Mapping My Appalachia

Earlier in the semester Dr. Chris Green asked me to sit in on one of his classroom lectures, and as sat there I couldn’t help but notice a stunning display of over 20 hand-drawn maps of student’s hometowns in Appalachia covering the back wall. I spent time studying these maps, keen to see where the students were from, what places were important to them, and how they expressed that in their map design. I was transported back to when I was in 7th grade and obsessed with making my own maps. At one point I even drew each and every continent (complete with all the countries!) This wall inspired me to make my own map of Appalachia, but first I needed to learn more about this project.

These maps were a result of Dr. Bobby Starnes’ Appalachian Cultures class, which is designed to help students to see Appalachia as being made up of many and diverse cultures. When I asked Bobby to expand more on the class she said, “We cover (and uncover) the histories of Appalachian cultures. I focus on unexpected historical events. For example, when we study the Indian Removal, we focus on those Appalachians who opposed the removal and even hid Cherokee so they could avoid the removal. (And that the Cherokee are the first Appalachians.)”

I asked Bobby to tell me a bit more about the maps. She said, “The purpose of the maps is to ground what we learn in students’ real lives and real places. They also serve as a bonding element for students as they share where they are from.”

As I learned more about this project I also discovered that this project of Appalachian’s mapping their own hometowns dates back all the way to 1948 when Art Professor Les Pross taught the “Man and Humanities” course from 1948-1980. He saved over 7,000 of the maps students drew, over 700 of which are now made available to view through Mappalachia, a website designed through a course taught by Dr. Jan Pearce and Dr. Chad Berry called “Mapping Appalachia: Making Meaning with Digital Media.” The goals of the class were to teach students the context behind many of the drawings, to teach students how to “read” the images from various theoretical perspectives, and to design and construct a website that would make the drawings accessible to scholars and to the public.

Finally I turned to Bobby Starne’s directions on how to make a map of my own Appalachia and got to work! Creating this map revived so many happy memories of places and people that make this little town I live in feel like home. This exercise is cathartic, rooting you to a sense of place. I encourage everyone, from Appalachia or not, to participate and make their own map of home. The instructions are below.  If you post your map to social media, please tag us #ljac or #mappalachia.  Have fun!


Article Written by Heather Dent