Writing the (not so distant) Past

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by Adam Goldstein 16C

When I tell people I’m completing a thesis in American history, they usually expect it to be about colonial Georgia, reconstruction, or the Civil Rights Movement; something that’s been generally accepted as part of our history. So they are usually surprised when I tell them I am writing about a public housing redevelopment that occurred less than twenty years ago. Moreover, when I am talking to mostly anyone who has lived in Atlanta, they are at least vaguely aware of my topic; the redevelopment of the East Lake neighborhood.

Working through the telling of such a well-known story that exists in the immediate past has taught me much about history writing. One of the challenges has been to find the signal in the noise, as so many people remember living through East Lake’s redevelopment. Everywhere from Facebook posts to casual conversations has the potential to uncover a new detail about East Lake’s story, and on multiple occasions I’ve found myself lost in the noise of all of these potential sources. It’s been important to always have my end goal in mind, and work to ensure that I am hearing and writing about the important voices in my story. To this end, the Fox Center has been extremely helpful. The staff of the Center worked through their connections through Emory and the rest of Atlanta to make certain that I have access to the sources that have helped legitimize my work.

It has also been important to remain objective throughout the telling of my story. It is easy, especially when doing oral history, to be affected by the experiences and emotions of my sources. East Lake’s story is still relevant to many of the sources I interviewed, and it has been challenging at times to understand their experiences through a historical lens, and place them within ideologies and frameworks of the time period. I have found that the most helpful method of remaining unbiased has been to share the story with those around me. For this, the Fox Center has been a haven. I am almost constantly able to share what I am working on, potentially to the nuisance of those around me, and work through the story with them.  The Fox Center has not only provided me resources to support my work, but has created a space where I can share my work with others, which has helped me develop a thesis I am proud of and has taught me much that I will take with me in my future academic pursuits.

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