Appalachia History, Definition, and Map

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Appalachia Definition

Definition: Appalachia is a term used to describe a region in the eastern United States that stretches from southern New York state to northern Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. Although part of the Appalachian Mountains extends through New England and into Canada, they are not considered part of the Appalachia geographical region.

Appalachia Map
Appalachian Mountains Region Map.gif
(Appalachian Mountains Region Map)

Appalachia History


More than twenty million people live in Appalachia, an area roughly the size of the United Kingdom, covering mostly mountainous, often isolated areas from the border of Mississippi and Alabama in the south to Pennsylvania and New York in the north.


Appalachia also includes parts of the states of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, Ohio, and the entire state of West Virginia. The region contains few intermediate-sized cities, and only two large metropolitan areas are located entirely within the region—Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Knoxville, Tennessee


The expansive region, however, served by the Appalachian Regional Commission incorporates some additional urban areas, including Birmingham, Alabama, the central core of the Greenville-Spartanburg area, the northern part of the Atlanta metropolitan area, western fringes of the Charlotte area, western fringes of the Piedmont Triad, western fringes of the Washington metropolitan area and the eastern fringes of the Nashville metropolitan area.

Recommended Reading: The Appalachians: America's First and Last Frontier (Hardcover). From Publishers Weekly: Some 23 million people live in Appalachia, a region covering 200,000 square miles through 13 states. Congress recently declared a "Year of Appalachia," highlighted by the Folklore Festival, a two-week celebration on the Washington, D.C., Mall attended by 1.1 million visitors…Over 30 contributors cover all aspects of Appalachian life and culture, from "living-water baptism," coal mining, feuds, folktales, Foxfire, moonshiners, mountain music and snake handlers to the stately grandeur of North Carolina's Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, a 3,840-acre wilderness. Citing stereotypes and pop culture connections (Snuffy Smith, The Andy Griffith Show, The Waltons, Deliverance), Santelli (The Big Book of the Blues) sets the scene with an overview of the real Appalachia's origins, hardships and triumphs. Continued below…

Evans, the film's executive producer, writes that book and film provide "a multifaceted glimpse [of] the history of Appalachia: who came to the land, why they came, what they found, what they did, and why they stayed." Former Rolling Stone Press editor George-Warren presents a "Hillbilly Timeline" from 1900 to 2000. Many of the contributors, among them scholars, writers and naturalists, offer nostalgic childhood memories. [Includes] quotes, images, lyrics, poems, excerpts from 19th-century writing, more than 180 superb photos and illustrations, Archie L. Musick's scratch-board art, song sheets, engravings and R. Crumb drawings. 16 full-pages of color photos.

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Recommended Viewing: Hillbilly: The Real Story (2008) (The History Channel). Description: Join host Billy Ray Cyrus on a journey into the hollers and runs of Appalachia to discover the proud legacy of the region's mountain folk. Learn how hillbillies, long misunderstood and maligned as isolated and backward, actually have a 300-year history of achievement and success that has contributed significantly to our national identity. In this two-hour special you'll meet outcast immigrants, war heroes, isolated backwoodsmen, hard working miners, fast moving moon shiners, religious warriors, musicians and statesmen. Continued below...

You'll learn of their contributions, which include establishing the first labor unions, battling the British, and spawning some of the most popular aspects of American culture today, like NASCAR and country music. And you'll see them in a whole new light. “The numerous candid interviews highlight this outstanding addition.”


Recommended Reading: The United States of Appalachia: How Southern Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture, and Enlightenment to America. Description: Few places in the United States confound and fascinate Americans like Appalachia, yet no other area has been so markedly mischaracterized by the mass media. Stereotypes of hillbillies and rednecks repeatedly appear in representations of the region, but few, if any, of its many heroes, visionaries, or innovators are ever referenced. Continued below…

Make no mistake, they are legion: from Anne Royall, America's first female muckraker, to Sequoyah, a Cherokee mountaineer who invented the first syllabary in modern times, and international divas Nina Simone and Bessie Smith, as well as writers Cormac McCarthy, Edward Abbey, and Nobel Laureate Pearl S. Buck, Appalachia has contributed mightily to American culture — and politics. Not only did eastern Tennessee boast the country's first antislavery newspaper, Appalachians also established the first District of Washington as a bold counterpoint to British rule. With humor, intelligence, and clarity, Jeff Biggers reminds us how Appalachians have defined and shaped the United States we know today.


