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Ginseng Diggers: A History of Root and Herb Gathering in Appalachia by Luke Manget

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Full disclosure: I have dug “sang” on the common land near the small farm in Tennessee’s Sequatchie Valley watershed where my late wife and I started our married life in the 1970s. Recent books – like Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia by Steven Stoll (2018) and Blue Ridge Commons: Environmental Activism and Forest History in Western North Carolina by Katheryn Newfont (2012) and Appalachia’s Alternative to Mainstream America by Paul Salstrom (2021) have focused attention on the crucial role that common land has played in making what Stoll calls the mixed economy of small-scale farming sustainable. Common land is ground that is not developed and available for unobtrusive usage to nearby landowners. For generations, digging ginseng on the common land has been a key source of income for otherwise primarily subsistence farmers. Thus, this book that explores that tradition is particularly vital. "Meticulously researched and beautifully written, Ginseng Diggers is a tour de force in the still-emerging field of US commons history. Manget guides us surefootedly through nineteenth-century Appalachian forests, excavating the intricate ecologies, economies, and cultural contexts medicinal plant gatherers routinely navigated. A worthwhile read for anyone interested in imagining more sustainable futures, Ginseng Diggers makes vital contributions to the histories of medicine and capitalism as well as to environmental history and Appalachian studies."―Kathryn Newfont. "Manget's impressive research in merchant records, correspondence, diaries, and local newspapers provides a fascinating glimpse at the evolution of ginseng culture in Appalachia and its connection to the national economy and society. A major addition to our understanding of land use, the role of the commons, and capitalism in the mountains."―Ronald D Eller. "On rare occasions a book comes along that totally revises how we look at important historical issues. Luke Manget's Ginseng Diggers is such a book, providing crucial new insights into Appalachian subsistence practices. Manget opens up a whole new world of root and herb gathering, the business surrounding it, and the commons practices that made it possible. A must-read for scholars of Appalachia and anyone interested in the region's culture and history."―Daniel S. Pierce. The author of Ginseng Diggers, Luke Manget, teaches history at Dalton State University in Georgia.

Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2022. 296 pages with an Index and Notes. Hardback in dust jacket.