Appalachia: A History

Appalachia: A History

Appalachia: A History

Appalachia: A History


Interweaving social, political, environmental, economic, and popular history, John Alexander Williams chronicles four and a half centuries of the Appalachian past. Along the way, he explores Appalachia's long-contested boundaries and the numerous, often contradictory images that have shaped perceptions of the region as both the essence of America and a place apart.

Williams begins his story in the colonial era and describes the half-century of bloody warfare as migrants from Europe and their American-born offspring fought and eventually displaced Appalachia's Native American inhabitants. He depicts the evolution of a backwoods farm-and-forest society, its divided and unhappy fate during the Civil War, and the emergence of a new industrial order as railroads, towns, and extractive industries penetrated deeper and deeper into the mountains. Finally, he considers Appalachia's fate in the twentieth century, when it became the first American region to suffer widespread deindustrialization, and examines the partial renewal created by federal intervention and a small but significant wave of in-migration.

Throughout the book, a wide range of Appalachian voices enlivens the analysis and reminds us of the importance of storytelling in the ways the people of Appalachia define themselves and their region.


What a place to conjure.

—Robert Morgan,Blowing Rock

There's no better place to begin a history of Appalachia than the bus station outside Wytheville, Virginia. Here travelers stand at one of the crossroads of American history, its arms stretching out like a lazy X laid across the eastern third of the country. The crossroad briefly unites Interstates 77 and 81, one road extending north and south, the other from northeast to southwest. I-81 gives modern form to a famous and historic highway that threads the great central valley of the Appalachian mountain system. This path funneled much of the westward movement of Euro-American settlers to the South and Southwest, following a natural corridor that comes within a few dozen miles of the Atlantic in the hinterlands of Philadelphia and New York and that reaches far into the interior at its southern end. This corridor distributed much of the immigrant population of the middle and later eighteenth century . . .

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