Far Afield: A Dialogue on Pursuing Graduate Research in Appalachian Studies Out of Place

Many scholars, educators, and activists engaged in Appalachian Studies find themselves positioned outside of the region. We will consider what it means to stay engaged in Appalachian Studies while living and working beyond the region’s borders. First, we aim to bring attention to how scholar-educators who are disembedded from the region continue to be shaped by discourses and imaginings about Appalachia as ‘an other America.’ Second, we consider how institutions outside of the region position themselves in relationship to Appalachia through service-immersion programs.

Our responses take the shape of a structured dialogue. We identify as scholar-educators raised in the Appalachian region and engaging in scholarship about it from beyond its borders. Though we occupied the same institutional space for many years we approach Appalachian Studies from different disciplinary perspectives. We pursue dialogue as a pedagogical strategy that creates what bell hooks describes as a “space for intervention.” Blurring regional and disciplinary boundaries allows for creative imaginings to take root as we nurture relationships grounded in solidarity.

First, we describe our shared space of Boston College—a Jesuit, Catholic institution with a longstanding Appalachian service program. Second, we provide preliminary personal statements that serve to position ourselves within Appalachia and Boston College, describing our personal backgrounds and disciplinary interests. This stage setting allows us to enter into a dialogue in which we cultivate a pedagogical response that critically intervenes, unsettles, and reshapes notions of Appalachia within the institution and adopted region in which we find ourselves.