Northern Virginia: Then and Now

Working under the question of “how did Northern Virginia become the region that it is today?,” I would like to take a look at the formation of current Northern Virginia.  This is a topic that I want to look at for a couple of reasons: 1) not being from the area, I think it has a distinct and interesting history, and 2) the GMU Special Collections & Archives has a wealth of interesting primary sources on the history of Northern Virginia.  I would like to be able to look at Northern Virginia from the 1960s  to today in order to show how it became the incredibly diverse and powerful region that it is today.  Since the current NoVa is such a large area, I will be focusing primarily on Arlington and Fairfax.

Utilizing oral histories and primary documents like maps, photographs, and correspondences, I hope to be able to piece together a “then and now” look at Northern Virginia. I would like to look at influential events that have taken place over the last 50 years: the  expansion of the metro, George Mason University, Dulles International Airport, the growth of information technology in the area, etc.  If feasible, I would really like to look at current long-term residents of all ages to get their perspectives on how the region has grown and changed, and would be able to foil these participants with oral histories from the Northern Virginia Oral History Project (housed in Special Collections & Archives), which is a series of oral histories done in the 1970s and 1980s.  Even though I will likely find a lack of video material to correspond with these earlier oral histories, I would be able to use photographs and pair them with more recent footage of the places talked about in their interviews.  Although there will be some agreement about major changes and developments in the region, I think that this project idea would lead to some interesting commentary on history and memory as well as hopefully draw in some interesting personal perspective.

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5 Responses
  1. Tad says:

    This sounds interesting… I’m wondering, though– what do you expect the “story” to be? Is this a representative story about the suburbanization & increasing multiculturalism of the US, or is it more about why NoVA is different?

    And if it’s the latter, how is NoVA different?

  2. jlapple says:

    In reference to Tad’s comment, perhaps the “story” come to life through the resident’s perspectives. I might be interseting to talk with people who have lived in Virginia all of their life, and have seen it grow, progress and develop. This type of input creates a portrait of life that is unique to these NoVA natives. They might have some of their own footage to add to the story, which would add emotional depth as well.

    • jjanes says:

      I am trying to bring the story to life through the perspectives of the stories I will hear and, hopefully, capture myself. I guess I am working under the assumption that long time residents will feel that there is something special and different about Northern Virginia (it certainly is different from any place I have ever lived before). My research thus far has suggested that there was great tension among the community (mostly 1960s/early 1970s) as to whether or not this type of massive growth should take place, and if so, how it would develop. Right now my project is still in the early stages, so pinning down a really specific story line is somewhat difficult since it is so dependent on other people that I just don’t have control over. Thanks for making me think through this a little bit better though!

  3. rsibaja says:

    Chris,
    Sounds great. It’s also a nice way of trying out some small steps with Oral History, interview skills, how you construct interview questions, etc. If anything, it could help strengthen personal ties to the area and university.
    Good luck.

  4. rsibaja says:

    sorry Jennifer, I simply took a quick look at last names and got confused.