Abstract

The existing literature on the history of Appalachia in the nineteenth century seeks to understand either the evolution of the construction of the mountaineer stereotype or the reality of life in Appalachia during the period. It does not seek to understand how mountaineers conceived of themselves. My study helps fill that gap by analyzing the idea of Appalachia in the minds of middle-class mountaineers. The genesis of the Appalachian stereotype occurred through the various writings of journalists and travel writers from the New England area. These sketches emphasized the exotic nature of mountain life and highlighted the inherent deviance of the mountaineer. Aware of how they were portrayed in mass media, middle-class mountaineers in western North Carolina deliberately rejected this portrayal through local newspapers. Through these media outlets, mountaineers fought to establish a counter-narrative that defined Southern Appalachia as an extension of the New South and its inhabitants as progressive. In the process, these residents struggled to ensure that middle-class imagery represented the still contingent idea of Appalachia in the American consciousness. In their minds, an aspirational progressivism most closely described the true community of the southern mountains, and all other visions of mountain culture were obscene and inaccurate media creations.

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