Final Reflection

The Appalachian Region

Entering this class I did not know about all the stereotypes about Appalachia and what all encompassed the region of Appalachia. From the beginning of the semester I was surprised to learn about what is commonly thought about the region. I was not aware that the stereotypes were so wide spread in their beliefs. Throughout the semester I learned about how the region is underrepresented and how those stereotypes were created and maintained. In my major, thinking is more science based and rarely involves thinking about the culture and the stereotypes. This course has opened my perspective to include more than just the science but how the science can affect the community.

Along with that, I was not used to reading so much opinion based and humanities driven material. It was an adjustment transitioning from reading scientific papers to more culturally based papers. Also, I had never written a blog before so that was a different type of assignment that I had not been exposed to before.

My favorite part about the class that made the biggest impression on me was the field trip to Kayford. I feel that that trip really opened my eyes to what mountain top removal really was and how much damage it was doing to the environment. I learned a lot about mountain top removal but also about how there are very passionate people out there that are fighting against these practices. Learning about mountain top removal and looking at pictures in a classroom doesn’t truly give you as profound of an impact as seeing it in person. This opened my eyes to think about what I could do and what other things could be done to either stop these practices or help minimize their impact.

Learning about mountain top removal and thinking more about the community has slightly shifted my eventual career path in that I want to help minimize the environmental impact of practices such as mountain top removal. Being able to see the impacts in person allowed for me to fully realize what this mining has done to the environment and the community.

Andrew Smith, Junior, Geosciences major, Geochemistry Option, Fall 2016, Midlothian VA, HUM 1704

Experiential Learning

Experiential learning is a key element in getting a well-rounded education. You can learn a lot in a classroom but you get a lot more out of it if you are able to truly surround yourself in the information. Observing what is being described to you has a lot greater impact on your mind and will stay with you a lot longer. This is also true when what you are learning has to do with the opinions of people that are affected. When you hear the concerns and opinions straight from the person, rather than reiterated from a third party, it has a much more profound impact. This was very true on the trip to Kayford Mountain.

Kayford Mountain, October 29th, 2016

Kayford Mountain is about a three hour drive from Blacksburg in West Virginia. The trip consisted mostly of interstate highways but as we got closer we exited the highway and spent a decent amount of time traversing through a mining town and up the mountain itself. Kayford is a piece of land on top of a mountain that has been kept from the mining companies and therefore remains pristine in an area taken over by mountain top removal.

When we arrived at Kayford we were greeted by Mr. Paul Corbett. Paul was the person that informed us about all that Kayford is and the significance of what he stands for. Paul is an extremely well spoken, intelligent and passionate man. He is very dedicated to standing by what he believes in and thoroughly explaining what the mining companies are doing. Paul is also an advocate for the gentleman that has kept Kayford from the mining companies.

The gentleman that has dedicated his life to protecting the land and advocating for the people against the negative impacts of mountain top removal is Larry Lee Gibson. Larry has held out selling his land to the mining companies because he knows the impacts that occur from mining it. He believes that life comes from the earth and that you should not destroy it.

Mr. Gibson’s stance on mountain top removal was in the minority in an area that depended on the mining companies for jobs. Therefore, he endured much hate and backlash from people of the community that worked for the mining company. But he went through great lengths to keep the land from the mining company.

The second place where I was immersed in the culture of Appalachia was when I traveled to Montebello, VA. Traveling to Montebello was a much more culturally enriching experience because I was able to interact with the locals of the area. The reason for traveling to Montebello was in fact to interview locals for the final project of this course.

Montebello, VA, November 4th, 2016

Montebello, VA is located about two hours north of Blacksburg in Nelson County. It borders the George Washington National Forest and is quite a tourist hot spot for being such a small town. Many tourists love to camp nearby in the mountains and hike the Appalachian Trail or the many other hiking trails.

Talking with the locals gave a very different insight into the community that most of the tourists probably never see. The locals had many interesting stories about the town over the years. The story that I found the most interesting was about the Cash family. The Cash family were described as true ‘mountain people’ that lived without running water or electricity. There were stories of them carrying cast iron stoves up the mountain on their backs. Also, one time the community tried to give them a car and teach them to drive but when they heard the radio they thought the car was possessed. At one point the federal government wanted to buy their land in order to expand the George Washington National Forest but the Cashes did not want to sell because they were happy on their land. So the government ended up deeming the Cash family unable to take care of themselves and put them in assisted living homes so that they could take their land.

Stories like the Cash family opened my eyes to the true culture of Appalachia. Although not everyone lives like the Cashes did, it was still surprising to me that people do still live like that in this modern day.

Poverty in Appalachia

This week two readings by Lewis and Eller were discussed. The readings covered the problem of poverty in Appalachia and efforts that were made to combat it.

Lewis states that, “The Culture of Poverty Model attributes regional problems to the deficiencies of the people and their culture. The approach suggests that: Apathetic, fatalistic mountain people won’t try to change their situation.” This leads to a not-so-great image of the people of Appalachia like the picture below.

