy and wide accessibility, and in enhancing data and complementing written text with multi-media. Through the process, exciting new forms of scholarship appear—lately in that most venerable and central of academic institutions, the library.

Consider the internet journal Southern Spaces (southernspaces.org), a digital publishing initiative of Emory’s Woodruff Library. For documentarian Rob Amberg’s study of the coming of Interstate Highway 26 to rural, mountainous Madison County, North Carolina, Southern Spaces managing editor Sarah Toton worked with Woodruff Library fellow Melissa Sexton to develop a rich website—the result of sorting hundreds of Amberg photos taken over a decade, scanning and organizing them into captioned slide shows keyed to a topographical map, and adding audio interviews (southernspaces.org/contents/2007/amberg/2a.htm). As he creates additional images showing the effects of I-26 construction, photographer Amberg can continue to update this project. Similarly (thanks to the video-editing of library fellow Matt Miller), distinguished visual artist William Christenberry of the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, DC, narrates an online collection of his photographs, paintings, and sculpture focused on Hale County, Alabama, and made across a span of forty years (southernspaces.org/contents/2007/christenberry/1a.htm).

Begun in 2004 as a collaboration between a geographically dispersed network of scholars and the digital projects staff of Woodruff Library, Southern Spaces features essays, interviews, artistic performances, lecture highlights, video timescapes, and annotated weblinks about real and imagined spaces and places of the US South. At the confluence of critical regional studies, digital scholarship, and new media, Southern Spaces offers a peer-reviewed, open access publication and archive.

Much like a university press, Southern Spaces polishes the fruit of academic research but in multi-media form on the Internet, with copyright retained by the authors and with a commitment to permanent archiving by the library. Examples abound: with technical support from the Southern Spaces staff, Mary Odem of the Emory history faculty together with filmmaker William Brown of the Visual Arts Program completed “Global Lives, Local Struggles,” an illustrated lecture about Latin American immigration to Atlanta (southernspaces.org/contents/2006/odem/1a.htm). For another recent project, James B. Wallace, a student in the Graduate Division of Religion, featured a variety of primary source materials, including sound recordings from Smithsonian Folkmasters concerts and digitized images from religious songbooks in the Pitts Theology Library’s collection, to produce his multi-media essay about the geography of Sacred Harp singing (southernspaces.org/contents/2007/wallace/1a.htm).

Among Southern Spaces’ most visited webpages are those featuring poems by Natasha Trethewey videotaped on the Mississippi Gulf Coast before the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and prior to the Emory poet’s winning the 2007 Pulitzer Prize; a multi-media essay about the last juke joint in the Delta; and a study of local television coverage (embedded with archived news film) of school desegregation in 1960s Virginia.

The conceptual lineage of Southern Spaces includes the writings of scholars of social spatiality such as Henri Lefevbre, Doreen Massey, Iris Marion Young, Rupert Vance, Dolores Hayden, and Lewis Mumford, and their interest in the region as a foundational unit. Southern Spaces scrutinizes the idea of a monolithic, near-mythic, American South formed out of nineteenth-century sectionalist and failed nationalist movements tied to the defense of slavery and white supremacy. When does a “southern” perspective run roughshod over underlying realities? How to understand and represent the territory populated and named by Native peoples before their violent removal? How does the “South” cloak geographically diverse racial and gender experiences? Can the new southern studies navigate the ready-made, persuasive power of the southern imaginary?

Southern Spaces examines the uneven, differential patterns of change in regions such as the Black Belt, Carolina Piedmont, Atlanta metropolitan region, Border South, Southern Appalachians, and the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The journal encourages many, sometimes contradictory, often overlapping, designations of place; attends to the historical situations and actors that produce them; and seeks narratives of in- and out-migration and of connections with the wider world. Southern Spaces also explores the imagined terrains of artists, fiction writers, poets, and musicians. An editorial board composed of major scholars from around the US who have research interests in the US South oversees the direction of the journal. Working in their fields of expertise, an extensive list of editorial reviewers carry out the blind, peer-review process to ensure scholarly excellence—a necessary measure for the work to be considered for tenure and promotion.

Southern Spaces depends upon a collaborative relationship with Woodruff Library staff and administration that began with former director Linda Matthews who, during her thirty-five years at Emory, helped build holdings of southern and African American materials in what was once Special Collections, but is now known as MARBL (Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Book Library). With the arrival in 2006 of vice-provost and director of libraries Rick Luce, an international leader in information archiving, Southern Spaces has continued to serve as the library’s premier initiative in multi-media, scholarly digital publishing; a site of graduate student training; and a testing place for new technologies. Instrumental in the creation of Southern Spaces were Martin Halbert, director of Emory library systems, and Katherine Skinner, digital projects librarian.

Digital publishing facilitates richer ways of organizing, presenting, updating, and preserving knowledge. As one of several projects begun under the umbrella of the MetaScholar Initiative (www.metascholar.org) headed by Halbert, Southern Spaces has benefited from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s support of information research that takes advantage of the internet’s capabilities to deliver streaming audio, video, interactive imagery, and text in a rapid and timely fashion. Thanks to cartographer Stacy Martin, and Michael Page, Emory’s geographical information systems librarian, the journal has received mapmaking support. Woodruff Library’s cataloging staff has assisted in devising permanent URLs for the diverse content ingredients within Southern Spaces, essential to maintaining a stable digital archive.

Persistent, lively inquiry into the creation of space and place distinguishes Southern Spaces from print publications devoted to southern history, literature, sociology, and religion. Intended not just for an academic audience, this multi-media journal aims for students of all ages, library patrons, and the general public. Southern Spaces invites submissions from new as well as established scholars, writers, photographers, documentarians, and visual artists.

Author Allen Tullos may be reached at allenet@aol.com.