News Research

March 31, 2015 at 12:22 pm

Appalachia Population History Project Explores Trends in Southeast Ohio Health and Culture

By Ellie Koewler ’15

What began in 2013 with a pilot study at a Buchtel, OH, cemetery has grown into a template for studying Southeast Ohio communities.

The Buchtel Cemetery Project succeeded at providing insights into the health and culture in the small mining town of Buchtel. Now the Appalachia Population History Project has expanded into a broad study of the Hocking Valley drainage region—from European-American settlement, to the industrial boom of clay and coal, and the subsequent industrial decline.

Hannah Vaughn and Kristen Ruble visit a Southeast Ohio cemetery to collect data for an Appalachia Population History Project.

Hannah Vaughn and Kristen Ruble visit a Southeast Ohio cemetery to collect data for an APHP project.

The project provides a dynamic regional study that engages students and faculty in scholarly, educational, and collaborative opportunities. Two Ohio University Anthropology professors—Dr. Nancy Tatarek and Dr. Paul Patton—are directing the program.

“Our goal is to document the intersection of human health and culture and the relationship with the environment,” explains Patton. Researchers in the project are uncovering trends in historical migration into the region by distinct ethnic populations. Ultimately, these trends articulate mining industries, cultural conflicts, and changes in ethnic identity.

“No one else is really studying these small mining communities of the 1940s and ’50s, but it’s a really important part of our cultural history and in understanding the lasting health effects,” says Tatarek.

Hands-on Training for Undergraduate Students

A fundamental component to the success and scale of the project is the undergraduate student collaboration. Anywhere from six to 15 students are working on around 10 different research projects within the Appalachia Population History Project, all of them getting hands-on research and methodology training. Students go into the field to document cemeteries, compare census data, and more, depending on their individual interests.

“APHP has been really important to me the last year and a half as a way to develop research and data management skills outside of a classroom setting,” says senior Hannah Vaughn. “My project is focused on historical mortality patterns and how they relate to the accessibility of formal healthcare, like physicians and hospitals, in the Athens-Hocking county region especially focusing on the small mining towns in the area. I’m planning on developing my research to tie it to modern levels of healthcare access and how a history with a pronounced lack of hospitals could have a lasting impact on people’s access to and view/trust of healthcare professionals.”

Other student researchers include Jordan Bennett, Tasha Cromwell, Harlee Detty, Cameron Fortin, Sarah Hinkleman, Jenna Lada ’14, Stephanie Lepsik, Taylor Major-Dame, Olivia McCusky ’14, Rachel Meyer, Megan Norris ’14, Maddie Rettig, Kristen Ruble ’14, and Haley Shaw.

In addition to student and faculty opportunities, the Appalachia Population History Project is partnering with local resources and community organizations to develop lasting relationships that engage a wide variety of audiences and researchers. These organizations include Athens County Historical Society and Museum, the Archives at Alden Library, Wayne National Forest, Monday Creek Watershed Restoration Project, and Little Cities Black Diamonds.

Among the outcomes is an online database for local residents of Southeastern Ohio to access family history data, land-use history, and heritage information for around the region.

Join the Appalachia Population History Project

The Appalachia Population History Project is open to anyone interested in any of the three anthropology subfields: cultural, archaeological, and biological. Students from a variety of disciplines are encouraged to become involved as the project provides integrative methodology and experience in longitudinal research projects that can serve students well in other coursework and in their professional development.

For more information on APHP’s projects or to get involved contact Dr. Nancy Tatarek at or Dr. Paul Patton at

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