Wildness and Culture in Appalachia

We tend to associate wilderness with the American west – places which are understood to be relics of a more primeval landscape, and which are valued for how they connect people to nature. But the unique wildness of Appalachian landscapes has lessons about harmony, balance, and conflict between wilderness and civilization that are more difficult to learn in western landscapes. The purpose of this panel is to emphasize the way in which the unique resilience and biodiversity of the Appalachian landscape, and the adaptations of Appalachian culture to these landscapes, have important contributions to make to the discussion of wilderness overall, to re-stitching the seams between wilderness and civilization, and, especially, to discussions of rewilding.

This presentation will examine the development of our ideas of wilderness, beginning in the 19th century and continuing into the 21st century, where it increasingly becomes captured by consumerist impulses. An alternative to this sullied tradition can be found as far back as Benton MacKaye’s original plan for the Appalachian Trail, and has elements of an Appalachian wild agrarianism.