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Beyond the Mountains: Commodifying Appalachian Environments by Drew A. Swanson

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This book is a real tour-de-force. Note that the title employs the plural, “environments,” to emphasize the diversity of environments within a region that is defined by its singular topographical environment. Then, the author, Drew Swanson, overlays this with the broad sweep of regional economic history – note the word “commodifying” in the title!  Swanson takes different unique environmental dimensions and shows how they each contributed not only to the diversity of the region, but also to its economic development. He begins with the economic role of deerskins in the economy of the region as Europeans and their African slaves first penetrated the lands of the native people. From there he surveys the roles of the botanical collectors and then jumps to the effects of the discovery of gold in the region; the importance of regional salt during the Civil War; the development of the railroads, both following and conquering the topography; the impact of scenery as a commodity; and tobacco as a crop well-suited to the region, and then water power as a driver of economic development in particular in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The final chapter deals with coal as a developer and destroyer of the Appalachian environment and economic potential. Few books contribute substantially to a single field of study. This book contributes mightily to both regional environmental history and economic history. Drew Swanson grew up in the hill country southeast of the Blue Ridge in Virginia and teaches history at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. This is his third book.

 Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2018.  264 pages with an Index, Notes, photos, and a Foreword by James C. Giesen. Trade paperback