Presbyterian College recently received a $100,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The grant will fund the College’s Textile Mill Memory Project, which will allow for faculty and students to utilize the College’s archives, oral histories, and other local resources to chronicle and digitalize the birth and decline of the textile mill system in the rural South.
The College sits in the heart of what was once the quintessential Southern mill town: the primary industry was textiles, the primary employers were the mills, and at one point 60 percent of Clinton and the surrounding area depended on the mills for their livelihood.
In addition to employment, the mills provided a cradle-to-grave socio-cultural experience, including company stores, health care (medical clinics within the mills for employees and their families), housing in the local mill villages, and recreation. That all changed between 1980-2002, when the textile industry was transferred overseas. The town lost its position of prosperity and security and entered into an uncertain future as did countless communities across the South.
The archives at Presbyterian College have become a leading regional repository for the history of the textile industry’s once influential prominence in Southern culture. The College holds records from founding mill families, including records such as the Smyth Collection and the Robert Mercer Vance Collection; as well as local newspapers, collections of oral history, and individual collections, digital maps, photo-documentation, and other materials.
The funding from the Andrew W. Mellon grant will allow Presbyterian College to archive, analyze, and digitalize these records. Ideally, the project will meet two objectives: to “tell the story” of Clinton and neighboring communities, and to enrich the curriculum and student experience at the College by establishing a “learning community” – a cohort of faculty and students working together to build a digital mill village.
“This funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is crucial to keeping the history of not just Clinton, but of mill towns across the South, accessible to any interested parties,” said Dr. Kendra Hamilton, Presbyterian College assistant professor of English, head of the College’s Southern Studies Program, and lead author and principal investigator of the Textile Mills Memory Project. “I am excited to begin work on this project and look forward to what we uncover.”
In addition to documenting the story of the people who worked in the mills, the culture and community the industry created, and the eventual disappearance of the industry, the project will create a prime environment for incorporating the discoveries into the study of liberal arts at the College, including in the subjects of English, history, political science, media studies, southern studies, and women’s studies. There is also opportunity for student-faculty research and faculty-faculty research.
“The Textile Mill Memory Project provides the College an unprecedented opportunity to present digital humanities technology to faculty and staff,” said Presbyterian College Provost Dr. Don Raber. “As Dr. Hamilton and her team pursue this important initiative on our campus, I anticipate they will produce historically and regionally significant work.”
For more information on the Textile Mill Memory Project or the Southern Studies Program email firstname.lastname@example.org.