Are WE Appalachian? Reflections on Regional Identity from an East Tennessee Town

Are We Appalachian?

Reflections on Regional Identity from an East Tennessee Town

East Tennessee native and acclaimed linguist Michael Montgomery’s observation that many residents of geographical Appalachia “firmly believe that Appalachia is someplace other than where they reside” inspires this presentation.

In Appalachians All: East Tennesseans & the Elusive History of an American Region (University of Tennessee Press, 2010), the presenter explored the implications of this insight for Knoxville. In this presentation, he will consider its applicability for his hometown of Kingston, Tennessee.

In a power point presentation, he will use historic photos to highlight stages in Kingston’s history. From c. 1790 to the 1820s, the strategically located river town was a frontier outpost that vied with Knoxville for East Tennessee hegemony. After losing that battle, Kingston - like the rest of East Tennessee - fell behind middle and west Tennessee and regions of the nation better suited to economic modernization. For almost a century, Kingston chased multiple pipedreams. While these efforts proved futile, Kingston dodged (at least in its own mind) “Appalachian” traits that came to define the broader region. Since the middle third of the 20th century, outside interventions – most notably TVA and the Manhattan Project - allowed Kingston to continue distancing itself from Appalachia. But, a massive coal ash spill at TVA’s Kingston steam plant in 2008, rudely reveals images popularly associated with Appalachia.

In this presentation, I will draw insights from prominent commentators on Appalachian identity, including Henry J. Shapiro, Alan Batteau, and David Hsiung and scholars who have addressed the slippery topics of identity and rural-urban relations in other settings.