THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF APPALACHIA IS TRULY A FEAST OF INFORMATION ABOUT ITS region. This volume provides a remarkably detailed portrait of a landscape that runs from New York to Mississippi. Its diverse articles describe how Appalachia has shaped each generation of its people. The region has been home to bitter, sometimes violent labor disputes in places such as “bloody” Harlan County, Kentucky. Known for the fiercely independent spirit of its people, parts of southern Appalachia refused to join the Confederate cause and instead provided a haven for blacks who fled slavery and whites who fled the Civil War.
The Encyclopedia is a welcome resource for readers who seek a deeper understanding of our nation’s rich history and culture. These readers can take comfort in the growing number of encyclopedias that treat American regions, states, and cities. This fine study of Appalachia joins ranks with other regional encyclopedias on the Great Plains, the Midwest, New England, the South, and the West. State encyclopedias are also being compiled throughout the nation, and those in the American South include Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas. Still other encyclopedias feature American cities such as New York and Chicago.
As each generation seeks to understand what it means to be an American, place is a touchstone for its journey. These encyclopedias—both print and digital—are important links in a newly formed chain of resources on American history and culture that were developed with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Together they honor and celebrate American people through thoughtful portraits of their homes.
The novelist Lee Smith grew up in the “steep hills and dark hollers” of southwest Virginia, the Appalachian area in which she set her novel Oral History. Honoring her father’s statement “I need a mountain to rest my eyes against,” Smith grounds her fiction within these familiar mountains and stands among generations of writers, artists, musicians, and scholars who have chronicled their Appalachian worlds. The Encyclopedia of Appalachia is such a chronicle, intended to shine a beacon of understanding on its region.
In editing this encyclopedia, Rudy Abramson and Jean Haskell cast a wide net across Appalachian history and culture, and they did their work well, creating an
essential resource about a people and a place that are at the heart of the American experience. This fine reference work will transform how future generations understand Appalachia. The region’s singers, storytellers, and artists are now joined with its political, business, and educational leaders in a volume that tells a powerful tale about the enduring value of their worlds.
Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History,
University of North Carolina, and Coeditor, Encyclopedia of Southern Culture