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New Director to Unite UK Appalachian Studies

by Erin Holaday Ziegler


The University of Kentucky will welcome a Nicholas County native to campus this fall as the university continues its mission to unite and strengthen its Appalachia programming.

Internationally renowned cultural anthropologist Ann Kingsolver has accepted the positions of director of the Appalachian Studies Program and director of the Appalachian Center at UK.

“I am thrilled that Dr. Kingsolver will be joining us in the College of Arts and Sciences and at the university,” said College of Arts and Sciences Dean Mark Lawrence Kornbluh. “Her expertise in Appalachian studies and her lifelong dedication to the region and culture will reverberate well beyond the classroom walls, into the community and throughout the Commonwealth.”

Kingsolver, who will also hold a tenured appointment in UK's Department of Anthropology, has been focused on eastern Kentucky for the last 25 years, performing ethnographic research in her home community of Nicholas County, an area situated between the Appalachian foothills and the Bluegrass.

Kingsolver's work lies at the intersection of Appalachian Studies and cultural anthropology with a focus on contributing to a broader social project of recognizing and addressing inequalities.

She counters stereotypes of rurality in her most recent book, "Tobacco Town Futures: Global Encounters in Rural Kentucky," documenting the ways in which Nicholas Countians, including young people, have analyzed the local effects of globalization. 

"Nicholas Countians have taught me a lot about why place matters in making sense of globalization,” said Kingsolver. “In the context of the current economic crisis, for example, residents of Appalachia and other world regions that have been marginalized in some discourses may be at the forefront of global conversations about alternative ways to organize economies."

Along with Kingsolver’s long-term fieldwork in Nicholas County, she has done research in the U.S. and Mexico on interpretations of NAFTA. As a Fulbright Scholar, she studied the tea industry in Sri Lanka in comparison with the tobacco industry in Kentucky.

The esteemed anthropologist comes to UK from the University of South Carolina, where she is the chair of the Department of Anthropology.  In addition to building up a Ph.D. program on comparative diasporas and social justice, Kingsolver has also been instrumental in revitalizing South Carolina’s Latin American Studies Program. Prior to being at South Carolina, Kingsolver was on the anthropology faculty at the University of California – Santa Cruz. 

"Interdisciplinary learning is so important for students," she said. "Peer interactions, mentoring…I find that to be an exciting kind of environment that strengthens all university programming."

Kingsolver is especially excited to see UK uniting its teaching, research and community outreach missions by combining the Appalachian Studies Program and the Appalachian Center.

"I really appreciate the broad support for interdisciplinarity at UK, which is not common in this economic environment, as many departments are short-staffed," said Kingsolver. "This is a great moment to combine teaching, research and community engagement. These missions strengthen one another."

Next year, UK's College of Arts and Sciences plans to develop a graduate certificate as well as an undergraduate certificate in Appalachian Studies that students working on degrees in any college at UK can earn. This additional training in regional issues will only help with employment opportunities as students enter a competitive job market.Ann Kingsolver 2011

"It is important to stress that the Appalachian Studies Program and the Appalachian Center serve the whole university community, not just one college," said Kingsolver. "That interdisciplinarity means that there is the potential to draw on lots of skills and perspectives in partnering with residents of Kentucky’s Appalachian communities to address common goals. As someone from eastern Kentucky, I look forward to working collaboratively with members of the UK community and other communities across the state."

While Kingsolver has some ideas of her own, her first role on campus will be to listen. "I want to make sure that we are listening closely to eastern Kentucky communities," she said. "That partnership is important. Some of the best ideas in the world come from community discussion."


Kingsolver's appointment begins July 1.