Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A review of "In the Shadow of Ragged Mountain: Historical Archaeology of Nicholson, Corbin, & Weakley Hollows"

by Audrey J. Horning

In the Shadow of Ragged Mountain is a study of the people who lived in the area now occupied by Shenandoah National Park, during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Apparently, around the time of the Great Depression, the people of this area were publicized by certain parties as being extremely primitive, stuck in a different age. This may have been done to promote certain agendas that were not in the best interests of the residents. One of those agendas was the development of the area as a resort, with the use of eminent domain to remove the land from their owners, for creation of the park.

The book focuses a lot on refuting excessive claims of the primitiveness of the residents. I was unaware of this history and the conflict at the time, so the arguments and counterarguments seem a bit moot. It’s interesting to read about it, though, in the context of current events.

The book would have been a little more lively if actual writings by the residents had been presented. It is not clear if no writings could be found. One might expect that illiteracy was high amongst the residents, but given that at least some of them are reported to have been readers, one might expect to find some old letters about the development of Skyland Resort and the dispossession of the various properties from the point of view of the owners. Instead, we mainly get some “recollections” of the residents, mostly after they had been removed from the area, some of them collected as late as the 1970’s.

The book suffers from being rather academic, and a bit dry. On the plus side, it covers some interesting history and characters, and is filled with illustrative photos.

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