Editor's Pick: Encyclopedia of Appalachia (Hardcover: 1864 pages) (University of Tennessee Press) (March 1, 2006). From Booklist: The University of Tennessee Press received support from a number of companies, individuals, foundations, and organizations to fund the production of this comprehensive source of a major region of the U.S. The editors worked for almost 10 years on the project. Abramson is a journalist with the Los Angeles Times and a native of Alabama. Haskell is former director of and professor in the Center for Appalachian Studies and Services at East Tennessee State University. The encyclopedia adopts the 2005 definition used by the Appalachian Regional Commission, describing Appalachia as consisting of 410 counties in 13 states from Mississippi to New York. The organization of the encyclopedia is thematic. There are five broad subject areas: "The Landscape," "The People," "Work and the Economy," "Cultural Traditions," and "Institutions." Each section begins with a five- to six-page introduction and is then subdivided into smaller subsections. "Work and the Economy" includes "Agriculture"; "Business, Industry and Technology"; "Labor"; "Tourism"; and "Transportation." Each subsection is an A-Z of people, places, and things. Continued below...

The perception of Appalachia has been tarnished with numerous social, environmental, and economic problems, and the editors confront these as well as covering the positive aspects of the area. The 2,000 entries, written by more than 1,000 contributors from academia and journalism, include stereotypical topics (Feuds and violence, Hillbilly) but also subjects such as urban Appalachia and cultural institutions like the Pittsburgh Symphony. The entries are concise, well written, and readable both for the layperson and the scholar. Although publicity for the encyclopedia advertises its ease of use, for a true reference source, a single alphabetical sequence would have improved quick access. The major finding aid, the general index, is sandwiched between the index of contributors and the photo credits. There are no color illustrations, and the black-and-white photographs do not really enhance the text. This is an additional "area" encyclopedia but covers a larger section of the U.S. than other recent encyclopedias treating Chicago, New England, and New York. The editors and publisher are to be commended for completing a monumental work, and the reasonable price makes it a recommended purchase for all academic and large public libraries and also for high-school libraries in Appalachia. Christine Bulson Copyright American Library Association. All rights reserved.


Recommended Reading: Appalachia: A History (496 pages) (The University of North Carolina Press). Description: 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. Continued below…

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.

He or she who cares deeply about this region needs this book. (Blue Ridge Country)

An outstanding interpretation of Appalachian history. Williams's explanations on many topics are the best presently available from any publication. (Author/historian Gordon B. McKinney, Berea College)


Recommended Reading: Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon. Description: In this pioneering work of cultural history, historian Anthony Harkins argues that the hillbilly-which has been portrayed in the various guises of "briar hopper," "brush ape," "ridge runner," and "white trash"-has been viewed by mainstream Americans simultaneously as a violent degenerate who threatens the modern order and as a keeper of traditional values of family, home, and physical production, and thus symbolic of a nostalgic past free of the problems of contemporary life. "Hillbilly" signifies rugged individualism and stubborn backwardness, strong family and kin networks but also inbreeding and bloody feuds. Continued below…

Spanning film, literature, and the entire expanse of American popular culture, from D. W. Griffith to hillbilly music to the Internet, Harkins illustrates how the image of the hillbilly has consistently served as both a marker of social derision and regional pride. He traces the corresponding changes in representations of the hillbilly from late-nineteenth century America, through the great Depression, the mass migrations of Southern Appalachians in the 1940s and 1950s, the War on Poverty in the mid 1960s, and to the present day. Harkins also argues that images of hillbillies have played a critical role in the construction of whiteness and modernity in twentieth century America. Richly illustrated with dozens of photographs, drawings, and film and television stills, this unique book stands as a testament to the enduring place of the hillbilly in the American imagination.

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