Madison County Project, Background

The documentary short Madison County Project: Documenting the Sound (King and Roberts 2008) tells the story of two intertwined traditions: a local a cappella ballad tradition and a documentary tradition that has developed around the music. This article touches on the history of documentary making in the area, discusses the experience of attempting new fieldwork in Madison County, North Carolina, and illustrates some of the problematic outcomes of doing that fieldwork collaboratively. In attempting to create an ethnographically-based documentary project, issues regarding representation and the dilemmas of collaboration were amplified by historical precedent and the decision to explore the ballad tradition through the vehicle of a film intended for a wide public audience. The nature of this project forced a kind of accountability not always experienced by those who do not labor with the expectations of their consultants reading, viewing, critiquing, and being a part of the finished work.

The description above is an Abstract that heads an article by Martha King, one of the two filmmakers. Her article—"Documenting Traditions and the Ethnographic Double Bind in Collaborative Anthropologies, vol. 3 (2010), 37-64—can be read in its entirety on line.  It is a distillation of her M.A. thesis “Madison County Project: Collaborative Ethnography, Tradition, and Media” (Chapel Hill: UNC Department of American Studies, Folklore Program, 2005). The thesis is also available on line. Her collaborator in the Madison County Project was Rob Roberts, who wrote his paper with the same title in the UNC School of Media and Journalism and also built a website with additional materials. That website is no longer maintained.