Story+ Project

The Other Side of Hungry River: Mental Illness Mapped Through Songs


This project is an extended liner notes and online exhibition accompanying The Other Side Of Hungry River, a song cycle based on a closed mental asylum. The lyrical aspects of what is left behind at Dix Hill offer a vibrant entry point to the highly-charged questions the site begs—not only in song and visual but also in digital humanities. The Other Side of Hungry River Online Exhibition / Liner Notes brings each song to life by unfurling the specific song inspiration and the cultural moment where the song resides, creating a unique map of mental health history, science, and cultural representation.

An accompanying user-friendly timeline inventories the landmarks of mental health in art and scholarship to contextualize stigma and how it evolves. Mental health—a term that encapsulates human conditions ranging from loneliness to disabling disease—faces continued shaming, funding cuts, the absence of significant new medical breakthrough, and a crisis-level need for understanding.  This project uses the honesty and irreverence of art to find new insight into the history and culture surrounding the treatment of mental illness in the southern United States. How does trauma scar a place, an individual, a community? Who can diagnose disconnection from reality in the modern world? What does a sane society look like?

Students will create an online visual counterpart to The Other Side of Hungry River exploring the historical background, architectural drawings, intake records, oral histories, photographs and relics behind these songs. Students will also assist Guggenheim Fellow photographer Deborah Luster and Grammy nominated musician Tift Merritt as they collaborate on this work.

Students should possess a combination of 3-4 of the following skills:

  • An interest in public art, rock and roll, placemaking and innovation in digital storytelling
  • An interest the how mental health’s cultural representation informs stigma over time
  • A sincere enthusiasm for the historical record and how we can use it to reflect on our present moment
  • A firm commitment to organization and note taking practices
  • Interest in photography and digitization. Experience scanning historical materials and/or using DSLR cameras preferred but not required
  • A strong ability to communicate through writing and visuals
  • A willingness to engage creativity within academic spaces
  • An enthusiasm for learning to produce or experience producing digital media (web development, videography, app development, mapping, 3D modeling, etc.)
  • An ability to work and self-teach independently, set personal goals, and manage time

Supplementary Application Materials

We are looking for students with a creative eye. Students are encouraged, but not required, to include links to or screenshots of any portfolios of digital work. This work might include digital archives, visualizations, or storytelling projects built in prior classes or for other research projects; it might also include photography, videography, original music, writing and artwork.

Project Sponsor(s): 

Hannah Jacobs, Digital Humanities Specialist, Wired! Lab (Art, Art History & Visual Studies)

Tift Merritt, Writer, Musician

Graduate Mentor(s): 

Quran Karriem, PhD Candidate


William Atkinson, Emily Otero, Elizabeth Roy


The team created a physical exhibit and a website (forthcoming) that act as physical and digital 'liner notes' for an upcoming album of songs from award-winning singer-songwriter-researcher Tift Merritt.

tift merritt exhibit at Dix park
The Other Side of Hungry River exhibit with Tift Merritt at Dorothea Dix Park, Raleigh, NC.

hungry river website screencapture
The Other Side of Hungry River website, forthcoming.

“From Plantation to Park: The Story of Dix Hill.” The City of Raleigh Museum.


  • Women
  • Oral History
  • Documentary
  • Archives