Cecelia Mason Published

Conference at Marshall Will Explore Applachian Issues


About 800 people are expected to attend a conference at Marshall University in Huntington Friday through Sunday for the 37th Annual Appalachian Studies Conference.

Marshall University Education Professor and conference organizer Linda Spatig says the theme is New Appalachia: Known Realities and Imagined Possibilities.

“I guess the imagined possibilities, one of the things I hope comes from that part of the theme is giving a good bit of attention to Appalachian activism,” Spatig said. What can we do to make a better future in Appalachia not just in our scholarship but in our roles in our communities?”

Spatig said the Appalachian Studies Association, which hosts the conference, also wants more young people to be involved.

“Sometimes we at our conference have lamented that the folks on our steering committee or the folks in the audiences were getting gray, we’re seeing fewer young people come in and that trend is beginning to shift,” she said. “And we wanted that to continue to shift with a focus on contemporary issues.”

Defining the Region

Interest in defining Appalachia dates back to the late 1800’s with Berea College President William G. Frost.  Appalachian Studies Association President and Berea College Professor, Chris Green, said interest increased in the 1960’s during President Johnson’s War on Poverty.

But Green said perceptions of Appalachia based on images created 50 years ago during the War on Poverty still remain. He cited a story by ABC News Anchor Diane Sawyer called A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains as an example.

“I just had students down from Vermont who asked me ‘is Mountain Dew mouth real?’ which was something that happened on that 20/20 show,” Green said. “And so those images are still out there unfortunately.”

Green pointed out the War on Poverty has helped with building a foundation of infrastructure across the region that includes highways as well as water and sewer systems. He says the challenge now is building up the human capital.

“I think a really good example of where we see a lot of that going on is with Create West Virginia, drawing together a group of disparate entrepreneurs from all over the state to get together and to think about the resources that are there that they can make amazing good things happen with and profitable businesses happen with as well,” he said.

The conference will offer sessions and research presentations. Topics range from exploring the coal industry, mountain top removal mining and environmental concerns, to looking at health care needs and access, as well as literature, food, music and gender issues. 

Those interested in attending can register at the conference this weekend. Thanks to a West Virginia Humanities Council grant the following three plenary sessions and the keynote address are free and open to the public:

Friday March 28, 2014

  • 3:30-4:45 p.m. West Virginia Storyteller Adam Booth and Writer Scott McClanahan  discuss the art of storytelling
  • 8-9:30 p.m. Keynote address by Kentucky Writer Silas House focusing on his play This is My Heart for You which explores hate crimes against gay, interracial, and lesbian couples that occurred in eastern Kentucky a few years ago

Saturday March 29. 2014

  • 10:15-11:30 a.m. Sue Massek, a founding member of Kentucky’s Reel World String Band with a session, entitled Appalachian Women, A Herstory of Oppression and Resistance
  • 4:45-6:00 p.m. Collaborative Anthropologies Founding Editor Eric Lassiter and Folklorist and Writer Elizabeth Campbell talking about collaboration, community and civic engagement

The 39th Annual Appalachian Studies Conference is scheduled to take place at Shepherd University in 2016.