Remaking Space: A Geo-spatial Visualization of the Irwinville Farms Community

Erin O’Quinn
North Carolina State University

During the Great Depression, the Irwinville Farms Project was a poster project for a government program established to help young farmers in the U.S. Specifically, families with limited income in Irwin and surrounding counties in Georgia were given the opportunity to run, and eventually own, their own farms. The Irwinville community, my hometown, possesses a rich amount of archival material from this program, including photographs, newspaper clippings, and oral history interviews.

In Fall 2017, I used Esri Story Maps to create an online mapped version of the community titled “The Farms Were Their Own.” Visitors may click on map points to hear spatially contextualized oral histories, view photographs and read select newspaper articles. By overlaying archival materials over a mapped version of the Irwinville Farms Project, I hoped to preserve community memories and also ask questions of the intersections among digital heritage, cultural memory and social injustice. For example, multiple community residents remembered being called derogatory names for accepting government help. Having residents pinpoint where they remember offensive comments being said (the schoolyard, a spot on the street, etc) demonstrates the critical role that mapping can play in the construction of knowledge (i.e. concretely identifying social injustices of the period). Through asking contributors to pinpoint spaces of injustice, they may remake these spaces in a way that potentially offers closure or some other meaningful experience. Their mediated representation could also generate deeper understanding for an outside audience, sparking empathy for a problematic part of the community’s past. Overall, such a project might offer insight for creating future virtual projects that preserve community history while also illuminating social justice issues in spatially aware ways.