Lauren Peterson ′13 & Jordan Redmon ′13
Lauren Peterson ’13
Jordan Redmon ’13
Baton Rouge, LA
By Dylan Ledbetter ′14
Southern literature. Southern cooking. Southern comfort. Southern culture and its accoutrements have assumed an eccentricity distinct to the lands east of the Mississippi and south of the Mason-Dixon. Few have captured the Southern mystique like Memphis novelist and historian Shelby Foote Jr., who died in 2005.
In March 2011, Rhodes College acquired a 2,350-volume book collection, accompanied by myriad papers, maps, drafts, and diaries, from Foote’s estate. Through a History Department fellowship, Lauren Peterson ’13 and Jordan Redmon ’13, both History majors, share the task of organizing and archiving Foote’s boxes of research notes, manuscripts and hand-drawn maps associated with his famous, three-volume set, The Civil War: A Narrative. Their work is being supervised by Carol McCarley, a librarian who spent almost two years inventorying the Shelby Foote collection in his home on East Parkway.
The collection makes for a meticulous process of unpacking, assorting, indexing and rearranging the contents in a comprehensible catalogue in preparation for their public display and research purposes. No small task, the job of archiving the expansive collection is consigned to students with experienced hands. Peterson and Redmon both worked over summer 2011 with the Rhodes-Memphis Public Library Archival Fellowship.
For Redmon and Peterson, combing through these documents kicks up the dust that has settled on a story of the South so well epitomized within Foote’s collection.
“I really appreciate the South a lot more,” says Peterson, a few months after she opened her first box of Foote memorabilia. As a Texas native, Peterson finds that archiving Foote’s collection yields a valuable insight into a regional history rife with internecine conflicts, yet rich with cultural nuances that may seem quaint to outsiders.
Hailing from Baton Rouge, Redmon too discovered that Foote’s collection chronicled serious character developments of both Southern identity and the wider American national conscience that ranges from Civil War to Civil Rights.
“I’m bewildered,” says Redmon, “at how he could absorb all the information he did, and then write it all down. He wrote 500 words a day, so he did not worry about taking his time.” Foote’s collection of diaries, drafts and personal correspondences with his contemporaries reveal the idiosyncratic methods of Foote’s creative process, as well as the dynamics of a scholar’s perspective on his most treasured field of study. For Peterson, this view into the world of the author’s head yields yet another lesson of idiosyncrasy: “Reading his diaries has given me an insight into how people develop ideas. I feel like that is one of my greatest take-aways from this project.”
The Foote collection is ultimately bound for the Paul Barret Jr. Library where the documents will be made available for reading and research and someday digitized for wider public access. “The Department of History is immensely proud of its first two archival fellows,” says History Department chair Dr. Tim Huebner. “After receiving training as archivists at the Memphis Public Library, Lauren and Jordan did an excellent job of processing and organizing the Foote papers in order to make them available to scholars. Because of Lauren and Jordan’s efforts, students of Southern history and literature will be able to investigate Foote’s life and work by examining these materials. At its heart, archival work is about preservation – so Lauren and Jordan have helped us to preserve an important slice of the region’s history.”