Our History

From its beginning in 1977, the Appalachian Center has worked at state, regional and federal levels.  Our primary mission has been to serve the communities in eastern Kentucky and across central Appalachia that have been the most economically marginalized.  Our major projects, over the three decades, have brought civic leaders, scholars and officials together as co-participants in a wide variety of forums -- collaborative research, issue-oriented task forces, conferences with broad public attendance, peer learning networks, training programs, and public forums for democratic deliberation. 

This experience breaks down false distinctions that traditional academic practices and philosophy tend to reify -- between theory and action, expert and local knowledge, disciplinary specialties.  Our experience at the Appalachian Center challenges us, as researchers and teachers, to think and feel as civic professionals, because we are in service roles to people and communities facing urgent and multidimensional problems that require holistic, interdisciplinary and result oriented thinking.

The Center’s first Director, John Stephenson, who later became President of Berea College, was a founder of the Appalachian Studies Association.  He was influential in establishing the direction of the Center and the field itself and is remembered by numerous awards in his honor as both an outstanding scholar and a visionary humanist.  Past Director, Ronald Eller, has received numerous awards for his leadership in public service and public policy.  In 1998, he was named the John D. Whisman Appalachian Scholar by the Appalachian Regional Commission—assisting the ARC for two years in conducting original research in providing scholarly expertise in a broad range of economic development issues. 


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