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Appalachian graduate students present research at Appalachian Teaching Project conference

Appalachian Studies faculty and students.jpgBOONE—Eleven Appalachian State University graduate students presented their research project for the Appalachian Regional Commission’s Appalachian Teaching Project (ATP) 2011 Annual Conference held in Washington, D.C.

Appalachian Studies faculty and students.jpgStudents and their faculty from an Appalachian studies course at Appalachian State University recently presented their research on the Elk Knob Community Heritage Organization (EKCHO) in Washington, D.C. Pictured from left, front row, are Cary Curlee, Kathryn Engle, Mary Rachel Taylor, Bess Walker, Dr. David Haney and Appalachian Regional Commission Federal Co-Chair Earl F. Gohl. In back, from left, are Joshua Roe, William Lindley, David Funderburk, Taulby Edmondson, Jonathan Buchanan and Benjamin Yoder. Not pictured is Shawn Terrell. (Photo submitted)

The university is one of 15 Appalachian studies organizations from Appalachian region colleges and universities that make up the ATP, which gives college students the opportunity to engage in research projects that address endemic challenges facing Appalachian communities.  Projects are presented each December.

The students were all participants in a graduate anthropology class titled Appalachian Culture and Social Organization, taught by Center for Appalachian Studies director Dr. Pat Beaver.

The class’s project focused on the oral history of the Elk Knob Community Heritage Organization (EKCHO) and creating a scholarly monograph of materials collected during the last 10 years by previous Appalachian students including interviews, stories, genealogical notes and photographs.  The monograph, which they hope to publish, documents 20th century Appalachian history that had never before been recorded.

This year’s students each edited an interview conducted by a previous ATP student at Appalachian for publication. The students hope that their project will foster community pride, support connections between the university and its neighboring communities and be useful to EKCHO in their efforts to fund the development of a proposed public art plan and cultural history museum.

Throughout the project, the class explored the history of the area, mountain stereotypes, sense of place, livelihood strategies and heritage preservation-all themes central to the culture of the Appalachian region.

Student Bess Walker said during the presentation, “We sought voices from a mountain community, hoping to preserve the customs, folktales and traditions that permeate this small valley in Appalachia. What we found were spirits, spirits of kindness and resilience, spirits of pride and humility, but most of all is the spirit that has kept these residents planted in their community – like the Carolina Hemlock and yellow buckeye that line both sides of this valley, determined to stay despite what life, or nature, may throw at them.”

Student involvement in the ATP during the past 10 years has built collaboration with residents of the North Fork headwaters of the New River and has produced a 30-minute documentary film, numerous internships and masters’ theses, and a rich research collection of oral history interviews, stories, letters, store records and historic photographs.  Students have also helped create Elk Knob State Park, EKCHO, and an annual community festival in the state park.

Student Ben Yoder said during the presentation, “Documentation of the region’s rich social history and cultural matrix is critical to dispelling stereotypes of isolation and exceptionality, to strengthening community, to fostering Appalachian’s collaboration with local communities, and to working toward the Appalachian Regional Commission’s strategic objective of developing leaders and strengthening community capacity.”

Created in 1965, the Appalachian Regional Commission is a regional economic development agency with the mission “to be a strategic partner and advocate for sustainable community and economic development in Appalachia.”

For more information about the ATP, visit http://www.etsu.edu/cass/projects/default.aspx.  To learn more about the Appalachian Regional Commission, visit http://www.arc.gov/index.asp.

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