Prospectus: Un-earthing Beech Fork

In response to persistent flooding issues and the Flood Control Act of October 23, 1962, the US Army Corps of Engineers, during the 1970’s, reshaped the communities of “Beech Fork”, in Cabell and Wayne County West Virginia, moving residents, earth, and structures to create Beech Fork State Park in 1979.

My Digital History class project will be the debut podcast episode chronicling the first phase of an ambitious goal: to produce a comprehensive website that will house a panoramic annotated map of the region within and affected by the park, oral histories of displaced residents and Corps staff involved in the project, photographs of the region comparing areas before and after the park’s creation, and a detailed mapping and cataloging of the community cemetery located within the park. This first portion of the project will involve the creation of a podcast documenting my progress and broadcasting some of the stories and background that will be included. The podcast, whose working title is “Displaced” will explore the theme of displacement and may continue past the Beech Fork podcasts (Season 1) highlighting other events and experiences.

The first episode will be a culmination of preliminary research and a demonstration of recording and broadcasting tools for digital history research, archiving, and presentation. While this topic is important to me personally since part of my family hails from the affected area, the historical significance of this project comes from its ability to add humanity and highlight cultural consequences to historical events. The creation of the park and construction of Beech Fork Lake  grew out of federal legislation aimed at preserving the wildlife and waterways of the region along with improving the ecosystem therein. This project will illustrate the narratives of those whose lives, identities, and livelihoods were affected by this mandate in this instance. Of the limited resources available on the subject in digital form, all refer to plant and animal species who reside in the area or summarize the creation of the park without including personal narratives of the residents or those working on behalf of the Corps. As noted in the 1996 introduction to an Oral History edition for the The Journal of American History, Linda Shopes and Michael Frisch (1) write that: “the recent efflorescence of oral history is rooted in the social historian’s need for sources that document experiences for which more traditional materials are either unavailable or profoundly distorted by the perspective of the recorder.” It is necessary to examine every opportunity available for a critical analysis of past events, finding truth in the patterns and variety of perspective. Since then, podcasts have emerged as a way to broadcast histories and interviews, releasing them from academic or closed archives, or boosting their reach from web-based digital homes.

Beyond the historiographic purpose of the project, I also want to explore themes such as the social and personal effects of displacement by eminent domain and such effects relating to environmental legislation. I will allow some “organic” reach of topics based on what is sparked in conversation within the interviews. These will be conducted over the phone and recorded via a portable recording device. The podcast will be recorded and edited using Audacity and a careful edit of the interviews. Transcripts of the show and the interviews will be available on the project website and as an experiment, I will try to transcribe using text recognition software. The show’s “home” will be on Soundcloud or a similar audio digital storage site and available.

To prepare to tackle this project effectively and produce a quality product, I am consulting the   Principles and Best Practices from the Oral History Association as well as an expanding list of primary and secondary sources:

Primary:
“Beech Fork” Special Report from Nov. 15, 1970. The Herald-Advertiser
Interviews with:

  • US Army Corps of Engineers representative (to be named, possible Robert Thompson)
  • Angie Maynard Strait (displaced resident)
  • Mary E Adkins (displaced resident)
  • Others tba

Secondary:
Collections of interviews of displaced individuals from various backgrounds as found in Oral History journals and digital collections.

A challenge so far has been to narrow my focus from a large concept to a “bite-size” project which exhibits my topic while also demonstrating my newly acquired knowledge of digital history. I believe the creation of this podcast and accompanying website will be appropriate and fruitful for both criteria.

 

  1. Shopes, L. (n.d.). Oral History. The journal of American history.83(2).