Year of Publication

2014

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

History

First Advisor

Dr. Ronald Eller

Second Advisor

Dr. Dwight Billings

Abstract

Appalshop, a multi-media and arts organization in Whitesburg, Kentucky emerged in 1969 at the crossroads of several different developments. It started as a War on Poverty program and its history exhibits the contradictory ideologies that fueled that effort and the political changes that forestalled it. The production company began in the midst of technological advances in media and is an early example of the democratization of technology and the potential of portable video equipment in affecting social change. Most importantly, its genesis is located within the context of a renewed interest in Appalachian history and culture and the related issues of negotiating regional cultural identity in the American national context. This one small organization in Eastern Kentucky provides a window to a wide slice of American history and culture in the midst of profound changes.

Throughout the twentieth century the Appalachian region has been repeatedly characterized in mainstream American culture in an overtly negative light. Appalshop played an integral role in countering these characterizations and the stereotypes they generated and reinforced. Technology became more accessible the second half of the twentieth century. As a result, Appalshop was able to challenge these negative perceptions of the region in the national mind by placing cameras, printing capabilities, drama, and visual art in the hands of Appalachians. This allowed them to speak for themselves—first to each other and eventually to the nation.

This dissertation focuses on the founding of the Community Film Workshop of Appalachia, the subsequent abandonment of the project by the federal government, the acquisition of control over its artistic output by artists and staff members, and its expansion between 1969 and 1984. It also addresses the significant role Appalshop played in the burgeoning Appalachian social movement context that emerged concurrently with its founding and its related role as a social change organization.

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