Published Date

January 1, 2000

Resource Type

For Departments, For the Classroom, Program of Study

This resource was developed as part of the Migration and the American South project.


This case study is intended to help students develop a better understanding of why and how migration takes place and what the impact of migration is on the places people migrate to and the places people leave. More specifically, it is designed to help students develop a better understanding of migration in the twentieth century American South and of the role of migration in Southern history. The case study is also intended as an exercise in the use of primary sources and how the writing of good history depends on finding and carefully interpreting primary sources. The audience for this case study is college history students, although advanced high school students are more than capable of making use of it also.

Three North Carolina counties located on the Virginia border will be examined during the period from 1940-1999. A collection of primary sources* has been assembled that consists of on-site sources and links to primary sources at other web sites. These sources include interviews, statistics drawn from U.S. Census records, and photographs. Secondary sources** are also available in the form of a brief overview of migration on-site and links to a number of other sites with more extensive studies of migration and economic and social change in the South. A sizable body of primary and secondary source material is thus available to students. In fact, there is more information on this site and at the web sites linked to this site than the typical student has the time or interest to read through. Students must, therefore, be selective with their reading both as to the sites they choose to explore and how closely they read particular texts. This too is what good historians do and indeed what all of us must learn to do in order to manage the tremendous amounts of information that come our way in this “Age of Information.”

The study questions are the key to this case study; they are really a navigational aid that enables students to steer through the primary sources. Ideally, the answers derived from digging through the assembled primary sources will make the general analysis in the overview more meaningful and will flesh out with details what were before only seemingly vague generalizations. We hope students may also get a better handle on the “why” of migration by studying a small area so intensely. Questions in each unit in the study guide are organized from simple questions requiring simple answers to questions that require complex, analytical answers. The idea here is that the exercise will help students work through the step-by-step process of writing an historical analysis, a process that often leaves students sitting mystified behind piles of books and stacks of note cards. Teachers may assign a group of questions to students or, for a more extensive project, all of the questions. Teachers might also assign groups of questions to different discussion groups in a class and have each group develop an oral presentation based on their findings.

Where to begin? Begin with the “Overview.” Make your decision at that point as to whether you will to read some of the other secondary sources linked to the “Overview.” Then move to the “Study Questions.” They will guide you to particular primary sources on and off the AHA web site.

*Primary sources are firsthand accounts of a period or event in history by someone who was there or who talked to someone who was there. Government documents, pictures, newspaper accounts, diaries, government statistics, memoirs and interviews are all examples of primary sources. These sources need not be concerned with “major” events; they might record the annual harvest in a county, an industrial fire, a corn shucking, or the national divorce rate.

**Secondary sources are what historians do with primary sources. A secondary source is thus an analysis of a topic or issue that employs primary sources and other secondary sources. Is it possible to create a secondary source solely by relying on other secondary sources? The answer is “yes” but historians are suspicious of the validity of historical observations based solely on research in the secondary sources just as a farmer might be suspicious of anyone who claims to farm but never has dirty hands. While students may have no interest in writing history, most historians feel students should at least be aware of the connection between primary and secondary sources. This awareness, we believe, enhances the ability of students to critically assess secondary source material.