This course has made me think more in depth about the region. For example, I like many others did believe the stereotypes surrounding Appalachia before this course. Through the course of this class though we have addressed why they aren’t necessarily true, but why they exist. On a deeper level, this class has allowed me to continue asking critical questions. Challenging authorities and existing norms is critical to societies development.

The part of this course that stood out to me the most was the trip to Kayford Mountain. This trip opened my mind to a whole another world, one that I never knew existed. Coming into this course I spent little time thinking about coal or energy, and all I knew was that some people thought coal is dirty. I never would have imagined how obscure the energy industry is.

The other aspect of the course that I really enjoyed was the final project. I liked how we had a few guidelines, but were able to take it in any direction we wanted. I especially enjoyed interviewing people from Montebello. This taught me more about the region and lifestyle than any textbook or reading ever would.

The best part of this class for me was the out of class assignments. Except for reading. I really don’t like reading. The projects and field trips were lots of fun and very educational. I think I learned more from my final project and experiential learning than I did from any of the readings.

Overall I really enjoyed this course. I love living in Appalachia, and I have loved learning about the region, both in class and on my own.

Abby Nunes, Freshman, Dairy Science & Animal Science double major, Fall 2016, Midlothian, VA, HUM 1704

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Experiential Learning

Kayford Mountain: a MTR site that was last active 35 years ago.

One thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that learning occurs everywhere, not just in a classroom. In fact, the most important type of learning happens outside of a classroom. Memorizing and regurgitating knowledge is one thing, applying is another. I personally believe that if you’re not learning, you’re not living.

The first place I attended was Kayford Mountain in WVA. There I learned a whole bunch about coal mining and the harmful effects it has on the community. The people on the mountain were very kind and welcoming however, they did villainize coal companies.

Kayford mountain is a mountain that is protected from the destructive force of mining. Larry Lee Gibson spent his life trying to detour the coal company and he did face consequences for doing so. In the picture to the left you can see a bullet hole that was shot at Larry’s trailer. Paul, our tour guide, also told us that “somebody” also killed one of his dogs and attempted to hang another. Despite these obstacles, Larry persisted and got his land protected by the government. So, although the a coal company may own the coal underneath, they cannot disturb the land above it.

I went with a group of my peers from a class at Virginia Tech. We met early one morning and endured the two-hour drive to West Virginia. Navigating was slightly challenging. We spent a good chunk of time on a dirt road not exactly sure we were going the right direction. Regardless of our navigation issues we did end up at the parking lot where we met our tour guide: Paul Corbett.

Paul was a very nice guy. He seemed very educated and he was also very well spoken. He took his time explaining all the impacts of mountain top removal and explained why the people of the region were still for mining. The concept that the people of the region were sold on the idea of MTR despite the drawbacks was very interesting to me. It reminded me a lot of “internal colonialism.” The coal companies treated the area with little respect, taking what they wanted and taking the wealth associated with it.

I certainly took more away from Kayford than I would have if I had a lesson on MTR in a classroom setting. It was very interesting seeing the impact of MTR in person rather than a picture. The picture I have posted above does little to show the destruction MTR has caused the area.

The second event I attended was the International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, Kentucky. This trip was ridiculously fun, especially as a Dairy Science major. Here I learned how to judge dairy cattle.

Supreme Dairy Champion of North American Livestock Expo 2016

Similar to Kayford, I went with a group of my peers piled in a 12 passenger van, only this ride was longer. We practiced judging on the way down with cut outs of cows. A professor, Dr. Knowlton, taught us what to look for and important aspects of being a dairy judge.

At the Expo we spent the first day observing. As a person with little background in agriculture, this was very interesting to me. I had no idea that the judges only account for the physical appearance of a cow. Their place has nothing to do with their behavior or their leader, only their physical attributes. The second day was the judging competition which I found very fun! Although we were not in the competition we judges the cows and came up with reasons as if we were.

All in all, Louisville was a great learning experience for me. I loved learning how to do something I had no idea existed previously. I also met a few people who I may run into in my professional life.

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Dear Mr. University President

As the president of an Appalachian University here’s what you should know.


