About the Project
For some time, I have been dreaming of a media project that is part database and part community forum. What started in 2009 as a research question, has led me down a road relatively untraveled in the discipline.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Siobhan Brownson at Winthrop University for planting the seeds of my current research. I attended a lecture she conducted about her research with Victorian periodicals. I was fascinated by the power of those ephemeral texts and their ability to capture a cultural snap shot that novels and poetry just can’t grasp. The rapid rate at which periodicals can be printed, the immediacy of the editorials and satire, the visual nature of the cartoons, the democratic way in which so many voices can be heard and distributed cheaply – taking away the privilege of printing from the very wealthy, and mass distribution all came together to open this fascinating window into another time. I started thinking that publishing in the sixties and seventies in America were still somewhat an arm of the establishment. Novels and poems printed in these years were not necessarily reflections of these years culturally. For that I would have to look at the periodicals. But here to I found that the traditional media in newspapers and magazines still towed the line, presenting only one perspective on what was a rather radical and tumultuous time. Where could I read what the counterculture wrote? Where could I find that cultural snapshot for what was happening with the anti-war and civil rights movements? I had heard about the underground press – or just absorbed knowledge of its existence from stories and movies I’d encountered. So I wondered: What are the literary contributions of the underground press?
What were these writers saying and doing in these free spaces of expression? How do these alternative accounts of history and calls for freedom and revolution fit into the American tradition of dissenting voices in pamphlets (Thomas Paine) or periodicals (New Masses)? What is it about the ability to self-publish that supports dissent? How do these publications both reflect and reinforce ideas and values for the writers and readers? How is the self-publishing aspect of social media the 21st century tool of dissent?
From there, I decided to combine my interest in Southern literature with my evolving interest in the underground press and found a healthy tradition of publications from the South. I was surprised at first, as are most when I mention that there is an undergound press/alternative media movement happening in the region. Part of my work is to help subvert this view of the South as a monoculture, where all stood in lock-step with the military, conservatism, and segregation. Not all counterculture came from California or New York. And with the number of young men being drafted onto military bases in the South, the region has a quite lively and intelligent expression of anti-establishment thinking.
A quick internet search brought me to the Wikipedia site for the Underground Press Syndicate, which then led me to a list of underground papers. The title Inquisition from Charlotte, NC where I live jumped off the page. At the time, it was not a hyperlink, there was no separate wiki page for it, and nothing in any internet search. I finally tracked down a library holding in the UNC-Charlotte‘s rare books archive. After spending a few cold hours in the temperature controlled room, I had a copied names from the staff list in the back of the three issues of Inquisition they had. A few cold calls later from matching names in the yellow pages and I had some interviews set up. A few months later we had a full-blown reunion and had pieced together a complete set of issues pulled out from attics and bottoms of closets. I wrote about them (they had a historic court case involving 1st amendment rights and zoning laws).
There are so many more titles that are in danger of being lost to the garbage heap or flooded basements. In uncovering the story of Inquisition, I learned a few things:
There is considerable value from a cultural and literary standpoint in the tradition of the Southern underground press movement. These publications are in danger of being lost, and there is no work currently being done to preserve them. This is in large part due to many people not realizing the significance of what they have or think of their contributions to such papers as youthful rebellion only, ignoring their importance to history. There is a void in the online presence of these publications. Scholars interested in these works have no central place to study them. To read them requires travel by car to libraries or scouring the internet for people selling issues. The writers and artists who created these publications often did so anonymously and/or did not stay in touch with other staff members and/or did not save copies of the publications with their own work in them. There is a great interest among contributors to reconnect with the work, attribute authorship, and to reconnect to other staff members and writers. As someone who sees a great deal of value to these publications, I want to do whatever I can to save them and preserve them for further study. I have come to realization that there must be a database, and electronic archive. In my dream it looks like this: digital scans of all issues of Southern underground press newspapers, magazines, and pamphlets from 1960-1980 that can be zoomed in or out a way to search by keyword, date, title, author, state, military affiliation, article type (letter, essay, poem, news report, and visual elements (cartoons, photographs, drawings) so that users can find specific content, a community forum for people to connect and communicate with others about the different publications, reconnect with each other, post their own content, or claim authorship,
In the end, I hope it will become an invaluable collection of resources, scholarship, websites, documentaries, and more, accessible through libraries around the country.
Thank you for your interest. Please contact me if you are interested in being involved.