The Most Documented Region
The introduction explores why the South became known as America’s “most documented” region beginning in the 1940s and into the twenty-first century. It argues that documentarians saw the region as a fertile place to do fieldwork for two main reasons. First, the region possessed unique and seemingly fragile folk cultures in need of preservation before modern influences erased them. Second, the region possessed seemingly endemic problems associated with its racial caste system and agricultural economies that needed documentation, study, and reform. The introduction also provides an overview of how historians and theorists defined “documentary” throughout the twentieth century and how and why some black and white southerners resisted the intrusion of documentarians into their lives. Additionally, it traces the history of documentary fieldwork in the South from the eighteenth through the nineteenth century and demonstrates how the tradition’s dominant themes developed during this time, particularly in the travel writings and sketches of Basil Hall, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jonathan Baxter Harrison and others. Finally, it highlights the distinguishing features of twentieth-century documentary by emphasizing the role of Progressive and New Deal reform impulses, the Folk Revival and Civil Rights Movement, and the development of portable recording technologies.
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