As the director of the “Exploring the Legacies of Appalshop Oral History Project,” I’ve accumulated an amazing number of debts over five years of work. People did work for the project, contributed resources toward the project, or trusted me as an interviewer as I pursued my own work.
I want to express my profound appreciation to everyone listed below. To anyone not listed below who helped me along, thank you, too (and sorry for overlooking your name!).
Jeffrey A. Keith
My first interview was with Helen Matthews Lewis, and we spoke back in early 2015. She is one of my heroes, and I approached that interview with an abundance of anxiety and far too many questions. She hosted me in her Abingdon, Virginia, home on the evening before the interview, putting me at ease with her legendary recipe for an old fashioned and her charm. Still, my interview with her was a doozy--over three hours long and overstuffed with my curiosity.
I was learning by doing, and Helen’s grace, generosity, wisdom, and patience educated me about the work ahead. Many subsequent interviewees talked about how Lewis, during her long career as an educator, empowered others by encouraging them to pursue their interests through work with their communities--what people now call experiential education.
I want to thank Helen Matthews Lewis and all my other interviewees for the experiential education they provided me as I progressed through this work over the better part of five years. Below are the names of people who sat with me for interviews between 2015 and 2019.
Caron Atlas, Carl Banks, Beth Bingman, Henriette Brouwers, Matt Carter, Dudley Cocke, Dee Davis, Scott Faulkner, Andy Garrison, Ben Gish, Arlene Goldbard, Jamie Haft, Tom Hansell, Judi Jennings, Lily Keber, Amelia Kirby, Rich Kirby, Anne Lewis, Helen Lewis, John Malpede, Marty Newell, Julien Nitzberg, Gurney Norman, John O’Neal, Mimi Pickering, Alessandro Portelli, Donna Porterfield, Brett Ratliff, Bill Richardson, Josephine Richardson, Sylvia Ryerson, Ron Short, Nick Slie, Herb E. Smith, Frank Taylor, Jim Webb, Edward Wemytewa, Jack Willis, Robert Wisdom, and Jack Wright.
At a fundamental level, this project exists only because of the people listed above.
Large-scale projects require institutional support, and this project was made possible by an array of organizations.
I am a professor of global studies at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, North Carolina. It is a residential liberal arts college that balances work, service, and academics to offer a distinctive approach to higher education. It is also a beautiful place, where I find emotional and financial support for my various interests and endeavors. Warren Wilson College provided me with essential funding, equipment, training, and flexibility as I got this project off the ground in 2014 and, particularly, during a sabbatical over the 2015-2016 academic year.
Of course, Appalshop is the sun around which all of my work orbited, and I appreciate the encouragement I received from several Appalshoppers as well as the institution itself. Rich Kirby had been a friend to me before this project began because we knew each other through the old-time music community, and he talked me through my interest in studying Appalshop, directing me toward people who might find this project valuable. In 2014, Ada Smith met with me at the Appalachian Studies Association conference at Marshall University, and she helped me establish an arrangement with Appalshop, allowing me to use Appalshop headquarters for a selection of interviews. She and others at Appalshop provided me with an initial list of interviewees that got me started on this adventure. Finally, Ada sent me several notes of encouragement along the way, and I received them with heartfelt appreciation. (To learn more about my thinking, generally, on Appalshop as a result of conducting these interviews, please read my project essay, “The Past, Present, and Future of a Possibility.”)
A steadfast partner in this project, the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky provided me with an array of critical resources and support over the last five years. I cannot say enough fine things about Doug Boyd, the Director of the Nunn Center and a tireless champion of oral history and, especially, digital oral history. He has impressed me at every turn with his patience, tenacity, and commitment. He is a consummate professional, a friend, a technological wizard, and a gifted musician, to boot. His coworkers at the Nunn Center, especially Kopana Terry and Danielle Gabbard, helped me along as I learned the ropes of digital oral history and especially the Nunn Center’s innovative and open source Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS) platform--which gives this website its functionality as a research tool. Most importantly, Doug, Kopana, Danielle, and their team of workers assisted me by indexing the interviews for this project. Doug, in the end, built this Omeka-powered, OHMS-integrated website with all the component pieces, and that proved a herculean effort. I am humbled by the work and resources the University of Kentucky invested into this project, and that work stands as a testament to the high value UK places on marking the occasion of Appalshop’s fiftieth anniversary.
Importantly, I received a Wilma Dykeman Stokely and Jean Ritchie Research Fellowship from the Appalachian College Association. This generous fellowship provided me with time away from the Warren Wilson College classroom over the 2015-2016 academic year. It was an honor to get to know the professional staff of the ACA, and on a personal note, I will forever cherish having the names Wilma Dykeman Stokely and Jean Ritchie on my resume. Both of these women led inspirational lives, and they are symbolic of the two places that mean the most to me: Kentucky and North Carolina.
