Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World
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Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World
Created by James Leloudis and Kathryn Walbert, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Reviewed June 25–27, 2001.

The rich oral narratives that are integral to Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World (1987, 2000), the highly acclaimed book by Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, James Leloudis, Robert Korstad, Mary Murphy, Lu Ann Jones, and Christopher B. Daly, lend themselves to the making of a Web site. These oral history interviews are the center of the Like a Family Web site and offer useful information about the possibilities and limitations of using oral evidence on the Web.

As James Leloudis and Kathryn Walbert, the creators of the Like a Family Web site, state in their introduction, the intent of the Web site is "to make oral history resources available to teachers at secondary and college level and to suggest some of the ways in which the stories told in Like a Family can enrich the classroom experience for U.S. History students.“ With that aim in mind, the Web site creators offer a simply designed and easy-to-maneuver site that is modeled on the book’s structure and divided into three sections: ”Life on the Land,“ "Mill Village and Factory,” and “Work and Protest.” Each section begins with a useful overview and also has images and teaching ideas that are unfortunately underdeveloped. The centerpiece of each section is twenty to thirty oral history excerpts presented in audio formats with no accompanying transcripts. Finally, the site includes a range of helpful links to the archives used in Like a Family and other oral history sites.

Anybody who has produced oral history narratives on the Web will appreciate and salute Leloudis and Walbert’s effort in selecting and editing audio segments ranging from less than one minute to almost ten minutes. One cannot help but be amazed to hear the aged voice of Flossie Durham, who was born in 1883, or to be moved by Eula McGill’s strong, clear voice assessing the strike’s failure and asserting, “You get a little stronger even if you fail.” The Web creators' reliance solely on audio excerpts, however, serves as a cautionary reminder to oral historians that the power of the voices and storytellers that the historian has come to know intimately (and feel deeply about in some cases) does not always translate for the general audience. For those not used to working with aural data, the excerpts in many cases will simply sound fuzzy, hard to understand, and choppy. The absence of accompanying transcripts is a serious deterrence and makes it difficult for students to work with the audio documents.

Adina Back
New York University
New York, New York