Ethnographic Field School in Southern Appalachia
Susan E. Keefe
Department of Anthropology
Appalachian State University
Boone, NC 28608
In July, 1997, I led my first ethnographic field school in the Appalachian region. An ethnographic field school allows students to gain an appreciation for ethnography by doing ethnography, that is by using the techniques of the anthropologist (principally participant observation and interviewing) in order to describe and understand the meaning of a people's way of life. Students in the field school were placed with host families in Alleghany County with whom they lived for four weeks. Once-a-week class meetings and individual weekly meetings with each student provided the framework for instruction. But for the most part, students learned by living and talking to members of their host family and the family's relatives, friends, and neighbors.
The research papers in this collection were produced by the six students, undergraduates or recent college graduates, in the field school. While each paper investigates only a single aspect of life in Alleghany County, North Carolina (the site for the field school), the collection as a whole gives us some insight into the culture of this rural Appalachian county. Alleghany County lies in the northwestern corner of North Carolina (see Map 1). It has one of the smallest populations of any county in the state (9,591 in 1990), and the county seat, Sparta (population 1,957), is the only town in the county. The economy is based on agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism. The Blue Ridge Parkway winds along the southern boundary of the county, introducing tourists since the 1930's to the natural beauty of the area.
Individuals who assisted students' research through interviews are not identified by name but, rather, by pseudonym. Ethical guidelines for anthropologists require that confidentiality be guaranteed to informants in order to protect their privacy and welfare. For the same reason, some place names have been altered. I would like to thank Phil Noblitt and the Blue Ridge Parkway for grant assistance in funding research and printing costs encumbered in this project. I would also like to thank Brent Pennington who allowed the class to meet weekly at the Blue Ridge Parkway Maintenance Station in Laurel Springs. Special gratitude is also extended to Professor Elvin Hatch who assisted students in many ways during the field school. Finally, I want to thank the host families who invited my students into their homes and their lives and gave them a taste of southern hospitality.
Susan E. Keefe
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