Appalachian Studies Conference comes to Athens

The conference includes concurrent sessions with panels, roundtable discussions, performances, workshops and paper presentations from over 300 presenters.

ATHENS, Ohio — The 46th Appalachian Studies Association Conference is to be held in Athens for the first time in the conference’s history. Conference activities begin Thursday, March 16, and conclude Sunday, March 19.

The conference has a different name and theme each year, depending on where it takes place. This year’s theme, “From Surviving to Thriving,” acknowledges the region’s accomplishments rather than focusing on obstacles. This year’s name, “Appalachia Fest,” originates from Athens block parties named after the streets where they are held. 

“It’s really easy to come at things from a deficit-based perspective when talking about the region, and that’s what the media and [pop culture] and everybody seems to do,” said Tiffany Arnold, 2023 program chair and Ohio University’s sole faculty member devoted to Appalachian studies. “We really kind of want to flip that narrative a little bit and come at it from a more asset-based perspective.” 


The term “resilient” is often used to describe the region and the people of Appalachia. However, Arnold offers that the term implies overcoming some form of trauma. 

“People don’t know the history of why we are who we are, and a lot of it is really a history to be proud of,” Arnold said. “We have such a huge, long history of activism and community engagement and people fighting for a better situation for themselves and their families and their communities, and people don’t know about that.”

“We’re trying to figure out ways to transition to where we’re not just surviving – we’re doing more than that, we’re thriving, we’re doing well and we can move forward in a positive way rather than just struggling all the time,” Arnold said.

The first conference was held in 1977 and eventually led to the creation of the ASA. The first meeting was made up of 30 activists, scholars and teachers; over 700 are registered for the 2023 conference.

When people register for the conference, they become a member of the ASA. 

“In some ways [ASA is] kind of a traditional professional organization that’s geared toward words like ‘research’ and ‘scholarship,’” said Michelle Morrone, 2023 ASA conference chair and former ASA president. “But in other ways, it’s completely different, because it includes a lot of creative people, musicians, poets, artists and activists.” 

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The ASA conference includes concurrent sessions with panels, roundtable discussions, performances, workshops and paper presentations from over 300 presenters. The sessions strive to educate and foster discussions on topics relating to Appalachian history and culture as well as the region’s challenges. 

Local presenters are also included in the conference sessions. Kari Gunter-Seymour, the Ohio poet laureate, will join two panel discussions and a performance. Brian Koscho, creator of Invisible Ground, a multimedia project that highlights southeast Ohio’s history, will lead a panel and be part of a workshop.  

“There’s tracks for environmental issues and tracks for health, for activism, for art in literature, and music and all kinds of different things,” Arnold said. 

OU students not presenting in the conference may attend ASA conference presentations for free. Events outside of the sessions are open to the public. These include historical tours, an Appalachian health exposition, an ASA conference-themed cocktail launch and a drag and burlesque show. Some events require registration and fees and some events have limited capacity. 

Conference sessions are scheduled in various OU campus buildings. West End Ciderhouse, Passion Works Studio, Southeast Ohio History Center, Jackie O’s and the Athena Cinema all have partnered with the ASA for certain events. Some businesses and OU buildings currently display a small ASA conference flag indicating their involvement. 

A quiet room, an LGBTQ+ lounge and an Appalachian Teaching Project space are available to participants throughout the conference. 

“We have designated spaces for people to feel safe to go and either get away from the crowd or relax and talk to friends and others,” Morrone said. 

The ASA conference has accessibility accommodations in place for the conference itself, while also striving to make attendance more affordable and welcoming. Scholarships were available for those needing financial assistance and to Black, Indigenous and people of color. Parents could apply for grants to help cover childcare costs, and a lactation room is available. Teachers were offered a one-day rate and participation certificate for professional development. 

“We’re continuously adding new ways for people to be able to attend, because it is such a community-focused organization that we don’t want to exclude anybody, just because they may not be able to afford to come or they may need childcare,” Arnold said.

Guides to more accessible routes and entrances are available for participants with disabilities. For more information on accessibility, look under accessibility and inclusion on the ASA website.

To find out more about the conference and see a preliminary schedule visit:

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