Dolly Parton’s life is a true rags-to-riches story: Raised in poverty in rural Tennessee, she beat the odds and rose to international stardom as a country musician, actress, producer, and philanthropist. Now, The New York Times reports that the Southern star’s down-home roots are the focus of an honors history course offered at the University of Tennessee’s main campus in Knoxville.
Called “Dolly’s America,” the seminar uses Parton's personal journey as a lens through which to examine modern Appalachian culture. The singer grew up in Sevier County, about 30 miles outside of Knoxville, and the class looks at how a "'hillbilly' girl from Appalachia grew up to become an international one-word sensation,” according to the course description on the university’s website.
Materials include Dolly Parton’s 1994 autobiography, Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business, and books about Appalachia; movies, TV shows, and historic videos; and scholarly articles. Ranging from lighthearted to somber, they provide a framework for students to examine historic themes like child labor, regional poverty, and the federal-state committee formed by President Kennedy that’s known today as the President's Appalachian Regional Commission.
“Dolly’s America” also tries to dispel deep-seated stereotypes about rural America: ”Reading about how hillbillies and feuds began as made-up characters and tropes in novels and cartoons to the rise of hillbilly music to Christian entertainment and the thread of tourism, students see the processes by which fiction often becomes fact, and how heritage is a blend of the real and the imagined,” the course description says.
“Dolly’s America” was taught for the first time last year, and will be taught again in Fall 2017. That said, admission is likely to be competitive, as the course recently received a Twitter endorsement by Parton herself:
[h/t The New York Times]