Challenging the Stereotypes of Appalachian Material Culture
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:
- Objects from the isolated mountain cabin homestead experience,
- Handicrafts made in the region, nor
- Objects from coal mines or coal camps.
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.
Artifacts in this Exhibit
All artifact images Copyright Berea College 2013
Are all those things artifacts?
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, thier 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.
About This Guide - Exhibit Project
This guide is based on the "Made In Appalachia: Beyond Cabins, Crafts, and Coal" exhibit/collections project produced during summer/fall of 2013 for the main gallery of the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center at Berea College. Student Curatorial Associate Joey Shephard did most of the initial research and artifact selection. Student Curatorial Assistant Caroline Hughes did the artifact photography and produced this guide in fall 2013. Student Curatorial Associate Matt Heil served as collections registrar. Christopher Miller was the supervising curator.
All artifact and specimen images Copyright Berea College 2013, 2014
All Guides in the Series
- Artifact Collections at Berea College
- Coverlets in the Appalachian Collections
- Dolly Parton Pinball Machine in the Appalachian Collections
- Hillbilly Stereotype Objects in the Appalachian Collections
- Made in Appalachia: Beyond Cabins, Crafts, and Coal
- Mountain Dulcimers in the Appalachian Collection
- Quilts in the Appalachian Collections
- Selected Artifacts in the Edna Lynn Simms / East Tennessee Sub-Collection
The Appalachian Studies Artifacts Teaching Collection is under the care of the curator in the Appalachian Center. For additional infomation, or to access the collection, contact the curator.