The Urban Appalachian Project: Young Identity Beyond the Mountains

Cincinnati, Ohio is not a place typically included in public discourse on Appalachia because it does not fall within the Appalachian Regional Commission’s defined borders of Appalachia. However, Cincinnati is home to thousands of Appalachian migrants and descendants. In the last study of Appalachian census tract populations between 2005 and 2009, there were 35,637 Cincinnati residents identified as Appalachian (Maloney and Auffrey 54). In fact, over the last fifty years, a majority of Appalachians have become urban-dwellers. Emily Satterwhite explains that 47% of Appalachian residents from 1960 until 1990 lived in urban areas, and an even higher percentage now live in the region’s largest cities.

The Urban Appalachian Project is a university coalition of students, faculty, and staff who wish to promote community engagement with urban Appalachian identity through education and primary research on the urban Appalachian experience in Cincinnati, the facilitation of artistic and cultural expressions of urban Appalachian identity, and community building among young urban Appalachians at the university and beyond. By interviewing university students and community members, including first, second, and third generation Appalachian migrants as well as sharing their own experiences as urban Appalachians, project members will share diverse definitions of urban Appalachian identities, grow community engagement with regional heritage, and encourage acceptance and appreciation of regional identities and cultural difference.

A key aspect of this program is that young urban Appalachians are agents in the process of defining and representing themselves as urban Appalachians. Rather than constructing and presenting an Appalachian culture for them to discover, consume, and preserve, as Appalachians are so often encouraged to do in both scholarly and popular discourse, this program enables their individual agency through interactive engagement and co-creation of their own culture. In this presentation, we share how the Urban Appalachian Project was created and discuss how other universities and community organizations can support young Appalachians in connecting with their Appalachian identities.