Proving Ground: Expertise and Appalachian Landscapes


Proving Ground: Expertise and Appalachian Landscapes


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The Appalachian Mountains attracted an endless stream of visitors in the twentieth century, each bearing visions of the realm that they would encounter on high. The name "Appalachia" became shorthand for a series of moral and economic calculations and pop culture references. Well before large numbers of tourists took to the mountains in the latter half of the century, however, networks of missionaries, sociologists, folklorists, doctors, artists, and conservationists made Appalachia their primary site for fieldwork. Proving Ground studies a collection of these professionals in transit to show that the travelers' tales were the foundation of powerful forms of insider knowledge. The visitors represented occupational and recreational groups that used Appalachia to gain precious expertise, and it was to these groups that they became insiders. They were not immersing themselves in a regional culture, but rather in their own professional cultures. These were people who used the mountains to help themselves. Proving Ground is a cultural history of expertise, an environmental history of the Appalachian Mountains, and a historical geography of spaces and places in the twentieth century. By using these frameworks to analyze the personal papers, professional records, and popular works of these budding experts, the book presents mountain landscapes as a fluid combination of embodied sensation, narrative fantasy, and class privilege. It will attract students of Appalachian Studies who are interested in the phenomena of cultural and environmental intervention, environmental historians concerned with the construction of hybrid landscapes, and mobility scholars who recognize the organizational power derived from access and movement.

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Johns Hopkins University Press


Appalachian Studies

Proving Ground: Expertise and Appalachian Landscapes