A Real Reality

It’s deceitful, almost. Reading through my life histories I’m imagining tales of the death sentence in Raleigh–through the means of a gas chamber and an electric chair–I’m told about sons dying, families that live in the grime and dust in the shadow of Asheville mines and mills, and of cotton mills that simply conjure up pre-civil war era images in my mind.

It’s deceitful in that I can’t fathom these stories being real. They all seem a bit like the Beverly Hillbillies with a strange Grimm Brothers’-esque dark twist. It’s hard to put into pieces, at least in my mind, that these are real people. There are people that lived through these conditions and people that made the best of these conditions.

That thought alone amazes me. I’m from a much different background historically speaking, and it’s hard to imagine the history I grew up learning being compared to this history I’m learning now through these life histories. Being from a northern, suburban area it’s foreign to me to try and integrate this southern, rural life history project and solidify the elements into my mind. Perspective and perception are funny things, often times taking our notions and thoughts we understand to be true and knotting them and unfurling the threads.

The hardest part with these stories I’m reading is understanding that these things that I can’t fathom, happened whether or not I accomplish the feat of ever understanding this all. They happened. The stories are real. Polished and prompted in some instances, sure. That doesn’t deny the fact that they’re real histories though, at least to the people that lived them. To me, they’re imaginings and to these others they were real.

The problem though? These ‘real’ stories that happened to these ‘real’ people all had their names changed to protect privacy back when the histories were first released. How do I incorporate this into the tagging process? Not only this, but how do I incorporate the authenticity. What makes these stories real if there’s no ‘real’ people behind them? There are, but there aren’t. It makes sense to me and it doesn’t. This, along with only the vernacular of the day is what is going to throw off my archival duties.

About Olivia Henley

Marine Sciences
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One Response to A Real Reality

  1. Nicole Martin says:

    Hi, Olivia!

    I really enjoyed reading your post. The interviewees of the life histories which I selected are similarly…unusual. Their suffering, as well as the seeming nonchalance with which many of them approach these hardships, is at times almost too discomforting to read. Like you, I have a difficult time accepting these individuals as real rather than carefully crafted characters; however, at the same time, as an English major, I’ve found that initially treating the narratives as fiction has enabled me to pick out “themes” from the texts which can be (hopefully) translated into the development of potential tags. So, if literature is your forte, it might be useful to run with your perspective of the texts’ surrealism by analyzing them, in a way.

    Regarding your problem of the changed names, it is definitely one that everyone in the class has, too! I think that since we are all working on the same overall project, we need to decide as a group how this issue will be handled. For example, perhaps the changed name as well as the real name (if provided) could be listed as a metadata category? I’m not sure, but I’m certain that we’ll come up with something! I agree, though, that for historical purposes, the preservation and searchability of the real names is essential.

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