Finally, I twice received generous Project Grants from the Kentucky Oral History Commission. Part of the Kentucky Historical Society, the KOHC funds projects about or pertaining to the Bluegrass State, and their funding provided me with resources for travel, allowing this project to incorporate the perspectives of people who no longer live in Eastern Kentucky or Western North Carolina. Working with the KOHC, I was met at once with professionalism and kindness. I appreciated both qualities, and I valued the material support the KOHC’s Project Grants provided me.
In 2014, I attended a conference on oral history in California. I wanted to learn about the field, and I figured that going to the West Coast would assure I would learn about people doing great work in faraway places. In the very first session I attended, someone said in a matter-of-fact way that the University of Kentucky was the leader in digital oral history. I was surprised because Doug Boyd, who transformed UK’s Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History into a leader in digital oral history, arrived in Lexington the same year I had left Lexington. I was pleased that Doug Boyd served as an oral history and archival advisor and overall project consultant. In both capacities, he excelled, and I was fortunate to gain from his assistance throughout.
Ronald D Eller was a project consultant, and this was a continuation of his role as my primary graduate school advisor. Ron and his wife Jane hosted me at their Haywood County cabin for conversations about my work. Once I called Ron for advice, and he answered his phone as he was motoring his way through the Everglades to go fishing. He said he was lost, but he sounded happy to be lost in such a beautiful swamp. He gave me the advice I needed before the call dropped. Ron is the quintessential southern historian, the Dean of Appalachian historians, and an all-around solid person.
Mark Essig, another project consultant, offered excellent perspective as a historian who studies topics that pertain to Appalachia but move well-beyond the mountains he and I both call home. Mark jokes that I am his agent because of how often I tell people about his amazing books. (But seriously, go read his books!) He demonstrated his editorial talents and generosity on hundreds of occasions--asking me over for dinner quite regularly and talking about the project with me since even before it was a fully formed idea. He never tired of the work, and he always looked over my writing along the way. I hold Mark in the highest regard, and I’m glad to call him my friend. Also, he had me over for a mind-boggling number of family dinners, and sometimes I stuck around afterward to chat with his wife, to play guitar with his son, or to watch a TV show with his daughter. They all helped boost my spirits as I worked my way through this project.
Formerly a research librarian at Warren Wilson College (and now a librarian at the Maine School of Art), Heather Stewart Harvey provided me with an astonishing amount of support as a filmmaking consultant. She co-taught a course with me on Appalachian documentaries, and she educated me about how to use film equipment. Beyond that, she and her lovely family had me over for more family dinners than I can count. Heather’s high standards inspire me, and she knows how to make me laugh, too. I miss having her as a colleague, but she left her mark on me and this entire project. The flaws in this project have nothing to do with Heather, but she deserves credit for anything perceived as high-quality.
In the summer of 2014 I attended the Advanced Oral History Summer Institute of the Oral History Center of the Bancroft Library at the University of California-Berkeley (formerly the Regional Oral History Office). Shanna Farrell, especially, helped me to design an approach to the oral history of Appalshop--emphasizing the value of gathering people’s life stories rather than focusing exclusively on institutional history. I benefited mightily, also, from the insights and marvelous company provided by Lisa Godson, a fellow student at the summer institute.
A team of four Warren Wilson College students helped me review and organize my materials, and I enjoyed their insights regarding my work as well as their careful attention to the details of the work’s presentation. Leo Shannon, particularly, became a sounding board for me, and his perspective on the overall work made his input invaluable during the final stage of this project. Aspen Reynolds, too, worked very closely with me on a number of tasks--notably in compiling and editing the website’s trailer; the trailer’s soundtrack owes a great deal to Leo’s skills as a fiddler as well. (You can view the project trailer on this website.) Aspen also helped shepherd the efforts of two other students--Corina Pittman and Tashia Ethridge. Leo, Aspen, Corina, and Tashia helped me to organize materials during the spring and fall of 2019.
As mentioned above, the former Warren Wilson College research librarian Heather Stewart Harvey taught me everything from how to level a tripod to the best practices for framing a shot. Alongside me for Heather’s training sessions, Rayna Gellert learned how to operate the equipment I used for this project as well, and she filmed several of the early interviews. Her contributions of both her time and skill to the project enhanced the aesthetic quality of those interviews.
I met Kathy Newfont back when she worked at Mars Hill University, and I was thrilled when she moved to the Department of History at the University of Kentucky. She is tending to the legacy of Ron Eller and Harry Caudill by teaching courses on regional history, and her students are lucky to work with her. I know this because she always had valuable advice for me regarding my work, and I tried my best to take her good advice. I always enjoyed meeting with her to talk about this project.
Ron Pen, another University of Kentucky character and a long-time Appalshop booster, provided me with his valuable perspective on my work, the cultural history of Appalachia, and the finer things in life. Words fail me when I try to think of all the ways Ron has influenced and encouraged me, but I know he’d have at least a thousand words to describe our relationship. He is a sharp thinker, a master wordsmith, and a dear friend.
David Whisnant and Anne Mitchell Whisnant have been generous with their time, encouraging my research related to this project and others. Both have influenced my thinking about Appalachian culture and--importantly--its presentation, and it has been a thrill to get to know David, whose work figures prominently in my understanding of Appalachia’s cultural history and why it matters.
