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The Parthenon

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Editorial: Students get in touch with roots through Appalachian studies, history


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Appalachia is a region in the United States that consists of 13 states, stretching from parts of northern Alabama and southern New York. In 2010, the Population Reference Bureau reported there were 25.2 million people living in the 420 counties within the area.

West Virginia has a unique privilege when it comes to its location. It is the only state that lays entirely within Appalachian. West Virginians are really bonded to their regional identity — these identities are strong and tie in directly to how citizens act on a daily basis; the colloquialisms, the recipes they make and the way they interact with their neighbors.

Marshall University helps Appalachians sink into their ever-winding roots and help discover the history of Appalachia on a daily basis. Through the department of history, students have the opportunity to enroll in some Appalachian Studies programs. There currently exists a certificate program for undergraduates — this one specifically has courses regarding culture, language and Appalachian society. Some higher level courses include Appalachian politics, West Virginia history and two Appalachian field experience courses.

Through reading, discussing and writing about the experiences of Appalachians before them, students are bettering their minds and potentially their family connections.

A lot of West Virginians have deep roots in the state and the world for that matter; West Virginia specifically was a melting pot. Immigrants from all over the world settled in company mining communities, making company money and struggling with poverty for their entire lives. If there’s one thing people who take those courses learn, its absolutely a better understanding and sympathy of how Appalachian life truly was. Thinking from that perspective, things might not even appear as bad as some areas’ current status.

Additionally, the thought that some students have access to living history is spectacular. Grandparents and great grandparents who are still with their families have history flowing in their veins. These men and women are full of knowledge — they can tell others how to find morels, play the mandolin or how to cook the best pepperoni rolls (in their specific area.) Sitting down with elders, as cliché as it may sound to some, is really one of the best ways outside of the classroom to insert oneself into past Appalachia.

Even if it’s trivial information, like how they used the bathroom, washed their clothes or raised cattle, it is important to hear about and try to learn from.

Again, regardless of what people like to say, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Appalachians have overcome a lot in the past and has a lot to deal with in the years to come. The region is still somewhat rich in natural resources, making it a prime location for companies and people to set their sights on and sometimes ravage. Learning about those who came before is essential to being a good Appalachian and tying oneself into that previously mentioned regional identity.

The stories and photo albums kept by those dear to us can be the key to overcoming even the most serious of challenges. Preachers may tell their congregation that dark times are coming, but the lantern of knowledge is held by many and its light is bright. Very bright.

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