Dolly Parton course: "It's really kind of a nerdy class"

A new course University of Tennessee (UT) uses Dolly Parton's life as a starting point for rigorous study of Appalachian culture and history.

"It's really kind of a nerdy class," says Lynn Sacco, an associate professor of history and the course's instructor. She explains that the goal of the course is to teach students how to use the wide range of sources, which include Parton's autobiography, investigative reporting, and historic video footage.

Sacco says the seminar also helps students "see that history is not just about dead presidents" and understand the region's recent history from the perspective of one of its own.

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"I really feel proud as a citizen of this area, and just being a daughter of the hills here," Parton told The Tennessean in a 2015 interview.

Parton is most well-known for her country music. She topped Billboard's country chart with four different songs in a single year and has received the Kennedy Center Honors and a Grammy award for lifetime achievement. But she's also an active philanthropist, supporting children's literacy and emergency relief efforts in the region.

"If I had but one wish for you, it would be for you to dream more," Parton told UT students at her commencement address in 2009.

Parton has served as an "ambassador" who fights stereotypes about rural Appalachia, says Carson Hollingsworth, UT student body president.

Ambassadors to rural culture seem particularly relevant today, as the results of the 2016 presidential election brought to light the forgotten 14% of our country's population that resides in rural areas. On college campuses, this has translated to efforts to recruit and enroll rural students. As one admissions director says, rural students bring a new perspective on social and political issues to campus (Fortin, New York Times, 4/20).

Read more: "All of a sudden, rural is on everyone's mind."


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