Another Warren Wilson College librarian, Brian Conlan assisted me by acquiring Appalshop’s catalog for our library, and he helped me navigate all kinds of digital snafus. He possesses a sharp wit and an elevated sense of humor. Aside from being a great friend, he is exceedingly helpful as an emerging technologies and acquisitions librarian.
Several other colleagues deserve brief mention. Chris Nugent, the Warren Wilson College library director, as well as Linda Sandino, a former faculty in the College’s MA in critical craft studies, are my fellow oral historians at work, and I enjoyed their steady encouragement along the way. Gary Hawkins helped me scrape together money from the College’s research funds, and the stunningly effective Hillie Hilliard helped me wade through our College’s bureaucracy whenever the work required it. (Gary and Hillie, together, helped me with a very thick envelope of receipts that needed sorting, and I’m indebted to them for that effort, especially.) Kevin Kehrberg, Phil Jamison, and Mark Banker shared their expertise on regional history and culture whenever I met with them, and our conversations were joyous. Along with Kevin, James Darr, Todd Frahm, David Coffey, and John “Lightning” Griffith made sure I got out of the house from time-to-time, and I cannot exaggerate my appreciation of our odd brotherhood. Rachel Haley Himmelhebber reviewed some of my interview questions as I was getting started with the work, and she offered suggestions about how I could be clearer. My three bosses from wayback when I started this work, Paula Garrett, David Abernathy, and Ben Feinberg provided me with robust administrative support. David Moore never tired of my questions about navigating cultural politics--a topic he knows well as an archeologist. Finally, Siti Kusujiarti and Brian Ammons were steady presences in my worklife, and both of them modeled a style of engagement that helped me through some difficult times.
The following people opened their homes as locations for interviews:
Caron Atlas, Carl Banks, Beth Bingman, Jeff and Emily Brittingham, Matt Carter, Dudley Cocke, Scott Faulkner, Andy Garrison, Ben Gish, Arlene Goldbard, Kristin and David Higdon, Barbara Provosty Hill, Amelia Kirby, Rich Kirby, Helen Lewis, Marty Newell, Julien Nitzberg, Brett Ratliff, Sylvia Ryerson, Ron Short, Frank Taylor, Jim Webb, Edward Wemytewa, and Jack Willis.
The following households put me up when I was on the road for interviews:
Matthew and Carrie Carter; Rich Kirby and Beth Bingman; Jeff and Emily Brittingham; Ron and Hooey Pen; Will and Jennifer Bacon; David and Kristin Higdon; Ryan and Beth Ann Keith; John Harrod and Tona Barkley; Liza and Tupper Cowan; Elizabeth Pittman; Steve Martin and Anne Stringfield; Brett Ratliff and Rebecca Gayle Howell; and Melissa Feinberg and Ken Gottesman.
Of these many people, I feel special thanks is due to the real Carter Family that resides in beautiful downtown Whitesburg, Kentucky. Thanks for providing me with such a great perch. It was a pleasure to be your roommate.
FRIENDS & FAMILY
Many friends and family members have provided me with nourishing meals, laughter, and words of motivation. You know who you are. Thank you.
Gray Caudill deserves a special shout-out for traveling through the Deep South with me when I headed down I-65 for a batch of interviews in early 2016.
I wish to thank my parents, Fred and Marilyn Keith, for their patience and love. I wouldn’t be here without them, and they always encourage me to keep going further. I’m lucky.
When I started this project, a Google search of “Appalshop” always yielded a photograph of my old friend Paul David Smith. Paul lived in Pike County, Kentucky, and he was the consummate mountain gentleman--funny, kind, thoughtful, and generous. He was also an amazing fiddler. Paul enjoyed WMMT, the old-time fiddle jams at Appalshop, and the Seedtime on the Cumberland Festival held annually at Appalshop’s headquarters in Whitesburg, Kentucky. I remember Paul frequenty, particularly while playing music. He died one day after having traveled across the country for several weeks to share his music with others. Paul stepped up to his home, said it was good to be back, and collapsed.
On the night before I interviewed Gurney Norman for this oral history project, I learned that my dear friend Trevor Stuart had died of a massive heart attack. A native of Haywood County, North Carolina, Trevor and his twin brother Travis performed banjo and fiddle duets with elegant coordination, grace and drive. It will forever be a joy to remember that sight and sound. Trevor once told me that his interest in playing traditional music had come, in part, from his enthusiasm for the Dutch Cove Old Time String Band’s album “Sycamore Tea” (June Appal 0023). Trevor was another true gentleman, and as John Hartford sang, “I wish we had our time again.”
I remember playing music with both of these men in Kentucky and North Carolina, and I cherish those memories. I also know Paul and Trevor shared my fascination with Appalshop, and I am pleased to reflect on how Appalshop played a role in celebrating the talents of these two men. That is the kind of work Appalshop does, and such efforts captured my attention and motivated me to do this work in the first place.
This project is dedicated to the memory of two master musicians from the mountains.