Blog Post #8: Keep Moving!

For this week’s blog, our professor asked us to report on our progress over the last few weeks. In recent weeks, I have been researching the folk music collecting expeditions of the Works Progress Administration through the “Federal One” project and examining the music collecting expeditions that took place in Florida between 1935 and 1940. See previous blog postings of mine for more information on my project goals. I even had the opportunity to interview pioneering folklorist Peggy Bulger on the topic of the undertakings of “Federal One” in Florida. She gave me some ideas concerning who to talk to and where to look to find more information.

For the purposes of our class this semester, Dr. French recommended that I concentrate on representing one or two expeditions in my project rather than attempting to delve into all of them. I decided that the best place to start was the beginning, so I will likely concentrate on the first one, the Elizabeth Barnicle-Alan Lomax-Zora Neale Hurston expedition in Florida in 1935 in which they visited Eatonville, Belle Glade, and Chosen, Florida. Hurston and Barnicle clashed with one another, but both women thought highly of young Lomax. A set of 24 discs were recorded by Zora Neale Hurston, Mary Elizabeth Barnicle and Alan Lomax in June of 1935. They found harmonica songs, jook songs, blues, hollers, ballads, and a religious song or two. Here is a sample of a recording they made of “The Weeping Worry Blues”. The song was recorded in Belle Glade, which was a gathering-place for the Everglades region’s seasonal agricultural workers.

I was really interested in examining Zora’s work in the turpentine camp of Cross City, but that expedition occurred in 1939 with Stetson Kennedy and was not part of the original trip with Lomax and Barnicle. However, even if I am unable to mention the turpentine camp expedition in my digital project this semester, I will include it in my final thesis project.

I am reading a very informative book on the topic called Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World by John Szwed. I am also reading Hurston’s book Mules and Men in which she discusses the folk music and tales she collected during that time. I am intrigued by the idea of twenty year old Texan Alan Lomax traveling with two women across the South. Floridian Hurston, an anthropologist and writer, and Barnicle, a professor at New York University, were in their forties at the time. The three songcatchers may have seemed different from one another, but they were all folklorists with a passion for preserving folk music. I am looking forward to going on the journey with them through my home state of Florida.

I also spent time looking into potentially using VisualEyes to create my digital project. I decided to explore VisualEyes after viewing other great digital projects that have been made with it. For instance, the project Jefferson’s Travels is an interactive site that traces Thomas Jefferson’s journeys in London, England in 1786.

A screen shot from Jefferson’s Travels, a VisualEyes project.

The project includes an interactive timeline. It also traces the mail sent and received by Jefferson, and even allows users to browse the collection of books in his “retirement library”. The site will allow me to make a timeline and a map, and I hope it will let me utilize audio as well. I am not very far along in my exploration of VisualEyes. I have a spreadsheet template that I will use to create my project. That is what I am working on this week. VisualEyes offers step by step instructions, so it should be doable, although it might be a little complicated at first. Meanwhile, I also want to find a Florida map from 1935-1940 in order to create a vintage looking map overlay. I found some really cool maps in the David Rumsey Map Collection, but so far I have not found a Florida map from the 1930s or 1940s that I really like.

I will close my blog with one of my favorite things that I came across this week. Stetson Kennedy wrote about a music collecting visit he made to the Clara White Mission, a soup kitchen in Jacksonville. Clara’s daughter, a philanthropist named Eartha White, says into the recorder, “Dear Lord, this is Eartha White talkin’ to you again. I just want to thank you for giving mankind the intelligence to make such a marvelous machine (the portable recorder), and a president like Franklin D. Roosevelt who cares about preserving the songs people sing.”

Eartha White and her mother, Clara, of the Clara White Mission in Jacksonville, Florida.

I think Ms. White’s words sum up why the work of the WPA and “Federal One” in Florida was so meaningful to American history. The recordings preserved aspects of life in Florida during the early twentieth century that might have otherwise been lost to time. Until next week, I will be exploring VisualEyes for my digital project. Stay tuned as I uncover more folk music treasures in Florida.


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