Project Abstract

The goal of this project is to determine how to effectively engage students in an examination of how place – specifically residence in rural southern Appalachia – affects political opinions and political behavior in my POLS 328 (Parties and Interest Groups in the United States) course. I aim to revise this course to include readings and assignments that will engage students in understanding the concept of “Rural Consciousness” as defined by Cramer and in applying this concept to analyze the political opinions and actions of those residing in southern Appalachia.

One of my primary goals as a professor is to help my students become better informed and more engaged citizens. I believe that it is essential for the citizens of any democratic nation (and especially individuals like our students who are likely to achieve positions of prominence and influence) to identify and understand key social and political challenges facing their nation in order to be able to devise improvements and solutions for these problems. Given the American media environment and their own backgrounds, my students are often prepared to engage with problems like political polarization and gridlock. They are typically less well-equipped to comprehend or grapple with challenges like income inequality or to understand the difficulties facing Americans from particularly undeserved areas – even those just a few miles from Sewanee. In this project, I aim to redesign my POLS 328 course to help students understand the experiences of people living in rural America – particularly rural Appalachia – and the consequences of rural consciousness for American politics..

Project Alignment with the Collaborative for Southern Appalachian Studies

I hope that this project will help to excite students who take my course about engaging further with southern Appalachian Studies. Because the pool of students who sign up for POLS 328 are not likely those already involved with this program, adding a component of Appalachian studies to this Politics course offers the chance to introduce a new group of individuals to this area of study and the opportunities available to become further involved with this program.

The content that students learn in this course will also give them tools to assess reasons for the economic and political circumstances in southern Appalachia. For example, understanding levels of economic development in Appalachia requires understanding why governmental bodies allocate federal and state resources as they do. By examining the views of Appalachian residents toward government and various policies, and the appeals politicians make (or do not make) to Appalachian residents, students will gain a stronger understanding of this topic.

Project Impact

To expand on the project description above, my goals for this project include:
— to expose students to an area of the country and a population about which they are generally unfamiliar,
— to help students understand the challenges facing this population,
— to help students understand the political affiliations and actions of this population and how these affect possible solutions to these challenges, and
— to encourage students to be advocates for Appalachia in their own political and social activity.

I expect this project to affect, at a minimum, the 20 students in my course and myself, as well as the students who take this course in the future. (I generally offer POLS 328 every other year.) I hope the project will also have a broader effect in the Sewanee community through the interactions my students have with others. I may try to formalize this broader impact as well through having students write blog posts or other more public presentations of their research as part of their course assignments.

Final Report