Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

History as Community-Based Research and the Pedagogy of Discovery: Teaching Racial Inequality, Documenting Local History, and Building Links between Students and Communities in Mississippi and Tennessee*

Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

History as Community-Based Research and the Pedagogy of Discovery: Teaching Racial Inequality, Documenting Local History, and Building Links between Students and Communities in Mississippi and Tennessee*

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

In this article we describe the process of implementing a community-based research project that linked student learning with documenting elements of local histories surrounding the civil rights movement in Mississippi and Tennessee. We show that developing a dialogue among community members, ourselves, and our students worked to democratize the research project, produce strong support among the community members, and contribute to an improved understanding of racial inequality for our students. We rely on our accounts of the process, student journals, and oral histories compiled during the research. Our findings show that there are considerable opportunities for community-based research around documenting and sharing key memories and that these can be realized even when the priorities between researchers and community members do not align. Our historically-oriented fieldwork, research, and findings serve to link service-learning to community-based research.

INTRODUCTION

In this paper we discuss a community-based research project that linked students from Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with community members in the Mississippi Delta through a community history focusing on civil rights movement participation and the building of communities in Mississippi and Tennessee. Our goal was to establish a rich dialogue between teaching race at a highly-selective liberal arts college and conducting community-based research. This essay focuses on how historical and sociological research that allows and encourages local community members to articulate alternative historical narratives and practices helps generate a mutually beneficial dialogue among community members, students, and researchers. More specifically, we started our project with more "traditional" goals of service learning in mind, but we learned quickly that the construction, retelling, and preservation of local stories and memories were of crucial importance to community members and made strong contributions to service learning via community-based research.

In this paper, we first turn to a discussion of the challenges of teaching race at a highly-selective, largely white, and mostly middle and upper class liberal arts college; second, we outline our conceptual framework; third, we discuss the work we did in Mississippi and Tennessee, the learning goals and outcomes for students, and the ways in which our work affected the community we visited. We also summarize the shortfalls of our goals and expectations. Finally, in the conclusion, we suggest ways in which our community-based research project contributes to what we, following Boyte and Kari and others, call democratic local spaces (Boyte and Kari 1996; Fraser 1992; Havard 2001; and Stoecker et al. 2010).

THE CHALLENGES OF TEACHING RACE AT A LIBERAL ARTS COLLEGE

During the winter break of the 2005-2006 academic year, we took a multiracial group of students to the Mississippi Delta to see lesser-known sights of the civil rights movement; learn about persistent, racialized poverty; and develop an initial understanding of how to utilize basic field research techniques to conduct community-based research. During our week in the Delta together, we mostly drew on contacts made during one author's dissertation research and stayed with host families while traveling from Memphis to Holmes County, to tour sites, interview residents, learn about local documents and records, and gain a deeper understanding of race and inequality in the United States. Our goal was to simultaneously try to expand our students' understanding of racial inequality, teach them how to conduct field research, and engage the community in a mutually beneficial research project. Identifying a single spark for the idea that became this effort is difficult, whether it was our community contacts, our desire to engage in a new research project, or the challenges involved with teaching about social inequality. …

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