Statement of purpose:
My name is Melody Hunter-Pillion. I am a doctoral student in public history at North Carolina State University in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. I am also a broadcast journalist by profession. Storytelling is key to my work in the professional arena and in my academic research. My interest is in oral history and memory and how those elements operate together in interpreting and reacting to climate change in marginalized communities. Because I am from a rural African American background, I am interested in how the practice of oral history shapes memory, identity, and ideas of who we are as residents in and stewards of a specific environmental space. What might oral traditions offer communities in terms of resiliency and cultural preservation? Though my current geographic area of focus is eastern North Carolina, I had the unique opportunity to work with SE CASC in the Caribbean. Working with SE CASC greatly influenced the trajectory of my public history work. We collected oral histories for the “Voices of the Caribbean” oral history project in Puerto Rico, hosted by the USDA Caribbean Climate Hub in 2018. The narratives with environmental resource managers from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgins islands are available on the Digital Library of the Caribbean database.
Description of research:
My research examines oral narratives and traditions in coastal North Carolina to better understand how lessons of resiliency have been employed in the past and how they might be utilized now and in the future as communities face the impacts of climate change. I am collecting oral testimonies from African American farmers and fishermen in eastern North Carolina. Though dwindling in numbers, Black farmers and fishermen in historic heritage industries have maintained thematic oral narratives—emphasizing independence, landownership, cultivation prowess, and intimate knowledge of their local environments—that connect to resilience strategies. Examining these more current interviews alongside archived narratives from the Southern Oral History Collection, the Library of Congress, and other repositories may allow me to establish patterns of impact, adaptation, and resilience. Ideally, connecting these oral histories to climate data over time, with maps demonstrating environmental change, will provide visually engaging and effective lessons that can be shared with a wide audience. Underserved and underrepresented communities are key stakeholders in climate change issues. Until all communities have ownership in environmental and natural resource priorities, we cannot help ecosystems survive and flourish. Oral history empowers communities to generate solutions unique to their historical circumstances, natural resources, and distinctive cultural resources. My fellowship examines localized histories in order to reveal past cultural responses to environmental change with potential contemporary use.
Dr. Blair Kelley (Department of History, NCSU)