- Remapping the South:New Perspectives in Appalachian Studies
In the opening pages of Our Southern Highlanders (1913), Horace Kephart, one of the pre-eminent librarians of his day, includes a map entitled “Appalachia” and describes his difficulty finding substantive information about the Appalachian mountain region. Kephart claims that at long last, in “that dustiest room of a great library where ‘pub. docs.’ are stored, I unearthed a government report on forestry that gave, at last, a clear idea of the lay of the land.” With this information, Kephart began to reconsider his views of the [End Page 115] South, not as a “low country with sultry climate” but as a region with significant mountain chains stretching from Virginia to Alabama. One hundred years later, scholars of southern literature still struggle to categorize definitively the lay of the land of the South. In recent years, southern studies scholars have questioned the lines drawn on our maps, re-drawing the “territorial imaginaries of southern literature and southern culture,” as Barbara Ladd stated in her 2012 talk at the Society for the Study of Southern Literature conference in Nashville, Tennessee. She maintains, however, that most scholarly attention has been focused on contemporary writers from coastal regions and the Deep South. Ladd advocates for a different focus for southern studies: “I want to shift attention more generally from the Deep South and Gulf region to the Upper South.” Literature from the “Upper South,” or Appalachia, examines issues long explored in southern literature, such as class and gender, but with a different lens. Ladd writes, for example, that “we have yet to see a well-developed narrative of ‘class’ in southern literary and cultural studies, specifically one that accounts, in any truly historicized way, for the poor South and, even more specifically, for the poor white South.” In addition, because of the systematic removal of natural resources from the Appalachian region, Appalachian literature brings an ecocritical focus to the study of the South that has not often been part of more traditional southern scholarship. Erica Abrams Locklear, Casey Clabough, and the editors of The Bioregional Imagination create their own maps in these three works, helping readers to reconsider the lay of the land in new ways and through new lenses. In addition, these three works ask readers to consider how a focus on region fits into southern studies.
In her book Negotiating a Perilous Empowerment: Appalachian Women’s Literacies, Erica Abrams Locklear considers questions of gender and class as she brings literacy studies to an exploration of literature, examining Appalachian women’s conflicted relationship with education and literacy. While education in American society is often valorized as a way to achieve material and social success, Locklear traces the price these women must pay for their education, often alienation from family and community. This process is often expressed in a common fear of these women “getting above their raising,” even when academic success results in opportunity and material success.
Early in the book, Locklear addresses the “notion of Appalachia as a place apart.” She acknowledges that many cultures and regions experience the same kinds of conflicts with literacy, but the fact remains that the rest of America [End Page 116] considers Appalachia to be exceptional. While Appalachia is often associated with the “poor white,” Locklear emphasizes the diversity of the region, explaining that Native Americans and African Americans are key cultural participants in this region. Ironically, while the United States government instituted schools for Native Americans as a method of assimilation and acculturation, laws often forbade literacy for African Americans. African Americans such as Booker T. Washington (himself from Appalachia) and Frederick...