Telling Complicated Stories—or Why History Matters for Social Work

This 3-part lecture complicates the stories we tell about the social work profession, while looking locally at the history of Athens, Georgia. These lectures are used alongside historical materials (many of them found on this website) in UGA Social Work’s MSW Capstone (SOWK 7500 and SOWK 7500e) courses.

Telling Complicated Stories: Part 1

In Part 1, Dr. McPherson discusses social work’s history of “facilitating injustice” (Yoosun Park’s term) and provides a few examples that reach beyond Georgia.

Telling Complicated Stories: Part 2

In Part 2, Dr. McPherson highlights the stories of pioneering Black social workers and social work institutions in Georgia, whose histories should be shared more widely.

Telling Complicated Stories: Part 3

In Part 3, Dr. McPherson brings us back to Athens, Georgia, where she lives and works, where she delves into the history of the Athens Factory (in whose building the University of Georgia School of Social Work now operates) and then explores links between social work’s beginnings here and a dominant white supremacist ideology.

Many professors at the School of Social Work add a statement to their syllabi that speaks to our oppressive history and incorporates material from the Complex Cloth project. These statements encourage reflection on the past and the present.

For more information on teaching Complex Cloth, please see Jane McPherson’s 2023 article, “Social work’s complex cloth: Teaching hard history in an antebellum cotton mill,” published in Critical and Radical Social Work. If you have trouble accessing the article, please contact Dr. McPherson directly at