Appalachia is a wonderful place. The mountains are gorgeous, the people are kind, and the culture is rich. I chose to attend Virginia Tech for these exact reasons, there are many other reasons too. One thing that you must understand as a the president here is this: Appalachia is misunderstood.  There are many stereotypes that cast an unsightly shadow over this region, that can be argued as blatantly false.

Contrary to popular belief Appalachia is not all impoverished, Appalachia is not all white, and Appalachia is not only mountains. In fact, Appalachia is diverse. The geographical region stretches beyond the limits of the Appalachian mountains and accounts for most of the nations coal industry and energy industry. If we could improve the industry, we should find renewable forms of energy that provide the region with jobs. We should strive to put an end to the harmful effects of fossil fuels.

Furthermore, the whole whitewashing of Appalachia is complete baloney. In fact, Native Americans were the first people to live in the region, and some of the only ones to remain after the Trail of Tears. Additionally, Appalachia was home to manhy free African Americans in antebellum America. Even recently, minorities account for over half of the population growth since 1990.

Over the years, Appalachia has been exploited and taken advantage of, and subjected to internal colonization. The best example of this is the conditions of coal miners. The large companies did not view their employees as humans. Even the living conditions the companies provided were less than that of an animal. To the rest of America, Appalachia exists to better the rest of the country at their own expense. However, the people of Appalachia worked through their conflicts, you should watch the documentary “Mine Wars.” These people are tough, hard working and determined.

Welcome to the university, and welcome to the region. There’s no better place in the world.


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Coal Flowers

Although Coal Mining has a few benefits, it also has lots of cons. The environmental impacts are huge and the health impacts are also great. However people surrounded by the harmful effects are also the greatest advocates of the continuation of coal mining.

On the surface this appears to be a juxtaposition. Why are those impacted, in favor of such practices? The answer lies in the education system. Starting in very low grade levels children in regions where coal mining is prominent are taught that coal is pretty and coal is fun. How? Crystals and Cookies.

The Coal Flower project leads children to believe that coal leads to pretty things, like coal flowers. In reality the crystal like structure can grow on anything, even a Popsicle stick. However their minds now have drawn a correlation between coal and pretty. img_3873








In the Cookie Mining Challenge children are challenged to use a toothpick to remove all the chocolate chips from a cookie and then are rewarded by eating the now destroyed cookie. So their minds have drawn a correlation between coal and rewards.cookie-miningNeither of these activities address the environmental, societal, or health impacts leading to adults who believe in the power of coal mining.


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MTR – Practices and the Future

dsc_0038 is a group currently working to end the destructive process of Mountain Top Removal. What is MTR you ask? Here:

“Mountaintop removal/valley fill is a mining practice where the tops of mountains are removed, exposing the seams of coal. Mountaintop removal can involve removing 500 feet or more of the summit to get at buried seams of coal. The earth from the mountaintop is then dumped in the neighboring valleys.”

– United States EPA

Coal seams are created over hundreds and thousands of years in areas where life has died. The excess carbon is degraded and compacted to create seams of dark coal. In between these seams lie hundreds of feet of top soil, which also takes hundreds and thousands of years to create. When these layers are blasted and dug up, thousands of years of geological processes are destroyed, biological diversity is destroyed, neighboring valleys are destroyed, and waterways are destroyed. The environmental impacts of MTR are catastrophic.

Who is A group of organizations.

Why? To raise awareness of the impacts MTR has, and to stop MTR.


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Appalachian Poverty

This week we read two different readings having to do with poverty in Appalachia. The pieces discuss the causes, both real and perceived, of the said poverty. Helen Lewis said people commonly believe “a backwards and primitive people cannot cope in the modern world.”


Is this a real reason Appalachia is poverty stricken, or is this a common misconception? If it is a misconception, is there any truth to the statement? Do misconceptions evolve from facts, rumors or something else?

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In Music by Bill C Malone, Malone claims “there is no such thing as Appalachian music.” He states that “there are instead a wide variety of instrumental  and vocal styles made by Appalachian musicians.” I believe that these concepts are one in the same.

Music is divided into categories called genres. These so called categories are differentiated by sound and the type of ambiance the song creates which is derived from the compositional makeup of the song, or timbre. Timbre is a common word for the specific sound of an instrument. In the case of Appalachian music one can usually identify banjo, and/or acoustic guitar timbre. These are also common characteristics of Bluegrass music.

