The post-Civil War emergence of Appalachia as a ""strange land and peculiar people"" troublesome to America's new...


APPALACHIA ON OUR MIND: The Southern Mountains and Mountaineers in the American Consciousness, 1870-1920

The post-Civil War emergence of Appalachia as a ""strange land and peculiar people"" troublesome to America's new consciousness of national unity and resistant to notions of progress and prosperity is the subject of Prof. Shapiro's intriguing excursion into intellectual history. He draws his evidence from the ""local color"" writers of the 1870s who first discovered Appalachian ""otherness' and the religious and philanthropic agents who proferred ""uplift"" and regeneration to a culture that appeared in the 1880s and '90s to be disturbingly deviant -- almost America's opposite. Since Appalachians were ""pure"" white, native-born Americans of British stock the dilemma was doubly vexing. Prof. Shapiro (Univ. of Cincinnati) moves with painstaking, sometimes irritating slowness through the development of the corpus of ""explanations"" and rationalization of Appalachian ""otherness."" These ranged from the lack of roads and commerce, to the ""degeneracy"" of the mountaineers, to the romantic embrace of the hills as ""America's Highlands"" and the people as ""our contemporary ancestors."" Men such as William Goodell Frost, the longterm president of Berea College, and Joseph C. Campbell of the Russell Sage Foundation were crucial to the gradual legitimatizing of Appalachia as a distinct regional culture--a process completed in the first decades of the 20th century with the acknowledgment of America's pluralism and the discovery of indigenous Appalachian music and crafts. Through the work of English folk-song collector Cecil Sharp, the view of Appalachia as a ""kind of folk society manque"" took hold. What all these changing perceptions of Appalachia had in common, Shapiro suggests, is their self-serving nature; the identity of Appalachia as a coherent region with a homogenous population was, and continues to be, an article of faith. A sensitive contribution to American Studies which uses little-known sources to good effect.

Pub Date: April 3, 1978


Page Count: -

Publisher: Univ. of North Carolina Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1978

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