The region called Appalachia runs from southern New York State in the north, through western Pennsylvania and Maryland, the entire state of West Virginia, the extreme western areas of the states of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, the eastern portions of Kentucky and Tennessee and the northern parts of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. Most of Appalachia is within the Appalachian mountain area though not all of the Appalachians—in New England particularly—are in Appalachia.
Appalachia is quite a large region, and not all stereotypes apply, but for much of American history this was a land isolated from most of the major American population centers in the east and along the Great Lakes. Though rich in natural resources it is considered an economically disadvantaged region. With exceptions of course, the population tends to be of British extraction, with elements from England (particularly the north of England), Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland (the so-called “Scots-Irish”). These people are predominantly Protestant in religion, with a strong inclination toward evangelical Christianity. With the development of extensive coal mining in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Germans, Italians and other European immigrants came to enrich the cultural mix in this region. Appalachia also has a significant native-American heritage, particularly associated with the populous Cherokee tribe. Native-Americans and whites have intermarried in the region over the centuries.
One of the great unkind stereotypes of Appalachia involves the people called “hillbillies:” isolated, uneducated, rather primitive white people who live crudely, drink illegally distilled whisky called “moonshine,” speak a fossilized Elizabethan variety of English, feud with their neighbors, and are otherwise a breed apart from the standard American culture. A related negative stereotype is the “redneck,” a term applied, usually unfairly, to many rural southerners. These stereotypes ignore the rich cultural heritage of the region. Appalachia has a significant literary tradition, and also a fine heritage of traditional handicrafts, but it is the region’s music that truly puts it on the world cultural map. The area’s long isolation preserved traditional forms of music that have all but died out in Great Britain. Broadly speaking this is called “mountain music” today; the genre called “bluegrass” is an offshoot, the American genre of “country and western” music an important descendant.
Another stereotype of Appalachia involves coal mining. This is an important industry in the region because portions of it lie above some of the richest coal reserves in the world, but modern Appalachia has many other industries, thriving cities, and a significant tourism industry because of the region’s great natural beauty. Pockets of poverty do still exist in Appalachia, but the region is better integrated into the national economy than it has been in the past.
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