Encyclopedia ofAppalachia. Edited by Rudy Abramson and Jean Haskell. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2006. Pp. xxviii + 1,832, foreword, appreciation, acknowledgments, introduction, maps, photographs, illustrations, indices. $79.95 cloth); A Handbook to Appalachia: An Introduction to the Region. Edited by Grace Toney Edwards, JoAnn Aust Asbury, and Ricky L. Cox. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2006. Pp. xvi + 280, acknowledgments, introduction, photographs, chapter notes, chapter bibliographies, contributor list, index. $19.95 paper)
Reference works have never been in such demand as they are today, and we have seen a proliferation of them both in print and on line. State encyclopedias have been especially popular, with several just released - New York (Eisenstadt 2005), South Carolina (Edgar 2006), North Carolina (Powell 2006)- and many more are planned. Visits to the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture (Dillard 2006), for which I work, now top 100,000 a month. There is a great hunger for authoritative information on regional cultures, and publishers are working hard to fill that need.
The University of Tennessee Press has put forward two new reference works covering Appalachia - the massive Encyclopedia of Appalachia and the smaller Handbook to Appalachia. Both cover well this diverse region, breaking down stereotypes without turning a blind eye to the problems that beset Appalachia and its people. The long-time resident of Appalachia is just as likely to be enlightened by these books as is the outsider. The encyclopedia contains 2,000 entries organized into five major categories: "The Landscape," "The People," "Work and the Economy," "Cultural Traditions," and "Institutions." Each category is in turn broken down into sections headed up by introductory essays on the topic. "The People," for instance, is subdivided into "Family and Community," "Images and Icons," "Race, Ethnicity, and Identity," "Settlement and Migration," and "Urban Appalachian Experience." Each entry is cross-referenced to related entries, with most including brief bibliographies to aid in further research of the subject. The volume is peppered with media selections that add to the work's aesthetic quality. The editors admit that the Encyclopedia of Appalachia is by no means all-inclusive. It is particularly light on biographies, but this helps keep the focus upon the region; state encyclopedias are inevitably replete with entries on those people born in-state but who made their names elsewhere. This may not be an all-inclusive encyclopedia, but it feels comprehensive.
I do have a few small quibbles with its system of organization. While I prefer a topical organization to a strictly alphabetical one (as was employed in the Encyclopedia of North Carolina [Powell 2006]), the way the editors have arranged their entries creates some confusion, as well as a bit of repetition. For instance, rather than having a single entry on the Melungeon ethnic group, there is an entry on Melungeons in the "Race, Ethnicity, and Identity" section, one on the origin of the word Melungeon in "Language," one on Melungeon families and communities in "Family and Community," and one on the characterization of Melungeons in Appalachian fiction in "Literature." Surely all of these could have been consolidated into a single, broad entry, with references in other sections pointing the reader to that one entry. Many subjects are treated this way, especially coal and coal-mining, entries that proliferate throughout the volume, as can well be imagined.
That said, the sheer breadth of the work is delightful, ranging from specific groups or institutions to general overviews of cultural phenomena. …