Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Appalachia Class

I'm preparing for a new class that I'll be teaching about Appalachia. It consists of eight 2-hour sessions. I'm not sure where to go on the planning as when I teach about Appalachia I usually have a lot more time that just 16 hours. So I thought I'd ask the elite of Appalachia: namely, my loyal readers:

What would you most like to learn about Appalachia?

or, if you don't like that question,

What is most important for people to learn about Appalachia?

I've got my own ideas, but I'd like to hear yours first.


Michelle K said...


I love history, so I'd love to know more about the history of the region, especially the mine wars.

The economic impact of the mountains and terrain upon the inhabitants would be good too.

And even health issues, including lack of access to health care, lack of health insurance, and how these affect the health of those living here (diabetes, obesity, lack of teeth,, etc.)

Sarah said...

Is it history or about "Appalachia" in general? If it is more general - I'd suggest that you examine and discuss what exactly IS "Appalachian" culture. We know that there is a distinct culture here, but it is always misinterpreted and consistently misrepresented by "outsiders" in poplar culture, the news, etc. I think it is important to discuss that and think about why that is. I'm taking a class right now on Diversity in American Film and one of the cultures we can look at is Appalachian culture and think about how it is represented in film. I watched a fantastic little documentary called Seven Sisters: A Kentucky Portrait about seven sisters from Eastern, KY who were born between 1923 and 1942. The movie was made by the third sister's son and I felt it was the first time I've seen Appalachian culture defined accurately and in context on film. I think that had a lot to do with the fact that it was told by someone who understood the story he was telling and he didn't impose some outsider POV on what "Appalachian" was or meant.

My husband had a photojournalism class a few years ago in which the instructor brought in a guest lecturer/photographer who was working on a project about some people in the Beckley area. My husband said the photographer was here to portray the "true face of WV" and the "hardships" the people had to endure in rural Appalachia. My husband (who was from the area) said he was picking subjects that were a lot worse off than your average Beckley resident. The instructor on the other hand, not being from WV thought the guy had some great stuff. I think the thing that bothers me is not that people want to take pictures or make films about poverty in WV, but that they do so at the exclusion of the average West Virginian's/Appalachian's experience.

MountainLaurel said...

Michelle, I"m planning on showing Matewan to them to illustrate the mine wars. I'm thinking about bringing in a friend of mine who's an expert on disabilities and Appalachia. He always does a very interesting talk.

Sarah, it's about Appalachia in general. I think I'm going to open with something about Appalachian portrayals in media and stereotypes and structure the rest of the class around proving or disproving these ideas.

Has your husband ever seen any work by Shelby Lee Adams? he's a photographer who does his work in Floyd County, KY, deep in the heart of Appalachia. I'm not sure how I feel about his work, as he seems to do what your husband's professor does: go out of his way to find the oddest and poorest folks to photograph. I'd be interested in what he thinks as a photographer in Appalachia.

I'll have to check out that Seven Sisters film.

rebecca said...

Crap, I thought I left a comment to you about appalachain artists (not craftspeople, artisans, etc... that's usually taken care of... but we have a wealth of art history here, too!)

Are you interested in info about art? Do you know that one of the forerunners of women photographers came from WV? I could send some info your way if you're interested. Email me if you're interested -- I might forget to check back here for a reply.

rebecca said...

mamallama at gmail dot com

MountainLaurel said...

Thanks, Rebecca! Yes, I'm very much interested in art in Appalachia. That's what I love about blogging: great readers like you that continue my education!

todd said...

Don't shy away from the heavy political stuff, be sure to talk about internal colonialism, for example

Read Me said...

One interesting thing about rural Appalachia is what residents do with their garbage; yes, waste disposal is a topic that one must ponder when driving down these rural roads and discovering old appliances, rusted cars, and ancient, random trash. There are few towns and cities in West Virginia, I would guess, that actually collect trash. If you live in a city, you pretty much have to have them take your trash. If you live in a rural area, sanitation services are optional. What do people do with their trash between Pineville and Welch, for example? Burn it, compost it, recycle it? I suppose teaching a segment on this class would require much research.