Course name:

Hillbilly Highway: Appalachia and America

Department, course #, level: American Studies 63, undergraduate
Semester(s) and year(s) taught (without significant variation): Fall 1997
Institution: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Instructor(s): David Whisnant


Junior seminar

Fall 1997

Hillbilly Highway: Appalachia and America

Dr. Whisnant



Purposes of the Course:

  • To introduce you to the history, politics, and culture of the Appalachian region
  • To interrogate the pervasive cultural and other stereotypes associated with the region
  • To explore the relationships between Appalachia and dominant discourses and institutions


Course materials list:

    Durwood Dunn, Cade's Cove: The Life and Death of a Southern Appalachian Community, 1818-1937
    Ronald D. Eller, Miners, Millhands and Mountaineers

    Steven Fisher, Fighting Back in Appalachia

    Lon Savage, Thunder in the Mountains: The West Virginia Mine War 1920-21

    David E. Whisnant, Modernizing the Mountaineer: People, Power, and Planning in Appalachia

    David E. Whisnant, All That Is Native and Fine: The Politics of Culture in an American Region

    Selected materials on reserve

    Selected films [all titles mentioned are in Non-Print section of UNC undergraduate library]

Some General Online Resources:

Course Requirements:

    You will be responsible for completing the following components of work in the course.  Percentages of your final grade for each component are indicated in parentheses.

     1. You will make yourself an expert on one Appalachian county or city during the semester (see Instructions) [33%].  You will present the results of what you are learning in a series of mini-reports at indicated points during the semester.  

    2. You will take a mid-term examination that will cover all required readings and class discussions [20%].
    3. You will complete one small research project, using primarily World Wide Web materials [7%].

    4. You will prepare carefully for class discussions, and participate actively in them [15%].

    5.  The final examination will count 25%/

Class Sessions

        The following class sessions are grouped around five broad topics:

    Defining the Region (5 classes)
    Population (6 classes)

    Economy (9 classes)

    Cultural Politics (3 classes)

    Music (5 classes)

1. Introduction

2. Defining the Region I: How do you know when you are there?:

3. Defining the Region II: Questions That Are Useful, and Some That Are Not

4. Population I: The First Appalachian People: the Cherokees and others

5. Population II: White Mountaineers: Who came, from where, and when?

        Draft #1 of City/County report due [See Instructions]

6. Economy I: The Preindustrial Economy and the Buying/Selling of the Mountains

7. Music I: Ballads

8. Economy II: Turnpikes, Hot Springs, and Railroad Hotels: Early Tourism

 9. Defining the Region III: Mountaineers in Genteel Magazines: Local Color

10. Economy III: Tumult on the Mountains: Lumbering

11. Music II: Fiddle tunes

12. Economy IV: Birth and Growth of the Coal Industry

13. Defining the Region IV: Yellow Journalism and the Feuds

14. Population III: Churches

15. Cultural Politics I: All That Is Native and Fine: Settlement Schools and Festivals

    Whisnant, All That Is Native and Fine:
        Introduction, pp. 5-16

        Chap. 1: Culture and Social Change at Hindman Settlement School, pp. 17-101

    Paper due on historical coal mining statistics (class 12 material above)

16. Economy V: Bloody Harlan and Blair Mountain: The UMWA and the Mine Wars

17. Mid-term examination (Tuesday, October 14)


18. Music III: String Bands

19. Population IV: Non-whites

20. Cultural Politics II: L'il Abner and Other Hillbillies: Print and material culture stereotypes

21. Economy VI: Strip Away, Big D-9 Dozer: Technological Change and Decline in the Coal Industry

22. Population V: Hillbilly Highway: Outmigration

23. Music IV: Commercial Country Music and Appalachia

24: Economy VII: Federal Development Programs (1)

    Whisnant, Modernizing the Mountaineer:
        Chap. 2: The Tennessee Valley Authority, pp. 43-69

    Dunn, Cade's Cove:

        Chap. 9: Progressivism and Prohibition, pp. 221-40

    Tennessee Valley Authority (1933-) [click "About Us" button]

    The Blue Ridge Parkway virtual visitor's center

25. Economy VIII: Federal Development Programs (2)

    Whisnant, Modernizing the Mountaineer:
        Chap. 4: Appalachia and the War on Poverty, pp. 92-125

        Chaps. 5-6: The Appalachian Regional Commission, pp. 126-82

    Recommended film: Appalachia: Rich Land, Poor People (1968; 59 min.; V1383)

26. Economy IX: Later Tourism

    Dunn, Cade's Cove:
        Chap. 10: Death by Eminent Domain, pp. 241-54

        Epilogue, pp. 255-57

    Brief writing assignment:

      Go to the National Park Service "Enhanced Cade's Cove Pages":
              Click on "Cultural History."  Read this page carefully and compare the NPS interpretation of Cade's Cove and its history with what you have learned  from Durwood Dunn's book and from this course.  Write a 4-6 pp. paper presenting your observations and analysis.


27. Defining the Region V: Revisionist Paradigms

    Fisher, Fighting Back in Appalachia:
        Glen, "Like a Flower Slowly Blooming: Highlander and the Nurturing of an Appalachian Movement," pp. 31-56

       Banks, Billings, and Tice, "Appalachian Studies, Resistance, and Postmodernism," pp. 283-301

        Fisher, "Conclusion: New Populist Theory and the Study of Dissent in Appalachia," pp. 317-38

28. Population VI: "From Fussin' to Organizing": Individual vs.Organized Opposition

    Fisher, Fighting Back in Appalachia:
        Cable, "From Fussin' to Organizing: Individual and Collective Resistance on Yellow Creek," pp. 69-84

        Sessions and Ansley, "Singing Across Dark Spaces: The . . . Takeover of Pittston's Moss 3," pp. 195-224

       Anglin, "Engendering the Struggle: Women's Labor and Traditions of Resistance," pp. 263-282

    Recommended film: Appalachian Film Workshop, Chemical Valley (1991)

            This film draws a comparison between the disaster at Union Carbide's Bhopal, India plant and their plant at Institute, WV, which manufactures the same chemical.  Extensive interviews with Institute residents.

29. Music V: Music of Opposition and Revitalization

    Fisher, Fighting Back in Appalachia:
      Carawan, "Sowing on the Mountain: Nurturing Cultural Roots . . . ," pp. 245-62
       Foster, "Politics, Expressive Form, and Historical Knowledge," pp. 303-16


30. Cultural Politics III: Appalachia in Hollywood Films

      Some sample titles of hillbilly films:

      The Scarlet Drop [a.k.a. Hill Billy] (1918)
      The Hill Billy (1924)
      Hillbilly Blitzkrieg (1942) 

      Hillbilly Hare (1950)

      Hillbillys in a Haunted House (1967)

      The Las Vegas Hillbillys (1966)

      The Legend of Hillbilly John (1973)


Note on final examination
 Copyright 1997 by David E. Whisnant


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