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The William R. Ferris Collection

William R. Ferris was born February 5, 1942, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He attended public school in Warren County and Vicksburg until high school, when he entered Brooks School in North Andover, Massachusetts. Ferris received his B.A. in English Literature at Davidson College in 1964, and an M.A. in English Literature from Northwestern University in 1965. He attended Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, for one year from 1965 to 1966, and returned to the U.S. to continue his graduate studies. In 1967, he received a master's degree—and, in 1969, a Ph.D.—in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania.

Ferris's scholarship has focused on the American South and its literature, folklore, and culture, through a variety of media: print, sound, film, and photography. From 1970 to 1972, he was an assistant professor in the Department of English at Jackson State University. From 1972 to 1979, he held a joint appointment as associate professor in American Studies and Afro-American Studies at Yale University. During his tenure at Yale, Ferris co-founded the Center for Southern Folklore in Memphis, Tennessee, and was its director from 1972 to 1984. Ferris returned to the South, and, from 1979 to 1997, he served as founding director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture and professor of anthropology at the University of Mississippi in Oxford.

In 1997 Ferris was appointed by President Bill Clinton as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. When his four-year term as Chairman ended in 2001, he spent six months as a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Since 2002, Ferris has taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as the Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History, Adjunct Professor in American Studies, Folklore, and School of Information and Library Science, and he also serves Senior Associate Director of the Center for the Study of the American South.

Ferris's most recent book, Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues, was published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2009. His forthcoming book, A Southern Album: Stories From Writers, Scholars, Musicians, Photographers, and Painters, will be published by the UNC Press in 2013. Ferris is currently working on a book of his photography. All of these books include photographs featured on this website.

The more than 5,000 images on this website were selected from William R. Ferris's photography archive, which is housed in the UNC Southern Folklife Collection and is currently being digitized. Ferris took most of these images with a Nikon Nikkormat 35mm camera using Tri-X film. The archive is part of the William R. Ferris Collection. The following pages provide additional information about William Ferris and this collection:

Courses Offered by William R. Ferris

Folklore 560: Southern Literature and the Oral Tradition (Syllabus)

This course focuses on Southern writers and explores how they use oral traditions in their work. We will discuss the nature of oral tradition and how its study can provide a methodology for understanding Southern literature. We will consider how specific folklore genres such as folktales, sermons, and music are used by Southern writers, and we will discuss how such genres provide structure for literary forms such as the novel and the short story.

History 571/Folklore 571: Southern Music (Syllabus)

This course explores the music of the American South and considers how this music serves as a window on the region’s history and culture. We will first consider the South and how the region’s distinctive sense of place defines music in each generation. From the Mississippi Delta to Harlan County, Kentucky, from small farms to urban neighborhoods, from the region itself to more distant worlds of the Southern diaspora, Southern music chronicles places and the people who live within them.


These images were digitized by Gail Goers, and major assistance in organizing this project was provided by Dana Di Maio and Emily Wallace at the Center For Study of the American South, by Steve Weiss and Aaron Smithers in the Southern Folklife Collection, and by Michael Millner, Jenn Riley, Natasha Smith, and Shaun Trujillo in the Carolina Digital Library and Archives.

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