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Appalachian Studies Association Records at Berea: An Overview and Reflections on Research

This article appeared in the Volume 2, Issue 3 Winter 2021 issue of the Appalachian Curator. Click here to view a PDF of the full issue.

Editor’s note: The Appalachian Studies Association’s official records are housed at Berea College. As many reading this probably know, these records were used extensively in the research of the 2003 article, “Where Have We Been? Where Are We Going? A History of the Appalachian Studies Association” (Appalachian Journal Vol. 31, No. 1 (Fall 2003)), written by Howard Dorgan and students in his “Colloquium in Appalachian Studies” course at Appalachian State University. We thought it would be interesting to pair Lori Myers-Steeles’ article about the ASA archives with Jinny Turman’s reflections on researching the 2003 article as a student. Dr. Turman shares author credits on the 2003 article and is Associate Professor of History at UVA Wise and a member of the ASA Special Collections Committee.

The Appalachian Studies Association Records: Time for a Revival

By Lori Myers-Steele, Collections Archivist, Berea College Special Collections and Archives

In the Fall 1986 (Vol II No.2) edition of the Newsletter of the Appalachian Studies Conference, Jean Haskell Speer, 1986-1987 Chair of the Appalachian Studies Conference, spoke to the 1987 conference theme of “Remembrance, Reunion, and Revival.” Regarding the theme of revival, Speer discussed new initiatives of association committees based on the principals on which the association was organized. Included in these initiatives was the work of the By-Laws Revision Committee in making recommended changes to association by-laws for membership consideration at the upcoming conference. In the Spring 1987 (Vol II No. 3) newsletter, Speer provides further details about recommended by-law changes, such as the need to officially change the organizations name from Appalachian Studies Conference (ASC) to Appalachian Studies Association (ASA) as had been approved by membership vote at the 1983 meeting but not formally changed in the by-laws. Contained in the newsletter was a copy of the newly proposed Bylaws which included Article IV: Archives. This proposed by-law formally designated Berea College as the location for the association’s archives

Boxes from the ASA records housed at Berea College
Boxes from the ASA records housed at Berea College

Although membership formally approved Article IV and Berea College as the repository for its records at the 1987 Conference, association records had been placed at Berea College since as early as March of 1981 when the archives accessioned three boxes of Appalachian Studies Conference materials. Additionally, in a February 1981 memorandum, Anne Campbell, outgoing ASC Secretary/Newsletter Editor, noted: “Near the completion of term of office, sort files. Originals are to be placed in the Archives of the Appalachian Studies Conference (Special Collections, Hutchins Library, Berea College)” (Memorandum, Feb 1981. Series 4: Administrative Correspondence, Secretary/Newsletter Editor, 1980-1981. SAA 28: Appalachian Studies Association Records, Berea College Special Collections and Archives, Berea, Ky.). It appears as if the 1987 by-laws made official particular association practices already in place. Since this time, Berea College has accessioned ASA records received from a variety of individuals; however, there does not appear to be a regular retention/acquisition policy in place.

Since the early 1980s, the association records have been renamed the Appalachian Studies Association (ASA) Records, the archives at Berea College were formally named the Berea College Special Collections and Archives (SCA), and guidelines for processing the association records have been created. Guidelines for processing the collection are detailed and include everything from how many copies of items to archive to instructions—fourteen to be exact—for labeling folders. The author and date of the guidelines are unknown. What is known is that the processing of the collection needs a bit of a revival. While the finding aid was last updated and made available online in 2017 (see:, collection processing needs to be resumed as the latest materials processed into the collection are dated 1995.

While not formally processed into the collection, ASA records through 2017-2018 have been accessioned and are available to researchers upon request; however, a regular retention policy needs to be implemented and materials need to be discoverable by researchers through an online content management system. Reviving the collection will entail not only the resumption of processing but, most likely, the addition of new series to accommodate for technological and association changes. Revitalization of the collection will take initiative and time; however, SCA archivists look forward to working with ASA leadership to revive this very important collection and make it discoverable by all.

Note: Volumes 1-44 of the Newsletter of the Appalachian Studies Conference/AppalLink can be found on the ASA website at:


Thoughts on researching the history of the Appalachian Studies Association

By Jinny Turman, Associate Professor of History, UVA Wise

Although there were no mass celebrations, exploding confetti cannons, or television cameras present, I think I might have won the academic lottery in the fall of 2000. The research project I conducted as part of the Colloquium in Appalachian Studies course—a class required for the Master of Art in Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University—helped to set me on a path of academic study that eventually led me to public history. The fact that I took the class with Dr. Howard Dorgan is the reason I feel I won the lottery. As it turns out, he was preparing to retire at the end of that year. He determined that our semester project was to research the history of the Appalachian Studies Association. Not exactly a small undertaking. But Dr. Dorgan, being the consummate scholar that he was, guided Theresa Burchett, Donovan Cain, Logan Brown, and me through oral histories and a visit to the Berea College Special Collections and Archives. We were also, of course, treated to his delightful stories and intriguing memories of the academic field in which we were entering. Little did I know at the time that Professor Dorgan, along with my other professors at ASU, set me on a career path that would one day come full circle when I started working as a public historian in the Department of History and Philosophy at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.

The Appalachian Studies Association Records at Berea College proved to be vital to my class’s efforts to recover institutional memory. This was my first true archival research adventure. I had survived Dr. Fred Hay’s intense Bibliography and Research course well enough and was not necessarily nervous about working in an archive, although I did feel slightly intimidated. Dr. Dorgan had tasked me (or perhaps I had offered—this was over twenty years ago) with researching the earliest years of the ASA following the pivotal 1976 Cratis Williams Symposium. This research I remember well, because it was during those heady years that academics and activists attempted to flesh out their creative tensions, which define the organization to this day. I also remember it for more colorful reasons; that period included the 1979 meeting at Jackson Mill, an evidently poorly insulated 4H camp in West Virginia where conference attendees nearly froze. Attesting to the severity of the conditions, one document from camp officials alleged that somebody had stolen four blankets from the premises.

Frigid conferences aside, it was the creative tension between academics and activists that likely left the biggest impression on me as I entered into academic work. I chose public history because professors like Dr. Dorgan had imparted upon me the necessity of doing scholarly research that mattered to my community and my region. The field of public history has an origin story very similar to that of the ASA. Although the field itself has deeper roots, public history’s contemporary manifestation was born of sixties-era social movements and new social historians’ desire to meet the demands of marginalized groups rightly insisting on the democratization of historical knowledge. These historians strove to share, rather than assert, scholarly authority, a mission echoed by many of the early Appalachian Studies scholars.

In light of the conflict that erupted at the 2018 Appalachian Studies Conference in Cincinnati between young activists and established scholars, it appears that it may be time to revisit this component of our institutional history.[1] As a public historian, I can also say that for our organization to live up to its democratic roots, it is imperative that we attend to the preservation, processing, digitization, and accessibility of the Association’s records. Archivist Lori Meyers-Steele’s appeal to Appalachian Curator readers, and to the ASA, to implement a regular retention schedule and develop an online content management system is both timely and consistent with the organization’s dynamic history.

[1] Y’ALL, “Y’ALL Statement Regarding J.D. Vance Roundtable,” Open Letter to ASA Leadership, Urban Appalachian Community Coalition, Wendy Welch, ASA Membership, April 20, 2018, email in author’s possession.




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