Students’ Appalachian folklore project topic of ‘With Good Reason’
In nearly 40 years, more than 600 Radford University students have collected oral histories and folklore material from family members and residents from around Southwest Virginia for a project in an Appalachian Folklore class.
When Grace Toney Edwards, then a member of the university’s English and Appalachian studies faculty, designed the field-collecting project in 1981, she emphasized that those projects would be preserved for future scholars and researchers in hopes her students would take the assignment more seriously.
“And did they ever,” Edwards recalled. “Many of them put in multiple, multiple hours of work making contacts, interviewing, transcribing, analyzing and writing their findings, many times to the tune of 100-plus pages.”
Edwards kept all of the projects in boxes in her office and subsequently in the Appalachian Regional Studies Center in the mid-1990s. That’s when the project began to take on the looks of an archive, said Edwards, now a professor emeritus who retired in 2010.
In 1993 instructor Ricky Cox ’86, M.A. ’90, began teaching the undergraduate course (English 446), and Edwards taught the graduate class (English 548/648) created that same year.
“I think I can safely speak for both of us when I say that we have experienced many personal rewards ourselves just by having the privilege of reading about the lives and behaviors of multiple Appalachian people that we would otherwise never have known,” Edwards said.
Keeping the promise to the students, those projects remain intact, and many have found a new home online, making them accessible to anyone at any time. “You no longer need to make a trip to Radford to view most of those projects,” said Cox, who retired in 2020 after 32 years of teaching at Radford.
McConnell Library Archives Supervisor and Appalachian Music Specialist Bud Bennett took on the painstaking task in the summer of 2020 of placing the projects online, and currently more than 430 of those projects are available and searchable on the library’s website. Projects are in the form of text and audio, many with photographs or slides and can be filtered by entering the name of a collector, an informant, a town or county, or a general topic, such as canning, blacksmithing, ghosts or folk medicine, then click on the magnifying glass to search the entire collection.
Cox and Edwards spoke recently about the topic in a recorded interview for the “With Good Reason” public radio program. The interview will air April 23-29 on more than 60 radio stations across the United States.
Listeners in the New River Valley can hear the program at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 26, on Public Radio WVRU 89.9. The show is also available as a podcast at withgoodreason.org.
The “With Good Reason” radio program is produced by Virginia Humanities for the Virginia Higher Education Broadcasting Consortium, which comprises all of Virginia’s public colleges and universities.
The award-winning program is heard by an estimated 100,000 people each week on public radio stations in 33 states, including Virginia and Washington, D.C. Thousands more download the episodes via iTunes.