September 29, 2021
University of North Florida faculty, affiliated with the Digital Humanities Institute and the Africana Studies program, have been awarded a highly competitive $100,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant for a project on “Documenting Black Jacksonville: The Viola Muse Digital Edition.”
The UNF faculty team will assemble the writings and papers of Viola Muse, a local hair salon owner who worked from 1936 to 1940 as a writer in the Negro Writers’ Division of the Florida Federal Writers Project, which was headquartered in Jacksonville, Fla. Once collected, these papers will be made digitally available to the public for the first time.
The Negro Writers Division was the first and the largest of its kind. Muse and the other writers were tasked with composing an account of Florida’s past and present from an African American perspective. During the years in which she worked for the Federal Writers Project, Muse traveled around Lavilla and other Black neighborhoods in Jacksonville to interview everyday citizens.
Muse jotted down her notes on the back of cut up Depression era job relief forms, paraphrasing the stories her interview subjects relayed and recording her own detailed observations about the people, their homes and their workplaces. However, very little of the information Muse collected ever saw the light of publication and her notes have stayed hidden at the Jacksonville Historical Society since 1958. No scholar has yet written about Muse’s papers.
The Viola Muse Digital Edition will make Muse’s papers and the lost histories of African American Jacksonville publicly available for the first time. This free digital edition will include seventy-three documents comprising 262 pages.
The project will begin this fall, led by Dr. Laura Heffernan, associate professor of English, working with Dr. Tru Leverette, English associate professor and Director of Africana Studies, and Dr. Clayton McCarl, associate professor of Spanish and Digital Humanities.
Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. The Scholarly Editions and Translations grant awarded to UNF supports the preparation of editions and translations of texts that are valuable to the humanities but are inaccessible or available only in inadequate editions.
(Photo credits go to the Jacksonville Historical Society.)