NEWPORT, R.I. – Residents of the southern Appalachians were once part of Thomas Jefferson’s yeoman aristocracy, independent farmers who had a genius for self-government. But by the turn of the century, East Coast intellectuals considered them to be hicks and hillbillies.
In presenting “Where do Hillbillies Come From, Mommy?,” Dr. Charles Watkins, professor of cultural and historic preservation, will discuss how this transformation took place at 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 24 in the McKillop Library.
His talk is free and open to the public. A reception will follow his presentation.
The founding director of the Appalachian Cultural Museum at Appalachian State University, Watkins says that as America went through a series of massive changes following the Civil War, including urbanization and industrialization, mountaineers were increasingly isolated from the new centers of culture.
Movements supported by urbanites, including the Craft and Colonial revivals, identified mountain dwellers as repositories of old ways, primarily on the basis of the retention of older speech patterns and craft skills. One influential university president referred to them as “our contemporary ancestors.”
By the 1920s, mountaineers had become identified with a material culture universe that included log cabins, quilts, dulcimers and other objects thought at the time to date to colonial times. Federal programs such as the Blue Ridge Parkway helped to solidify these stereotypes, which live on in the form of Li'l Abner, Jed Clampett and the Duke family.
Watkins is a graduate of Mars Hill College and holds a doctorate in American cultural history and museum studies from the University of Delaware. He previously served as the director of the Erie Historical Museum and as director of graduate and undergraduate public history programs and the Appalachian Cultural Museum at Appalachian State University.