This past Thursday and Friday I had the pleasure of attending (and presenting at) one of my favorite conferences of the year—the Society of Georgia Archivists (SGA) annual meeting. In short, it was a blast! What could be better than getting together with all of your archival friends from around the state, exchanging experiences and ideas, and enjoying an endless supply of free coffee? Exactly. Be jealous 🙂
The theme of this year’s conference was “Archives as Community: Building Bridges and Sustaining Relationships.” This topic is especially of interest to me because one of my main interests in the field of archives is archival outreach, especially to nontraditional communities like K-12 students and minority groups. As you can imagine, every session I attended at this conference was relevant to my interests, but there was one presentation in particular that intrigued me because it was so out-of-the-box. Sara Wood, an oral historian, gave a presentation on the oral history documentation project at her place of employment— the Southern Foodways Alliance (https://www.southernfoodways.org/). Prior to this presentation, I had never heard of this organization in my life. “What on earth is the Southern Foodways Alliance? I wondered.” Better known as “SFA,” the Southern Foodways Alliance is an institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. The mission of this organization is to “document, study, and celebrate the diverse food cultures of the changing American South.” (Yes, you heard me correctly).The SFA takes its job very seriously. They accomplish their work in a variety of ways, including research, films, symposia, podcasts, newsletters, and my personal favorite—oral histories.
The SFA’s oral history project documents the voices and untold stories of individuals who make southern food and culture what it is today. Documenting these oral histories is easy feat. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the oral history section of their website (https://www.southernfoodways.org/oral-history/). You can search these digital oral histories by location, trails, or in chronological order. These oral histories run the gamut of southern food and talk about everything from barbecue traditions in Georgia to the history of po’ boy sandwiches in New Orleans to the Hot Tamale Trail in the Mississippi Delta (who knew?). These oral histories contain video interviews with the chefs, cooks, farmers, and restaurant owners who are proudly steeped in a beloved tradition of food and culture that characterizes the American South. Their stories are fascinating narratives of how food, love, family, culture, and hard work come together to create the rich and long-standing history of the South.
I urge you to explore the SFA website and enjoy the oral history videos, transcripts, and very useful metadata. But before I send you off, I imagine some of you may ask, “Why spend the time documenting this stuff at all? Why is it important?” Well, archives are the records of everyday people and everyday life. Hence, archives are important because people are important. And because people are important, so are their stories. The stories of individuals matter because they all help tell the story of the human condition, a story that is rich in people, expansive in time, and dynamic in culture. *drops microphone*