Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Studying Appalachian Studies: Making the Path by Walking

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Studying Appalachian Studies: Making the Path by Walking

Article excerpt

Studying Appalachian Studies: Making the Path by Walking. Edited by Chad Berry, Phillip J. Obermiller, and Shaunna L. Scott. (Urbana and other cities: University of Illinois Press, 2015. Pp. [xii], 240. Paper, $25.00, ISBN 978-0-252-08083-8; cloth, $95.00, ISBN 978-0-252-03929-4.)

Chad Berry, Phillip J. Obermiller, and Shaunna L. Scott have compiled eight essays that evaluate the field of Appalachian studies. The contributors consider Appalachia's past, present, and future from a range of perspectives: history, sociology, regional and rural development, literary criticism, and economics. The collection is thus indicative of how interdisciplinary Appalachian studies has become since its incipiency in the late 1970s.

Historians of the American South will find many of these essays informative. Barbara Ellen Smith recaps the significance of representation in this seemingly anomalous region. She calls on scholars to further disrupt the myth of Appalachia as an overwhelmingly white and homogeneous outpost. For Smith, historians must complicate the normative notions of gender and sexuality that have inflected even the most progressive interpretations of the region. While many studies illustrate the complexity of life and demographics in the mountain South, Smith argues that scholars can do more to locate the experience and the resistance of marginalized people who occupy "multiple social positions" across the region (p. 56).

Two essays, one coauthored by Donald Edward Davis and Chris Baker, the other jointly written by Amanda L. Fickey and Michael Samers, survey the history of the dysfunctional development schemes that have defined much of Appalachia's relationship with state and federal governments, as well as nongovernmental organizations. In their sober assessment, Davis and Baker explain how ambitious and mostly well-intentioned programs like the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Office of Economic Opportunity, and other public-private partnerships have yielded mixed results. Fickey and Samers explore the legacy of the Appalachia Regional Commission, still another developmental agency that promised prosperity in the hills. At their best, these programs alleviated poverty within some counties and communities. At their worst, outside developmental efforts reproduced top-down organizational structures and unresponsive bureaucracies, disempowering poor people, aggravating entrenched problems, and perpetuating systemic inequality.

As the essays demonstrate, many of the same issues that animated activists and academics at the discipline's founding remain central to it today. With the proliferation of fracking and mountaintop removal mining, understanding the history of environmental spoliation in the region is as crucial as ever. …

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