Uneven Ground: Appalachia since 1945

Uneven Ground: Appalachia since 1945

Uneven Ground: Appalachia since 1945

Uneven Ground: Appalachia since 1945

Synopsis

Appalachia has played a complex and often contradictory role in the unfolding of American history. Created by urban journalists in the years following the Civil War, the idea of Appalachia provided a counterpoint to emerging definitions of progress. Early-twentieth-century critics of modernity saw the region as a remnant of frontier life, a reflection of simpler times that should be preserved and protected. However, supporters of development and of the growth of material production, consumption, and technology decried what they perceived as the isolation and backwardness of the place and sought to "uplift" the mountain people through education and industrialization. Ronald D Eller has worked with local leaders, state policymakers, and national planners to translate the lessons of private industrial-development history into public policy affecting the region. In Uneven Ground: Appalachia since 1945, Eller examines the politics of development in Appalachia since World War II with an eye toward exploring the idea of progress as it has evolved in modern America. Appalachia's struggle to overcome poverty, to live in harmony with the land, and to respect the diversity of cultures and the value of community is also an American story. In the end, Eller concludes, "Appalachia was not different from the rest of America; it was in fact a mirror of what the nation was becoming."

Excerpt

Americans have an enduring faith in the power of development to improve the quality of our lives. At least since the late nineteenth century, we have associated progress toward the attainment of a better society with measures of industrial production, urbanization, consumption, technology, and the adoption of modern education and cultural values. Early in the twentieth century, we assumed that movement along the road to the good life was best left to the engine of private enterprise, but after the Great Depression and World War II, government played a larger role in assuring economic growth and incorporating minorities into the new American dream. Areas such as Appalachia were deemed to be backward and underdeveloped because they lacked the statistical measures of progress, both material and cultural, that had become the benchmarks of success in a modern world. For policy makers of the 1950s and 1960s, convinced of the appropriateness of the American path to development, those backwater places needed to be energized and brought into the supposed mainstream.

Appalachia has long played an ironic role in the drama of American development. Discovered or, more accurately, created by urban journalists in the years following the Civil War, the idea of Appalachia provided a counterpoint to emerging definitions of progress at the turn of the twentieth century. Those writers who disliked modernity saw in the region a remnant of frontier life, the reflection of a simpler, less complicated time that ought to be preserved and protected. Those who found advancement in the growth of material production, consumption, and technology decried what they considered the isolation and backwardness of the place and sought to uplift the mountain people . . .

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