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Visualizing Appalachia

Scioto County is certainly a part of Appalachia. We hear it all the time.

But, what exactly is Appalachia? What does it encompass?

Appalachia is identified as a cultural region of the Eastern United States that stretches from the southern tip of New York down through Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and finally to the northern sections of Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama. Approximately 25 million people call the Appalachian region home.

Scholars tend to view Appalachia as impoverished and lacking opportunity, which is perhaps a by-product of the exploitation wrought by logging, mining, and manufacturing companies now long gone. Unfortunately, many Americans seem to view the residents of Appalachia as simple stereotypes, thinking them uneducated, unrefined, and stubbornly resistant to change.

But the Shawnee State University Department of Social Sciences is looking to change that narrative. To that end, they have decided to host a two-day event entitled ‘Visualizing Appalachia: Appalachian Studies in the Digital Age’.

“Intense media coverage, academic knowledge-building, and popular image production conceptualize and visualize the Appalachian region,” writes Program Director and SSU English Professor Janet Feight. “But seldom do these processes involve the sort of accurate, diverse, and nuanced engagements that we hope to advance, in part, through our event. Of particular interest for this gathering is the challenge that may be posed to mainstream narratives and perspectives through the digital humanities and digital arts.”

The two-day Symposium kicks off on Thursday, April 12th at 8AM at Shawnee State University’s East Ballroom in the Rita Rice Morris University Center. It will feature two days of sessions, workshops, speakers, documentary screenings, exhibits, art installations, and a driving tour of Shawnee Forest- all with the permeating theme of exploring the reality of Appalachia.

Registration for the symposium is $30. However, the event also features several opportunities for the public to take part free of charge. Visualizing Portsmouth: Local Photography and Images of the River City begins Friday at 4PM. It is conveyed by SSU History Professor and photographer Dr. Andrew Feight and also features the photography of locals Roy Green, Eli Allen, Michael Toller, and Toni Dengel. Their images counter the well-worn depictions of Portsmouth and the larger Appalachian region that appears in the national media outlets while illustrating the role local artists play in documenting the city and the life of the community at large.

“Photographic depictions of Portsmouth and Appalachia too often contribute to popular stereotypes and misconceptions about the region and its residents,” said Feight. “‘Drive by shootings’ by outside photographers and journalists (sent here by national and international media outlets) tend to focus on images of poverty, drug addiction, and decay. Local photographers, on the other hand, have long been capturing a more balanced and accurate depiction of the community and its struggles. We hope the symposium helps shine light on the work of local and regional photographers who capture both the wealth and poverty, the beauty and decay, the old and the new that we all experience living in Appalachian Ohio.”

A free screening of the highly praised Netflix documentary “Heroin(e)” caps off Thursday’s session at 7:30PM. “Heroin(e)” examines the opioid crisis in Huntington, West Virginia and is curated by Cody Leightenheimer of the Counseling Center.

Roger May will close out the event with a keynote lecture entitled ‘How to get home again’. May is a photographer and writer based in Charleston, West Virginia. He was born in the Tug River Valley located on the border of West Virginia and Kentucky in the heart of what has become known as Hatfield and McCoy country. His photographs, essays, and interviews have been published in the New York Times, The Guardian, The Atlantic, and National Geographic. In 2014, May started the crowd sourced ‘looking at Appalachia’ project to diversify the visual identity of the region.

The entire community is invited to attend the keynote address, which Dr. Andrew Feight describes as a ‘don’t miss event.’

To check out May’s work visit or

To view the full listing of sessions, events, and speakers, or, for registration information visit

“The symposium is a great opportunity for people in the Portsmouth community to come to campus and learn about the latest research on our local community and larger Appalachian region,” said Dr. Janet Feight. “It’s an opportunity to hear and see how scholars, photographers, students, and educators are engaging the issues facing our city and region. Additionally, the symposium attracts participants from outside the area who will be visiting the city, exploring its streets, restaurants and shops, while sharing their scholarship and creative works on this region we call home.”

To coincide with the event, Shawnee State University just announced it will be offering a new Digital Appalachian Studies Certificate program in the fall of 2018.

“It has been personally and professionally fulfilling in many ways to develop a new digital liberal arts curriculum and program focusing on the region and Appalachia,” said Dr. Andrew Feight. “And, it has been over a year in the making. I appreciate all the help and support…the plan has always been to time the launch of the new certificate with an inaugural symposium on Appalachian studies in the digital age. And we are doing it!”









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