With that said, I believe that there is such a thing as Appalachian music. However, everyone has their own take. Do you believe there is such thing as Appalachian music? What defines a songs genre?

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Deceiving Photographs

Richmond, VA – the most wonderful city on earth.

One of Watkins’s main points in Merchandising the Mountaineer was that pictures taken in Appalachia during the Great Depression did not accurately depict life. For example, in the picture below the cabin does little to show the level of poverty in the area. There was also a picture of an older man next to the picture of the cabin. The caption from that picture suggested that people from Appalachia got to rest and sit in a chair whenever they felt like it. These pictures suggest that Appalachia was unaffected by the depression, essentially making it seem as though Appalachia was cut off from the rest of the nation.


I have seen this sort of “propaganda” in my own life. I am from Richmond, where there are lots of advertisements for touristy things. You could do all kinds of things in Richmond: hike, bike, kayak, shop, eat, tour, learn; and there are beautiful pictures and videos to show people. However these pictures do little to show the true state of Richmond. Although numbers are decreasing, there are still hundreds of homeless people in the city, and Richmond is also one of the largest food deserts in the country with a poverty rate of 26%.

A homeless man walks in a public plaza. Downtown RVA

People often depict places and situations better than they actually are. This theme is particularly evident in modern social media. However, in the Richmond example, the local government is depicting Richmond as a higher income vacation spot in order to attract tourists, and in turn profit.


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Appalachian Feuds

According to Merriam-Webster a feud is a mutual enmity or quarrel that is often prolonged. Feuds and violence are often associated Appalachia, as seen in the well known Hatfield-McCoy feud, but never surveyed beyond the fact that families are fighting.

Although the exact purpose of people fighting is unclear, in a lot of cases the family feuds are an extension of the civil war. For example, the Hatfield-McCoy feud:


“The first event in the decades-long feud was the 1865 murder of Randolph’s brother,             Asa Harmon McCoy, by the Logan Wildcats, a local militia group that counted Devil             Anse and other Hatfields among its members. Many people—even members of his                 own family—regarded Asa Harmon, who had served in the Union Army during the               American Civil War, as a traitor.”

Another aspect of violence is the issue that violence in the postbellum United States was not confined to southern Appalachia. Racism was still running rapid and causing mobs, lynchings, and Anglican Supremacy groups such as the KKK throughout the entire south. The loss of the Civil War or “The War of Northern Aggression” economically devastated the confederate economy. Not only did the loss legally end slavery, their currency changed and left many with empty pockets.

That being said, it was easy to centralize focus and press on one region. Other stereotypes aided in the focus. For example, it is easy to see an uneducated hillbilly family causing trouble to another uneducated hillbilly mountain family. There were many other feuds in addition to the Hatfield McCoy feud that provided distraction from the violent problems that pervaded the lives of the rest of the nation.


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Places & Names

appThis weeks reading had a very interesting concept. Ghosts,Boundaries, and Names by John Alexander Williams brought up the conversation as to what Appalachia actually is. Williams argues that boundaries,  are often made up based off of  even so those of Appalachia are too broad. There are so many parts and pieces that it is too difficult to view the region as a whole. For example, Williams states “there is no fundamental agreement about how to pronounce the word ‘Appalachia'” which shows how diverse and different groups within Appalachia are.

As for ghosts Williams explains how the history of the land contributes to the formations of groups within Appalachia. However, regardless of if they were influential to the area, the people (ghosts) would mostly be forgotten.
rvaBeing from Richmond gives me a good insight as to who is remembered and who is not. When you go downtown there are memorials everywhere. Mostly for southern Civil War “heroes” (it is up to you weather or not you consider confederate soldiers heroes). However it is clear that the every day individual who live in or around Richmond are being forgotten.

There are boundaries within Richmond too.  For example, those with more money tend to live closer to the river. However it is forgotten that Richmond is actually one of the largest food deserts in the USA. Richmond falls significantly below the poverty line, yet when people think of Richmond they think of a well off city on a river. Therefore, similar to Appalachia, it is difficult to look at the region as a whole and come to a conclusion about almost anything.

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