Anthropology professor Melissa Schrift publishes ‘Becoming Melungeon’

M. Schrift

JOHNSON CITY (June 28, 2013) – An East Tennessee State University faculty member has penned a book dealing with the identity formation of a unique Appalachian ethnic group.

“Becoming Melungeon: Making an Ethnic Identity in the Appalachian South” was authored by Dr. Melissa Schrift, an associate professor of anthropology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in ETSU’s College of Arts and Sciences, and published by the University of Nebraska Press.

According to the publisher, Appalachian legend “describes a mysterious, multiethnic population of exotic, dark-skinned rogues called Melungeons who rejected the outside world and lived in the remote, rugged mountains in the farthest corner of northeast Tennessee.”  This people’s origins were “allegedly unknown,” which “drove this legend and generated myriad exotic origin theories.”

“Although today Melungeons are commonly identified as the descendants of underclass whites, freed African Americans, and Native Americans, this ethnic identity is still largely a social construction based on local tradition, myth, and media,” the publisher writes.

In her book, Schrift “examines the ways in which the Melungeon ethnic identity has been socially constructed over time by various regional and national media, plays, and other forms of popular culture” and “explores how the social construction of this legend evolved into a fervent movement of self-identified ethnicity in the 1990s.”

Schrift, who joined the ETSU faculty in 2006, holds a bachelor of arts degree from Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., and her master of arts and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Hawaii-Manoa.  She is the author of “Biography of a Chairman Mao Badge: The Creation and Mass Consumption of a Personality Cult,” and she has had articles published in a variety of professional journals.
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