Transforming the Appalachian Countryside: Railroads, Deforestation, and Social Change in West Virginia, 1880-1920

By Ronald L. Lewis | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

Appalachia is a region without a formal history. Beyond the obvious physical reality of its mountains, "Appalachia" is a socially constructed conceptual place. Born in the fertile minds of late-nineteenth-century local color writers, Appalachia was invented in the caricatures and atmospheric landscapes of the escapist fiction they penned to intertain an emergent urban middle class. Their stories and travelogues generated little or no critical evaluation of the characterizations of either mountain people or the landscape portrayed in their writings. John Fox Jr., undoubtedly the most popular author of the genre, perpetrated, and then helped perpetuate, the myth of Appalachian otherness to facilitate absentee corporate control of the region's natural resources by marginalizing indigenous residents. In short, "Appalachia" was a willful creation and not merely the product of literary imagination. 1

The publication in 1899 of Berea College President William Goodell Frost's famous article, "Our Contemporary Ancestors in the Southern Mountains," signified the maturity of the concept of Appalachia as a spa-

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