Can the Subaltern Speak?
Just about twenty years ago I bought a book entitled Who Speaks for Appalachia? (Haddix 1975). The main point of the book is to show that Appalachia, for all its oppressive poverty and frequent bad press, is inhabited by men and women whose life stories deserve respect. Transcriptions of folk songs and texts penned by several prominent Appalachian-born writers—Thomas Wolfe, O. Henry, Robert Penn Warren, Caroline Gordon, Elizabeth Madox Roberts—implore readers to see the men and women of Appalachia as significant. Thinking about this book today, I am impelled to ask myself why I bought it. I have never been particularly drawn to Appalachia as a research subject, though my research on southern farm tenancy and slavery suggests that I have an abiding interest in poor and disenfranchised American southerners. Looking back on this book, though, I believe it attracted me for two reasons. First were the people themselves, the men and women of the mountains who, though desperately poor in economic terms, lived in dignity and projected an aura of strength and deeply felt tradition. The title of the book also drew me toward it. I was intrigued by the notion that speaking for Appalachia could be a contested issue. As the editor noted, however, the people of this remote, mountainous country have usually had others speaking for them, as if they were somehow incapable of self-expression.
KeywordsMaterial Culture Social Power Historical Archaeologist Class Struggle Unfair Labor Practice
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