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Jessica Wilkerson

Associate Professor, Joyce and Stuart Robbins Chair

Teaching Fields

  • Appalachia and the South 
  • Women, Gender, and Sexuality 
  • 20th Century America 
  • Labor and the Working Class

Degrees

  • Ph.D., University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, 2014 
  • M.A., Sarah Lawrence College, 2006 
  • B.A., Carson Newman College, 2003

Research Interests

Dr. Wilkerson’s research and teaching explores questions of political economy and social change in the twentieth-century South and Appalachia. She is currently interested in exploring—and countering—big narratives: that of Appalachia and how it intersects with ideas of race and gender; and the mainstream history of the modern American women’s movement.

Her first book, To Live Here, You Have to Fight: How Women Led Appalachian Movements for Social Justice (University of Illinois Press, 2019), traces the alliances forged and the grassroots movements led by working-class women in the Appalachian South in the 1960s and 1970s. The book received the H.L. Mitchell Award for distinguished book on the southern working class from the Southern Historical Association and Honorable Mention from the Philip Taft Prize in Labor and Working-Class History. The dissertation on which the book was based won the OAH Lerner-Scott Prize and the Labor and Working-Class History’s Herbert Gutman Prize.

Dr. Wilkerson has collaborated on or co-founded several oral history and public history projects, including the Long Women's Movement Project at the Southern Oral History Program, the Invisible Histories Project-Mississippi to document LGBTQ+ history in Mississippi, and the Black Families of Yalobusha County, MS Oral History Project at the University of Mississippi. At WVU, she is currently collaborating with former women coal miners on an oral history project documenting their lives and work, and she is on the advisory board for the West Virginia Feminist Activist History Collection. 

Dr. Wilkerson is currently working on two book projects. A Women’s History of Appalachia will be the first narrative history of the Mountain South through the lives of women who lived and worked in the region from the nineteenth century to the present.  In her other project, In Sisterhood, In Struggle: Feminisms of the American South, Dr. Wilkerson explores the understudied yet expansive women's movements throughout the South and Appalachia from the 1960s through the 1990s. Along with scholarly projects, she has written regularly for popular media outlets including 100 Days in Appalachia, Boston Review, NPR, Rewire News, Washington Post, and Longreads. 

Before arriving at WVU, she was on faculty at the University of Mississippi for six years and was a visiting scholar at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. She was recently named a Carnegie Fellow for 2021-2023.

Dr. Wilkerson will be on research leave during the spring semester 2022, and the 2022-2023 academic year.

Personal Website: https://jessicawilkerson.org/

Graduate Students

Ph.D. Students
M.A. Students
  • John Gatling
  • George Jacobs
  • Victoria Schaeffner
  • Madison Schell

Courses Offered

  • HIST 459: U.S. History, New Deal to Great Society
  • HIST 773: Readings in Appalachian History

Publications

Book:

To Live Here, You Have To Fight: How Women Led Appalachian Movements for Social Justice, published in The Working Class in American History Series (University of Illinois Press, 2019).  

Journal Articles, Book Chapters, and Essays:
Introduction, Southern Cultures, "The Women's Issue" (fall 2020). 

“Oral History and Testimony in Histories of Women, Gender, and Sexuality,” in Companion to American Women's History, Second Edition, edited by Nancy A. Hewitt and Anne M. Valk (Blackwell Publishing, forthcoming). 

“The Appalachian War on Poverty and the Working Class,” in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). 

“Mill Mother ‘Just A’waiting for a Strike’: Ella May Wiggins” in North Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times, eds. Michele Gillespie and Sally McMillen (University of Georgia Press, 2015). 

“The Company Owns the Mine But They Don’t Own Us: Feminist Critiques of Capitalism in the Appalachian South,” Gender & History 28, no. 1 (April 2016): 199-220. 

“Mountain Feminist: Helen Matthews Lewis, Appalachian Studies, and the Long Women’s Movement,” from an interview by Jessica Wilkerson, compiled and introduced by Jessica Wilkerson and David P. Cline, in Southern Cultures 17, no. 3 (Fall 2011): 48-65.

Grants and Awards

  • College of Liberal Arts Mike L. Edwards New Scholar Award, University of Mississippi, 2020.
  • Honorable Mention, Philip Taft Prize in Labor and Working-Class History, awarded by IRL, Cornell University, 2020. 
  • A. Elizabeth Taylor Prize for best article in southern women's history, Southern Association for Women Historians, 2017. 
  • Visiting Scholar, American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 2016-2017. 
  • Lerner-Scott Prize for the best doctoral dissertation in women’s history, Organization of American Historians, 2015. 
  • Herbert G. Gutman Prize for Outstanding Dissertation, Labor and Working-Class History Association, 2015. 
  • American Fellowship, American Association of University Women, 2013-2014. 
  • Moody Research Grant, Lyndon B. Johnson Library, 2013.