At the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, we drop in on a history class called “Dolly Parton’s America.” (We borrowed the name for our series!) Taught by Dr. Lynn Sacco, the class is filled with college students who grew up in rural Appalachia, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college. Dr Sacco gives the class an assignment: Write an essay that answers the question “What is Dolly Parton’s America?” Lurking just behind that question are thornier ones about Southern shame and identity and hillbillies and football and...well, Dolly. Is Dolly helping or hurting us? The class splits down the middle.
Editor’s Note: We made two corrections to this podcast, originally released on December 3. In referring to the location of the Battle of Blair Mountain, we changed “Southwestern Virginia” to “West Virginia.” And on the origin of the term redneck, we inserted narration that makes clear that the etymology of the term goes back farther than the Battle of Blair Mountain.