A History

By John Alexander Williams

496 pp., 5.75 x 9.25, 30 illus., 8 tables, 5 maps, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5368-9
    Published: April 2002
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-6052-6
    Published: April 2003

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Awards & distinctions

2002 Weatherford Prize, Appalachian Center, Berea College

Interweaving social, political, environmental, economic, and popular history, John Alexander Williams chronicles four and a half centuries of the Appalachian past. Along the way, he explores Appalachia's long-contested boundaries and the numerous, often contradictory images that have shaped perceptions of the region as both the essence of America and a place apart.

Williams begins his story in the colonial era and describes the half-century of bloody warfare as migrants from Europe and their American-born offspring fought and eventually displaced Appalachia's Native American inhabitants. He depicts the evolution of a backwoods farm-and-forest society, its divided and unhappy fate during the Civil War, and the emergence of a new industrial order as railroads, towns, and extractive industries penetrated deeper and deeper into the mountains. Finally, he considers Appalachia's fate in the twentieth century, when it became the first American region to suffer widespread deindustrialization, and examines the partial renewal created by federal intervention and a small but significant wave of in-migration.

Throughout the book, a wide range of Appalachian voices enlivens the analysis and reminds us of the importance of storytelling in the ways the people of Appalachia define themselves and their region.

About the Author

Author or coauthor of five previous books, John Alexander Williams is professor of history at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina.
For more information about John Alexander Williams, visit the Author Page.


"A definitive, fascinating, extremely well written, comprehensive history of our region."--Appalachian Heritage

"In Appalachia: A History, one of the field's most accomplished historians takes on a monumental task and does so with sincerity, wit, and a keen sense of place."--Journal of Appalachian Studies

"This book gives the best overall view of the history, geography, economics and sensibilities of Appalachia."--Black Issues Book Review

"Williams has written about Appalachia as place rather than problem and tells us what went on there. He does so, moreover, with grace and wit, in a book that is at once charming and helpful. As a contribution to the historiography of America, it is delicious. As a contribution to the historiography of Appalachia, it is essential. . . . A magisterial achievement, and welcome."--Journal of American History

"Williams's new volume will appeal both to scholars and to a broader public long befuddled by repetitions of the tiredest of myths about the southern mountains. . . . Williams has written a book that can (and should) stand as the definitive one-volume history of Appalachia for some time to come. It is a welcome and valuable addition to the steadily growing body of new work on a long misunderstood region."--American Historical Review

"It is a book that should be studied and savored by every Appalachian resident who cares at all about his or her homeland, and it will stand as a touchstone for studies of the region for many years to come."--Journal of Southern History