Changing Perceptions of Appalachia: Stuck in the past or moving towards the future?

Traditionally Appalachia has been stereotyped as a backwards region that is behind the times. According to Otto (2002), “any mention of the Appalachian mountains conjures up images of ‘hillbillies,’ log cabins, ‘shootin’ arns,’ ‘feudin’,’ ‘moonshine,’ ‘revenooers,’ and dueling banjos in the popular mind” (p. 112). My own research on Appalachian identity has demonstrated that young adults in Appalachia are beginning to embrace their identities and regret rejecting this identity at an earlier age (e.g. adopting neutral accents, not learning more from their grandparents, etc.) (Dye, 2008). More recently in urban Appalachia, we have seen businesses embracing their identity as situated within Appalachia. For example, J.C. Holdway, a James Beard award winning restaurant, proclaims on their website to be inspired by traditional, rural Appalachian methods. Meanwhile, moonshine distilleries are popping up throughout the region with distribution across the United States. As a result, a question needs to be raised regarding the changing perceptions of Appalachia. Are people beginning to value rather than disparage traditional Appalachian culture, or is this just a case of consumption of the other not unlike Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism, in which people are using Appalachia but have not actually changed their perceptions of the region and people? This study aims to investigate this question further by surveying people both inside and outside of Appalachia about their current perceptions of the region. Data will be analyzed to ascertain trends in perceptions of the region from Appalachians and non-Appalachians alike. This research will help update the current research on stereotyping and perceptions of Appalachia from both within and outside the region.