Taking pride in a collective Appalachian heritage


Professor Emerita, Radford University
Founder, Appalachian Regional Studies Center
Email: gedwards@radford.edu



Were you interested in the economic development of small towns as part of your work?
Oh yes, that’s part of our purview. Actually, Appalachian studies is interdisciplinary, so it covers all sorts of areas.  My specialty area is literature and folklore, but I got into economic development as well, as a result of just being interested in all things Appalachia.

After a lifetime of looking at economic development issues, what is your number one takeaway?
I suppose right now in the area of where we are, our most promising activity is tourism. We do have a lot of beautiful vistas, historic places to visit, many arts and crafts in the region, so all of that is appealing to tourists.  We have a lively tourist bureau in Radford. We also have a cultural museum, called the Glencoe Mansion Museum and Gallery, and that’s been very popular for several years now. I think tourism is a biggie. Of course, there are other things too, but that’s the one that I’ve worked most with, and am most familiar with.

Do you feel like towns are competing against each other if they really go after tourism?
No, I don’t think so. I think there is enough to go around. If a person is attracted, let’s say, to what’s happening in Radford, then perhaps that person would want to go over to Pulaski to see what’s going on there, down I-81 to Wytheville to see the Edith Bolling Wilson Museum. I think it could just be a whole corridor of activities that people can take part in, and it’s not competition, it’s collaboration.

What do you most wish that mayors and town managers in small towns knew?
I’d like them to know just what a beautiful culture Appalachia is, and to be able to take pride in it. Of course, I think most people do, especially if they’ve been in the area for a while. If I had one wish, I’d probably want to put everybody in a class and say ‘take this Appalachian studies class and learn just what the treasures are, what the people are like, what the region has to offer.’

Do you think they may not celebrate and prize their heritage partly because of how it’s portrayed in literature?
Unfortunately, that has happened. And it’s not just literature, it’s also other forms of media. Certainly TV, sometimes comic strips, movies, etc. But we’re working hard to overcome that. That’s what we do, especially in the universities and many of the public high schools, is try to instill the sense of pride in the culture, in the region, in the people. That’s what we have and that’s important.