Senior Social Scientist
Deborah Thompson is a creative educator, networker, musician, and dancer promoting participatory arts and sustainable development, particularly focused on the Appalachian region and its people. Finding a home and passion in Appalachia both for personal and scholarly pursuits has meant that all of her university degrees were based in Appalachian Studies, including her Ph.D. in Geography at the University of Kentucky. She currently coordinates Country Dance Programs at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, also teaching Appalachian Studies and General Studies. While working on her dissertation from 2006-2009, she served as programming director of the Appalachian Center, where one of her special projects was coordinating the Celebration of Traditional Music.
As director of the Appalachian Semester and assistant professor of Appalachian Studies at Union College in Barbourville, KY from 1991-2001, Deborah loved bringing Appalachia alive for undergraduate students, especially bringing them together with community folks through travel and internships. At this time, she also was a founding member of Just Connections, a community-faculty partnership whose ultimate goal is to help achieve social justice in the Appalachian Region through service-learning projects and community-based research.
Deborah collaborated and published in two cooperative projects, A Handbook to Appalachia and the Encyclopedia of Appalachia. Other writing relates to her dissertation, Performing Communities: The Place of Music, Race and Gender in Producing Appalachian Space and is documented on her curriculum vitae. She learned to play banjo, guitar, and dulcimer during the folk revival of the 1970s and has repertoire from living and playing in Kentucky, West Virginia, North Carolina, and New England. Since 1976, she has performed both solo and with various groups, currently with the old time and Americana band, Skipjack. She has taught classes and workshops in Appalachian music and dance for all ages since 1984. Other meaningful work Deborah has enjoyed includes executive director of a local arts council, principal investigator for historic architecture surveys, and resident director for the National Collegiate Honors Council’s cultural study program in Appalachia, Mexico, and the Texas-Mexico border. She and her husband have spent two decades together living on 85 wooded acres in eastern Kentucky, raising animals and a garden and pursuing a more sustainable living.