LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 28, 2018) — Karen Rignall of the University of Kentucky has received a $50,000 Whiting Foundation Public Engagement Fellowship to pursue her research “Stories of Place in a Changing Appalachia,” a project in Eastern Kentucky, to bring “stories of place” and other traditions to bear on local land-use planning.
The Whiting Foundation announced Tuesday a new cohort of seven Whiting Public Engagement Fellowships, including Rignall’s, to showcase how the humanities enrich our lives.
In a written statement, Whiting Foundation leaders declared, “Never before has an understanding of history, philosophy, literature, and culture been so important. The humanities — too often underappreciated outside of academia — bring to bear careful inquiry and deep context, and help us absorb the news of the day, participate as citizens, and live meaningful lives.”
An assistant professor in the Department of Community and Leadership Development in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment with a joint appointment in the Department of Sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences, Rignall will draw on both her academic background as a cultural anthropologist and her prior work as a community development coordinator to share the stories of Eastern Kentuckians with policymakers and other officials involved in land-use planning for the area.
Rignall will collaborate with the nonprofit Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network and local partners to recruit and train youth as story collectors and connect them with community mentors to document and map stories of place. Sharing these stories, as well as art and music, will elevate the voices of youth and other community members in efforts to plan for an equitable economic transition in Appalachia.
She says, “as Central Appalachia transitions away from a historic reliance on coal, the stories, folklore, and literature that link Appalachians to the land are an important resource that reveal what communities need to thrive. This vital knowledge is rarely incorporated into the work of policymakers or assessments of the region’s health.”
Rignall is a cultural anthropologist who specializes in rural community development in Appalachia and North Africa. In addition to her positions in the departments of Sociology and Community and Leadership Development, she is also affiliated with the Appalachian Center and Appalachian Studies Program at UK.