Yet the appropriation of Appalachian culture into a larger American identity was not an easy process, and one that was imbued with contradictions. From European pastoral poetry, the myth of the hillfolk took on new resonance in the New World. At the start of the 20th century, however, Americans felt a deep ambivalence toward the people of southern Appalachia. These hillfolk indeed represented a way of life free from urban growth and immigration. Yet their rejection of technology and rational progress was seemingly incompatible with America's larger myth.
In the 1930's, I contend, this tension was eased through the labeling of southern Appalachian people as a distinct "folk" with a unique culture, and not simply a primitive people lost in time. Turning the hillfolk into "America's folk" has not resolved our difficulties with their identity, however. The tendency of romanticizing, rejecting and ultimately reclaiming the culture of southern Appalachia continues to this day.
American Studies program, University of Virginia