Academic Enrichment Through the Fox Center Community

by Colin Hutton, 21C History

My experience as an Undergraduate Fellow at the Fox Center this year has been an intellectually fulfilling capstone to my undergraduate experience at Emory University.

Pursuing, researching, and writing an honors thesis in History was a challenging and rewarding task over the course of this academic year. My honors thesis tells the stories, struggles, victories, and defeats of those made to live in West Virginia Coal Company towns in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. At its core, it argues that the economic transformation of the region in the same period– from an economy primarily organized around subsistence agriculture to one organized around extractive industry– brought lingering poverty and a profound change in the daily lives, survival strategies, labor practices, and cultures of West Virginian households. Receiving feedback, questions, and critique from my peer Fellows and the Fox Center directors about my project has challenged me to situate my research in conversation with other academic fields to present a thorough, well-argued piece of work.

It has been my great pleasure to also think critically about the amazing and ambitious work of my peer Fellows and ask questions of their projects. I have greatly appreciated this opportunity to engage with the work of scholars outside of my academic field. Hearing other Fellows present in the fields of anthropology, literature, sociology, and gender studies has been intriguing and rewarding for me. It has expanded my field of academic interest and motivated me to think about different perspectives and methodologies of research, as well as the great value of approaching a research question from an interdisciplinary angle. These experiences of inquiring, critiquing, and sharing a love of learning with my peers as a Fox Center Fellow has produced a sense of intellectual community this year that I will look back upon with fondness.

Colin Hutton is a senior majoring in History. He is working on an honors thesis that investigates the roles of vegetable gardens in West Virginian coal company towns beginning in the late-nineteenth century as Northeastern industrialists brought capitalist transformation to the Appalachian landscape. His project will explore how coal miners and their families came to undertake strategic subsistence labor alongside coal work and use garden produce as a strategy of maintaining independence from wages and town authority. It will use gardens as a lens into the social and cultural effects of company town living.

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