Stereotypes don’t just apply to people. If asked to think of products from Appalachia, people are inclined to imagine objects that are rustic, quaint, homespun, or simple, but many things made in the region break this stereotype. This website highlights many examples.
During the summer of 2013 a student curator and I challenged ourselves to fill the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center exhibit cases with artifacts that were not:
This proved to be an interesting exercise in several ways:
First, it was not difficult. The material world of Appalachia is filled with many kinds of artifacts. We simply had to broaden our framework and consider what people were making in factories, inventing in laboratories, and taking from the ground besides coal. We had to look at ways that Appalachia was actively participating in American and global life. When we did, the possibilities seemed endless.
Second, we were still under the shadow of coal. While we purposefully omitted objects directly connected to coal mining and coaltown life, much of the remainder of Appalachian material culture is still touched by coal, oil, and natural gas. Many of the objects we identified, such as automotive antifreeze, glass marbles, nuclear fuel, women's lingerie, and even camera film, are connected to coal through its byproducts, derivatives, or simply by abundant cheap energy.
Third, we met diverse people within the Appalachian experience. Artifacts, by definition, are connected to people. When we broadened the range of artifacts we considered, we broadened the groups of people we encountered, including African American slaves in the salt furnaces, Flemish and French glassworkers, English and German chemists, and the working women of the Oak Ridge facility.
Use the tabs above to explore some artifacts from Appalachia besides cabins, crafts, and coal.
Yes, all those things are artifacts. An artifact is anything made, altered, or used by human beings. It does not have to be old or valuable. Artifacts even include things like the houses, fences, and a human-altered landscape.
Explorations using artifacts are called material culture studies. Human lives are filled with artifacts. We can learn a lot about people, their lives, and the places they live and work by looking at the artifacts. Sometimes the artifacts tell us things written sources and memories do not.