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Uneven GroundUneven Ground

Appalachia since 1945

Ronald D. Eller

Narrated by Neil Holmes

Available from Audible

Book published by The University Press of Kentucky

Appalachia has played a complex and often contradictory role in the unfolding of American history. Created by urban journalists in the years following the Civil War, the idea of Appalachia provided a counterpoint to emerging definitions of progress. Early-twentieth-century critics of modernity saw the region as a remnant of frontier life, a reflection of simpler times that should be preserved and protected. However, supporters of development and of the growth of material production, consumption, and technology decried what they perceived as the isolation and backwardness of the place and sought to “uplift” the mountain people through education and industrialization. Ronald D Eller has worked with local leaders, state policymakers, and national planners to translate the lessons of private industrial-development history into public policy affecting the region.

In Uneven Ground: Appalachia since 1945, Eller examines the politics of development in Appalachia since World War II with an eye toward exploring the idea of progress as it has evolved in modern America. Appalachia’s struggle to overcome poverty, to live in harmony with the land, and to respect the diversity of cultures and the value of community is also an American story. In the end, Eller concludes, “Appalachia was not different from the rest of America; it was in fact a mirror of what the nation was becoming.”

Ronald D. Eller is former director of the Appalachian Center and professor of history at the University of Kentucky. He is the author of Miners, Millhands, and Mountaineers: Industrialization of the Appalachian South, 18801930.


Uneven Ground is passionate, clear, concise, and at times profound. It represents in many ways the cumulative vision of decades of observation about, experience in, and research on Appalachia. Eller is astute to relate very early in the book how integral Appalachia was to the history of American development.”

—Chad Berry, author of Southern Migrants, Northern Exiles

Uneven Ground makes important contributions to the fields of Appalachian history and the history of the United States anti-poverty public policy. A sweeping narrative that cuts across a half-century of economic, political, and environmental themes, this book provides a synthesis of scholarship and commentary concerning the politics of economic development directed toward the Southern mountains. It is a highly significant work that will serve as the standard reference for the foreseeable future.”

—Robert S. Weise, author of Grasping at Independence: Debt, Male Authority, and Mineral Rights in Appalachian Kentucky, 1850-1915

“Ever since the travel writing about Appalachia of the early 18th century and the beginning of coal mining before the Civil War, followed by industrialization and more colorful writing about “a strange land and peculiar people,” Americans have tried to do something with, to and for the region. Few of us have understood it very well, but with the arrival of this book, I am convinced that no one offers better insights than its author.”

—Al Smith,

“i>Uneven Ground should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the region that includes so much of Kentucky.”

—Tom Eblen, The Lexington Herald-Leader

Uneven Ground is the culmination of more than 40 years of teaching and working for change in the mountains by one of the region’s most esteemed scholars.”

Kentucky Monthly

“This book has become one of the most eagerly anticipated in the history of Appalachian Studies.”

Appalachian Heritage

Uneven Ground covers a staggering amount of historical terrain and fills along-overdue gap in the region’s historiography....[The book] is a must read for scholars, students, activists, and policymakers who hope to make sense of Appalachia’s modern landscape.”

H-Net Reviews

“Eller’s book is one of a kind, an invaluable description of Appalachia’s past and a guide to our common future.””


“Indispensible to any study of Appalachia, whether academic or otherwise.”

Teaching History

“Eller does a superb job of showing the struggles to change Appalachia. His work is also an excellent study of why the Great Society practically succeeded and also failed.”


“Eller offers a tight and at times passionate narrative of major historical events since 1945 and their connection to the national scene.”

West Virginia History

“Eller has again produced a sharply focused, insightful, and at times relentless overview of a region that continues to mystify and perplex historians, social scientists, economists, and public policy makers.”

Journal of American History

“A comprehensive, powerful analysis of post-1945 Appalachia.”

Journal of Southern History

“Eller pieces together a very disjointed history to make a significant contribution to our understanding of Appalachia....His parallel notions of regional uniqueness and national conformity will challenge students, scholars, and interested Appalachians to ask new questions about the region’s recent past and uncertain future.”

Ohio Valley History

“Eller has researched and written about this rural industrial region with passion, personal insight and a hope that is often lacking in work on Appalachia. Equally important, he insists that Appalachia is not a region apart, but rather that its dilemma is, in fact, increasingly America’s dilemma.”

Journal of Rural History

“Now as one of his field's elder statesmen, Eller systematically analyzes a more recent period in Appalachian history; a complx era of regional ferment that gave birth to his own ground-breaking book and the scholarship that evolved from it...His practical and prescient messages are essential reading for both regional and national audiences...Eller's prose persuasively refutes-once again-the persistent, intellectually lazy notions of Appalachian isolation, uniformity, and peculiarity. Eller is at his very best when he explores how "unintended consequences" of those broader developments converged with internal challenges and crises (most notably massive out-migration and unregulated strip-mining) to foster outbursts of grass-roots activism and a cultural renaissance that were simultaneously unique and universal...Uneven Ground warns Americans about an array of challenges to our national soul and general well-being including: environmental threats, inequities of status and income, and matters of economic security and sustainability.”

Journal of East Tennessee History

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