Southern Spaces Launches Digital Journal Focusing on Katrina’s Aftermath

College freshman Mirandy Li vividly remembers the disaster of Hurricane Katrina, which hit her home in August 2005 when she was 11 years old.

Li had to evacuate to Baton Rouge from her hometown of New Orleans, La.

There, she temporarily switched to a different middle school where she was given essentials such as school supplies, food and clothing.

In October, a couple months after the storm hit, she returned to New Orleans, where she and the three other members of her family lived for a year in a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailer in front of her demolished house.

The storm completely destroyed her house. Harsh wind, rain and water damage left the space almost entirely unlivable.

Stories like Li’s can now be found on Southern Spaces, Emory’s online, open-access scholarly journal. The journal has partnered with the University of Texas Press to provide an interactive site centered on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

After Li’s family managed to rebuild their own home, fixing the damage that the storm had wrought, Li’s father began to help other families in need reconstruct their homes.

However, while many families have rebuilt their homes at this point, some areas remain in ruins, according to Li.

“Many people never even moved back, which is sad because New Orleans is still an incredible place,” Li said. “The city is still vibrant and strong, and I’m proud to be from there.”

Southern Spaces first debuted in 2004 in collaboration with the Robert W. Woodruff Library and publishes peer-reviewed articles and essays as a regional study of the South.

The idea to create a project focusing on Katrina arose after the editorial staff, comprised of graduate students and faculty, received the book “Displaced: Life in the Katrina Diaspora,” which contained an article by University of South Carolina professor Lynn Weber.

The essay, “No Place to be Displaced: Katrina Response and the Deep South’s Political Economy,” explores the experiences of evacuees who had to leave Louisiana for other states and cities where they encountered different social programs and transportation systems.

Weber’s essay also addresses what happens once FEMA’s support for housing runs out, and what happens when evacuees try to find affordable housing as well as jobs in new communities where the cost of living is higher.

“[The article] discussed why people who were displaced from Katrina to Columbia, S.C. didn’t have very much in terms of a social safety net,” Professor of American Studies and Senior Editor of Southern Spaces Allen Tullos said.

Deep South states such as Alabama and South Carolina, he explained, have a long history of a punitive attitude and stinginess towards displaced people.

Due to interest in the issues of the article, the staff of Southern Spaces decided to edit the essay by adding supplementary materials such as images, audio, video and hyperlinks to other stories that Southern Spaces has published on Katrina. These additions make the essay into a much more visually-compelling piece for their audience base, according to editors at the publication.

Southern Spaces has drawn significant attention from the University of Texas Press in addition to the University of North Carolina.

In fact, Tullos said, the University of Texas Press appreciated Southern Spaces’ interactive site, and therefore has asked the journal to publish additional sites for other essays included in its Katrina book series.

The Emory-sponsored journal will collaborate with the University of North Carolina on a series titled “The New Southern Studies.”

The project will hopefully foster interest in buying the series in full, graduate student and Southern Spaces Managing Editor Katie Rawson said, and provide access to additional important stories.

Rawson explained that Southern Spaces has been at the forefront of a move toward digital, peer-reviewed publications.

“It is the start of what I think is the way in which a lot of work will be done in the future with these collaborations between additional presses and digital publications,” Tullos said.

— By Anastassia Goidina