Before there was an Appalachian Studies Association, there was an annual Appalachian Studies Conference (ASC). The ASA is actually a result of the activism, discussion, and organizing of various groups centered on the study of Appalachian life, culture, and scholarship ranging from the Council on the Southern Mountains in 1900 to the Cratis D. Williams Symposium in Boone, NC, in 1976 (Brown et. al 31). Formed in 1978, the ASC continued the work that was begun by Appalachian activists and scholars in the early 1900s (30).
Appalachian Studies Conference
The founding meeting of the ASC, held at Berea College in Kentucky and convened by Richard Drake, was used to plan for the first conference. Thirty scholars and activists attended the meeting and worked together to establish the goals of what would become an annual conference (35). From 1985 to 1993, this was supplemented with an Appalachian Studies Youth Conference, based on the Foxfire Youth Groups, which encouraged high school students to get involved with regional activism (56). Unfortunately, the Youth Conference was dissolved after several years of financial difficulty and low attendance, but ASA members have discussed the possibility of bringing back the conferences in the future (57-59). The ASC has provided a place for diverse participants—those who promote the study of the region and those who promote action in the region.
The Journal of Appalachian Studies
The first version of the publication which would become the Journal of Appalachian Studies, one of the main channels through which the ASA promotes scholarship, simply included a selection of papers presented at the conference and was entitled “Proceedings.” In order to encourage library subscriptions, the name was changed to the Journal of the Appalachian Studies Association (JASA) in 1989 (45-46). The name was changed again to the current name, the Journal of Appalachian Studies (JAS), in 1994 when the ASC became the ASA and moved into an office at West Virginia University’s Regional Research Institute. The JAS now includes submissions of articles, essays, and studies as well as regular features including teaching notes, an annual Appalachian studies bibliography, and book reviews. Papers included do not have to be presented at the annual conference to be included in the Journal, and submissions come from a wide array of disciplines.
Appalachian Studies Association
In 1985, the ASC began to take the shape of a formal association when the Agenda Committee became a Steering Committee. After about ten years of holding annual Appalachian Studies Conferences, the ASC was renamed the Appalachian Studies Association in 1987. The ASC shifted its focus from solely producing an annual conference to becoming an association that hosts an annual conference and promotes scholarship and activism in the Appalachian region. Before the ASC became the ASA, it worked with several other organizations to meet its financial and administrative needs (46-47). From 1980-1991, the administration and finances of the Appalachian Studies Conferences were primarily handled by the Appalachian Consortium and ETSU’s Center Appalachian Studies and Services (44-46). ASC then decided that it sorely needed its own main office, administrative staff, and funding for conference and publication expenses. Although the organization decided to change its name from the “Appalachian Studies Conference” to the “Appalachian Studies Association” in 1983, it did not become official until the organization was reincorporated in 1984 and then gained tax-exempt status in 1994.
The first main office was located at West Virginia University in Morgantown, WV, where the first paid staff --Susan Lewis, Deborah Weiner, and Ron Lewis—handled conference registrations, conference planning, and published the Journal (62-63). In July 2001, the office was moved to its current site, Marshall University in Huntington, WV, and is now run by Executive Director Mary Thomas and part-time staff.
Although the ASA has become an independent, non-profit organization with a large membership, it still occasionally partners with other Appalachian-focused groups. The Annual Appalachian Studies Conference has been co-sponsored numerous times by different organizations and academic institutions (44-45). More recently, in 2009, the ASA announced a Memorandum for Partnership with the Appalachian Regional Commission to “collaborate in activities and take actions to benefit the Appalachian people, their region, and their communities."
ASA and ASC in the 21st Century
The association continues to host the Annual Appalachian Studies Conference with a rotation pattern of northern, central, and then southern Appalachian locations. Attendance has grown to an average of 600-700 activists, academics, students, and exhibitors each year. The conference has expanded to include even more presentations and conference activities including student gatherings, readings, tours, and musical events. Plenary sessions take place before concurrent sessions so that participants can stay connected as they explore their specific interests.
The association now focuses on sustainability for the future. A Long-Range Plan was implemented in 2008 to ensure that the ASA has solid goals for the future and planned means for implementing these goals. Each year, the ASA President chooses 3 goals to focus on during his or her term of office. The Steering Committee then works with the President to see that these goals are met during that year.
The ASA still struggles with issues such as smoothly running a growing organization and making room for both scholars and activists, but it continues to function as a driving force behind sustaining and sharing the Appalachian region of the United States. According to Tice, Billings, and Banks, the ASA has become a “conversation” about the region. This is achieved through the dedication of both activists and scholars alike who donate their time, effort, and resources to their communities.
Brown, Logan, Theresa Burchett-Anderson, Donovan Cain, Jinny Turman Deal, and Howard Dorgan. “Where Have We Been? Where Are We Going? A History of the Appalachian Studies Association.” Appalachian Journal 31.1 (Fall 2003): 30-85.
Tice, Karen, Billings, Dwight, and Alan Banks. “Sustaining Our Region-Wide Conversation: Founding Hopes and Future Possibilities of the ASA.” 15th Annual Appalachian Studies Conference. Asheville, NC. March 1992.