Selling Tradition

Appalachia and the Construction of an American Folk, 1930-1940

By Jane S. Becker

360 pp., 6.14 x 9.21, 35 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4715-2
    Published: September 1998
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6031-1
    Published: November 2000
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6948-7
    Published: November 2000

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The first half of the twentieth century witnessed a growing interest in America's folk heritage, as Americans began to enthusiastically collect, present, market, and consume the nation's folk traditions. Examining one of this century's most

prominent "folk revivals"--the reemergence of Southern Appalachian handicraft traditions in the 1930s--Jane Becker unravels the cultural politics that bound together a complex network of producers, reformers, government officials, industries, museums, urban markets, and consumers, all of whom helped to redefine Appalachian craft production in the context of a national cultural identity.

Becker uses this craft revival as a way of exploring the construction of the cultural categories "folk" and "tradition." She also addresses the consequences such labels have had on the people to whom they have been assigned. Though the revival of domestic arts in the Southern Appalachians reflected an attempt to aid the people of an impoverished region, she says, as well as a desire to recapture an important part of the nation's folk heritage, in reality the new craft production owed less to tradition than to middle-class tastes and consumer culture--forces that obscured the techniques used by mountain laborers and the conditions in which they worked.

About the Author

Jane S. Becker, an independent scholar, received her Ph.D. in American studies from Boston University.
For more information about Jane S. Becker, visit the Author Page.


"Rarely has a historiographic treatment of material culture achieved the transdisciplinary scope that Jane S. Becker's has. . . . Becker is extremely thorough in her analysis and comprehensive in her research. The result is a significant contribution to scholarship."--American Historical Review

"For Becker, the history of handicrafts illuminates the search for American culture as itself a phenomenon worth noticing. It is this that makes this book so important."--Journal of American History

"A book that should be of great value in folklife and women's studies as well as in regional studies."--Journal of Southern History

"Selling Tradition’s strength is Becker's ability to reveal the multifaceted economic relationships that sustained the crafts industry. Her depth of knowledge is stunning. . . . As a work of cultural history it remains an important accomplishment. To anyone who had assumed that crafts were simple expressions of a naive mountain folk culture, the book will offer a startling wake-up call. To anyone interested in the depression-era search for a true American culture, it will serve as a valuable companion to other works that address aspects of this subject."--Winterthur Portfolio

"Becker makes a significant contribution to that growing body of regional literature with her fascinating and exhaustively researched study of the cultural politics surrounding Southern mountain handicraft traditions."--The Review of Politics

"The best and most detailed accounting to date of the rich decade of development of the Appalachian crafts and folk festivals."--Journal of Appalachian Studies