- Extracting Appalachia: Images of the Consolidation Coal Company, 1910–1945, and: To Move a Mountain: Fighting the Global Economy in Appalachia
For Appalachian scholars in all disciplines, the domination of the region's economy by outside interests is a well-established fact. This historical development was welcomed by local elites in the period after the Civil War as a way to revive the moribund regional economy. With the collapse of the Appalachian economy in the 1920s, the advent of the Great Depression, and the War on Poverty in the 1960s, the early industrialists later seemed more like villains than saviors. This latter attitude was given voice by Harry M. Caudill, a lawyer from eastern Kentucky. In 1962, he published Night Comes to the Cumberlands that reached a broad national audience. The book's impact was considerable and is often credited with helping to create the Appalachian Regional Commission. Caudill returned to the topic with his Theirs Be the Power (1983) in which he described the activities of business owners in unflattering terms.
Caudill's unevenly researched work appealed to a significant number of youthful Appalachian scholars who were deeply influenced by the Civil Rights movement. Seeking an explanation for the challenges their region faced, they sought to more thoroughly document Caudill's assertions. Starting with John Alexander Williams' West Virginia and the Captains of Industry (1976), this proof came. Williams demonstrated that both West Virginia politics and economy became the captives of out-of-state interests. John Gaventa provided another concrete example of this process with a study of an English [End Page 721] corporation in Middlesboro, Kentucky in Power and Powerlessness (1980). This analysis of the late-nineteenth century and early twentieth century was completed by Ronald D. Eller in Miners, Millhands, and Mountaineers (1982). David E. Whisnant, Modernizing the Mountaineer (1981) and John C. Hennen, The Americanization of West Virginia (1996) demonstrated that this trend continued well into the twentieth century.
Thus, the two books under review here have chosen a topic that has long been investigated by regional scholars. Geoffrey L. Buckley is well aware of this past scholarship and includes it in his analysis of the collection of 4,000 photographic prints left behind by the Consolidation Coal Company. Buckley, an assistant professor of Geography at Ohio University, starts with a discussion of the problems and opportunities inherent in using photographs as evidence. He follows this enlightening discussion with a brief history of the Consolidation Coal Company. Starting as independent companies that combined together after the Civil War in western Maryland, the corporation grew until it "operated 107 mines and controlled approximately 303,000 acres of coal and timber lands in four Appalachian states" (p. 36).
Using his photographic sources, Buckley assesses Consolidation's policies dealing with company towns, work and equipment, and the environment. Like Crandall Shifflett in Coal Towns (1991), Buckley finds that the negative images that the company towns have borne for many decades were inaccurate. The photographs in the Consolidation collection showed communities—particularly Jenkins, Kentucky— that were quite superior to the small mountain towns around them. Like Price Fishback in his 1986 article in the Journal of Economic History, Buckley challenges the stereotype of the company store as a malicious institution.
Safety was the major topic covered by the section on work and machines. Buckley indicates that a genuine interest in preventing injuries was a conscious part of company policy. Not unexpectedly, there was virtually no photographic evidence of labor disputes and union activity. Following the insights offered by Ronald L. Lewis in Transforming the Appalachian Countryside (1998) and Richard A. Bartlett, (Troubled Waters, 1995), Buckley uses the photographs commissioned by the company to demonstrate its misuse of the environment. He perceptively notes that the company's leaders undoubtedly viewed these...