Considering the programs that were set in place, why were the programs unsuccessful in helping the poverty in the region?

A family in Kentucky
A family in Kentucky

Appalachian Music

In an excerpt from High Mountains Rising, Bill Malone states that “There is no such thing as ‘Appalachian music.’ There are instead a wide variety of instrumental and vocal styles made by Appalachian musicians…”

I very much agree with Malone in saying that there is no such thing as specifically Appalachian music. Certain instruments and genres have been associated with Appalachia because they have been used by musicians from Appalachia. The genre and instruments have then been associated with the whole region, much like other stereotypes of Appalachia.

In the link below, many stereotypes of Appalachia can be seen along with the instruments that are used. In contrary, the song that the musicians are playing is originally of a genre that does not typically use those instruments. Therefore, the video visually contributes to known stereotypes and also undermines them. This leads to the question of whether or not people of the region embrace certain stereotypes, and if so, where is the line drawn between poking fun and truly offending people?


Belle Island in Richmond, VA
Belle Isle in Richmond, VA

Belle Isle is a popular spot in Richmond, Virginia for many locals and visitors. It is a small isle in the middle of the James River that is not accessible by motorized vehicles. On hot days in the summer, the rocks along the isle are crowded with people enjoying the cool, beautiful river. Belle Isle is an awesome spot to escape the concrete jungle of the city and enjoy a little spot of nature. Crossing the bridge to the isle provides people with a great view of the Richmond skyline, which results in many photos like the one pictured above.

Although a fact that many people are unaware of is that the beautiful river is not as clean as it should be. Just upstream from Richmond is a Dominion Power Station that has approval to dump treated coal ash wastewater into the river. So although the river looks beautiful and clean, it is being pumped full of wastewater, just upstream from a popular swimming spot. The picturesque photos do not properly represent the condition of the river and this contributes to people being unaware of what they are swimming in.

Family Feud

This week the reading was an excerpt from Feuding in Appalachia by Waller. According to Google a feud is a state of prolonged mutual hostility, typically between two families or communities, characterized by violent assaults in revenge for previous injuries. Waller mentions the perception of Appalachia as a strange place inhabited by peculiar people. He argues that this perception comes from “the needs of middle-class Americans in industrializing America to protect their own nostalgia for the past and fears about the future.”

The need for people to judge and perceive others in a more negative light is a common occurrence even in today’s society. People always want to lift themselves up and make themselves feel better about their lives, even if it puts other people down. Also, the perceptions are often created without knowing much about the community and stem from stereotypes or myths that are often not true.

These stereotypes and myths become so deeply ingrained within society that they are just passed down from generation to generation. The truth only surfaces if someone delves into the community and learns that not everything believed by the outside society is true.

Hatfield Family members involved in the feud with the McCoy Family
Hatfield Family members involved in the feud with the McCoy Family


Ghosts, Boundaries, and Names

This week we read an excerpt from Ghosts, Boundaries, and Names by John Alexander Williams. Williams discusses the importance of ghosts, boundaries, and names to the identity of Appalachia. He states that “Appalachia has no agreed-upon boundaries” and that when official boundaries were established, it just further complicated things.

Williams mentions that when an official boundary of the Appalachian region was established it further complicated things because “political calculations pushed and tugged the official boundary.” This shows that the government is the major beneficiary when it comes to establishing these boundaries. And with that, the previous borders set up by tribes or indigenous people are erased and forgotten in the eyes of the government.

In response to outside groups coming in and establishing their own boundaries, I feel like local people tend to hold more to names and landmarks. The names of places are a more common ground because they have most likely been around for a long time whereas borders either have not been there or have changed.

Blog 1

Welcome, my name is Andrew and I am currently a student at Virginia Tech. This blog represents the information read and discussed in my Introduction to Appalachian Studies class. It will be an accumulation of responses to different readings, discussion questions, and other like information pertaining to Appalachian Studies.

For example, one of the texts read in class was “Cherokee Accommodation and Persistence in the Southern Appalachians” by John R. Finger. One quote that stood out to me was when Finger talked about how “Cherokee elites, consisting of acculturated mixed-bloods and a few full-bloods, lived in large frame or stone homes comparable to those of their most prosperous white neighbors…Like their white counterparts, these elites relied on black slaves to produce cotton and corn for a growing regional market.” Many people do not realize how similar some natives were to their neighbors. Slaves are often associated with white settlers, but Finger is saying that even natives used them. Although the natives and the white settlers were two separate groups in the area, the settlers held the overall power in the area. But, some members of the Cherokee tribe were not far from the ways of the settlers.

Which presents the question of whether the Cherokee elites would have adopted this lifestyle without the presence of the white settlers. If the settlers had never come, would they still have lived in stone homes and used slaves? Or would they have developed a different method of agriculture?