Resource Alert: Moundsville, a documentary

By Jessica Salfia

Well, it’s day 9,789,573 of distance learning, distance teaching, and (if you are a parent), helping your own children navigate their distance learning assignments.

During these last 5 weeks when I’m not teaching or communicating with students, I have been trying to find constructive ways to occupy my brain to distract from the constant worry, anxiety, and fear that most of us are experiencing. I have been gardening like a mad woman, baking all the things, and lately, I have made a foray into edible flower recipes.

I also have been doing a little writing and watching a lot of TV (I am finding my brain too distracted for reading at the moment)—catching up on all the shows and documentaries I don’t usually have time for during the traditional school year.

There is one documentary I recently revisited that you should put on your “to watch list” in the next few weeks.

Question: What does an Adena burial mound from 200 B.C, Lady Gaga, Charles Manson, the United Steelworkers, our state Poet Laureate and the Fostoria glass company have in common?

Moundsville, West Virginia.

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from Moundsville 

And you will discover the threads that connect these things and people by visiting the Moundsville website and watching John Miller and Dave Bernabo’s documentary, Moundsville, airing May 25th on West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

Moundsville is the story of an Appalachian town told through the voices of its people—a refreshing change from the extraction narratives that delivered us Hillbilly Elegy and this recent, awful essay about a woman escaping New York with her puppy to “somewhere in Appalachia.”

No, Moundsville is not outside looking in. It’s story blossoms out of the mound it is named for, and its residents are the ones who tell that story starting from the days the earliest settlers discovered the towering mound while hunting through the rise and fall of coal and industry to the arrival of WalMart.

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from Moundsville 

The documentary also focuses on the issue that so many Appalachian towns are faced with: the struggle to stay. The young residents of Moundsville talk about digging in or leaving for other opportunities.

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from Moundsville 

My favorite part of this documentary is that the narrative is controlled completely by the town’s residents. They get to the tell the story of their place and share their pride, their sadness, their fears. And through this format, Moundsville manages to reckon with deeper truths about the American economy and America’s future.

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W.Va. State Poet Laureate, Marc Harshman in Moundsville

One of the featured Moundsville residents is W.Va. state poet laureate, Marc Harshman. I am a huge fan of Marc’s and have written about his poetry for this blog before. You can read that post here. Marc has been writing about Moundsville for many years, and one of my all time favorite Harshman poems is this one, a poem I read many years ago long before it was featured on the Moundsville website:

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You can find the text of this poem on the Moundsville website along with many other resources that could be used in ELA, Science, and Social Studies classrooms.

The Moundsville website is a treasure trove of resources that can be paired with the documentary, or used independently. John Miller, one of the documentary’s creators, runs a blog on the website that continues to share stories, interviews, and updates from the people of Moundsville. I dove into the blog a few days ago and found myself engrossed immediately in both the wide variety of stories, but also how the blog captured the same element I loved about the documentary: focus on the people and their stories through their gaze, not an outsider’s.

I recently communicated with Mr. Miller, who made it clear he would be happy to help teachers find ways to use this documentary or its accompanying resources in their classrooms. You reach out to John through his website here. This documentary and its resources would be an excellent addition to any West Virginia History or Appalachian studies curriculum, but also, this doc would be a great study on perspective and narrative in an ELA course–focusing on what story gets told and how you tell it when you let the people of a place tell their own story.

You can watch Moundsville for free on May 25, 2020 on West Virginia Public Broadcasting, it’s free online for residents of Marshall County, and available for everyone else to rent for $3.99. (You can purchase from vimeo as well for class use.)

WVCTE is wondering…

What did you think of Moundsville? Let us know when you watch this documentary and how you see it being used in a classroom!