The Appalachian Mountains attracted an endless stream of visitors in the twentieth century, each bearing visions of what they would encounter. Well before large numbers of tourists took to the mountains in the latter half of the century, however, networks of missionaries, sociologists, folklorists, doctors, artists, and conservationists made Appalachia their primary site for fieldwork. In Proving Ground, Edward Slavishak studies several of these interlopers to show that the travelers’ tales were the foundation of powerful forms of insider knowledge.
Following four individuals and one cohort as they climbed professional ladders via the Appalachian Mountains, Slavishak argues that these visitors represented occupational and recreational groups that used Appalachia to gain precious expertise. Time spent in the mountains, in the guise of work (or play that mimicked work), distinguished travelers as master problem-solvers and transformed Appalachia into a proving ground for preservationists, planners, hikers, anthropologists, and photographers.
Based on archival materials from outdoors clubs, trade journals, field notes, correspondence, National Park Service records, civic promotional materials, and photographs, Proving Ground presents mountain landscapes as a fluid combination of embodied sensation, narrative fantasy, and class privilege. Touching on critical regionalism and mobility studies, this book is a boundary-pushing cultural history of expertise, an environmental history of the Appalachian Mountains, and a historical geography of spaces and places in the twentieth century.
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