Q&A with the editors of Studying Appalachian Studies

BerryS15Chad Berry, Phillip Obermiller, and Shaunna L. Scott are the editors of the collection Studying Appalachian Studies.

The editors collaborated to answer some questions about the book, which takes a global approach to the perspectives of Appalachian Studies.

Q: In the introduction it is stated that the book is not only intended for the Appalachian studies audience. Who else do you see in the readership?

Editors: Well, Appalachian studies is not unique. Similar questions, perspectives, and trends that have spurred growth in other areas, especially other interdisciplinary fields that focus on either regional geography or identity and oppression, inform it.

Furthermore, Appalachian studies, like other scholarly approaches, is a product of time and place. In the book, we take comparative meaning from trajectories in women’s studies, African American studies, Pacific Islands studies, and New West studies. While we have been informed about the growth, the questions pursued, and the questions unasked by scholars from these other fields, we would hope humbly that they might learn from our analysis of Appalachian studies. As we say in the book, “The histories and politics of a variety of interdisciplinary projects reveal the problems and potentials of Appalachian studies and interdisciplinary area studies generally” (p. 3). Likewise, if other scholars read about the histories and politics of Appalachian studies, they too may learn more about their own field. Doing so is the essence, and value, of comparative inquiry.

Q: What other fields of study are featured in this book and what is their relationship with the development of Appalachian Studies?

Editors: See above. The 1960s were a disruptive time for disciplines. In U.S. history, for example, the consensus school of the 1950s gave way to pluralistic, contentious, and eventually postmodern interpretations of the American past. Furthermore, silences of the past were given voice by new historians coming of age in a rapidly expanding university culture informed by challenges of the day: especially racism, poverty, and sexism. Scholars who were contributing exponentially varied and new voices to the country’s past blew up the synthesis of American history. So it was, for example, that scholars of the New West emerged who fundamentally reshaped how we think about the American West and its peoples. And of course similar things were happening in other fields, as we detail in the book. Again, Appalachian studies was in and of these intellectual developments of the 1960s, although we point out that the Appalachian studies community was nascent and active long before the 1960s and 1970s solidified its presence in a number of colleges and universities.

Q: Who are some significant voices in Appalachian studies who have defied the stereotypes that surround the field?

Editors: Well, read the book to discover the answer to this question! Seriously, any attempt to begin listing people here will only leave people out. Appalachian studies in the 20th and 21st centuries alone has benefited by hundreds of thousands of human hours. These human hours contributed thinking and writing in the form of monographs, of course, that have enhanced or altered our understanding, but they also resulted in music and poems and novels and paintings and sculptures. Human hours have also been spent on picket lines, in countless county commission and school board meetings speaking up and asking questions. They’ve been spent in museums, countless nonprofits, schools, health care agencies, churches and synagogues and secular organizations, and other institutional cultures working hard to establish justice and understanding in a region that is too often unjust and misunderstood.

Q: Do you see Appalachian studies as an expanding field of study?

Editors: In the trajectory of Appalachian studies, there is ebbing and flowing. There were in fact several “discoveries” and rediscoveries of Appalachia throughout the last one hundred years that galvanized interest in and attention to the region. Declining state budgets today often have a negative impact on Appalachian studies; in fact, some academic centers across the region’s universities and colleges have recently been shuttered, consolidated, or reconfigured. Meanwhile, interest in things such as Appalachian literature may never have been stronger.

Q: How is furthering Appalachian studies significant to the Appalachian community, its avid students and researchers, and to the surrounding community as a whole?

Editors: The Appalachian studies community has, since the late 1960s, been intentionally interdisciplinary but perhaps most of all inclusive. One has never needed a terminal academic degree to belong to the Appalachian studies community. It has always been a community that welcomed artists and activists as well as academics. Learning more about this Appalachian studies community—in some ways by reading an intellectual history of it—will only lead to a new generation of artists, activists, and academics contributing new perspectives to how we think we know the people and the region.


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