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Department of History Staff

Tony Harkins

Tony Harkins
- Professor

Research Interests

My book Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon (Oxford University Press, 2004) won the 2005 Susanne M. Glasscock Book Prize for Interdisciplinary Humanities Scholarship from Texas A&M University. Hillbilly draws on a wide array of popular culture genres that featured hillbilly images including literature, country music, comic strips and cartoons, films, television shows, local festivals and even the Internet to examine the evolution of one of the most pervasive and enduring icons of twentieth century American popular culture. Although often overlooked or dismissed as a base image of mass entertainment, the hillbilly, I contend, has served as a continually negotiated mythic space through which modern Americans have attempted to define themselves and their national identity and to reconcile the past and the present.

I have also published related articles on the hillbilly image in Studies in American HumorAppalachian JournalThe Journal of Appalachian Studies, was the co-editor of the Media section of the Encyclopedia of Appalachia (Univ. of Tennessee Press, 2006) and served as a historical consultant on several film documentaries including Hillbilly(2018). My article “Colonels, Hillbillies and Fightin’: Twentieth-century Kentucky in the National Imagination” appeared in the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society in 2015.

In the last few years, I have published articles in Transfers and Middle West Review that explore the origins, development and potential consequences of envisioning the great center of the nation as "the middle of nowhere" from the perspectives of both coastal commentators and self-defined "Flyover People." In particular, I investigate the impact of central transportation and communication developments (especially transcontinental passenger air travel, the interstate highway system, and television) on the changing ways Americans envisioned the cultural and geographic boundaries and intersections of the nation.

I am currently working on two other projects pertaining to popular culture and Appalachia. First, I am completing an article for the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society on the influential career of Julian Goodman, who was born in Glasgow, Kentucky, attended WKU and went on to be president of NBC from 1966 to 1978. Goodman was a central figure in the rise of television news and a staunch defender of press freedoms in the face of Nixon administration pressures.  Second, I am co-editing the book Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy (West Virginia Press, 2019). The book is a retort, at turns rigorous, critical, angry, and hopeful, to the long shadow Hillbilly Elegy has cast over the region and its imagining. But it also moves well beyond Vance’s book to allow Appalachians from varied backgrounds to tell their own diverse and complex stories through an imaginative blend of scholarship, prose, poetry, and photography. Complicating simplistic visions that associate the region almost exclusively with death and decay, Appalachian Reckoning makes clear Appalachia’s intellectual vitality, spiritual richness, and progressive possibilities.

Links to my articles are available on TopScholar.

Teaching Interests

I teach the second half of the World History survey, both halves of the U.S History survey, the U.S. since 1945, History of U.S. Popular Culture since the Civil War, and graduate seminars on these topics as well as one on 20th century U.S. social and cultural history. In addition, I team-teach the American studies survey each year exploring themes such as justice, dissent, utopias/dystopias, and the American Dream.


I serve as the History Department’s chair of public outreach and as the WKU Fulbright faculty liaison. I also am a coeditor of the journal Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal.

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 Last Modified 8/8/18