Appalachian Institute Resources

Appalachia brings to mind many things at once. 

Winding through the landscape we encounter ever changing terrains. Clear streams fall from ancient mountains which give way to rolling hills and farmland further down the road. The people of Appalachia are as diverse as the landscape they inhabit-miners, mill hands, and mountaineers, farmers, artisans, and musicians, educators, machinists, and entrepreneurs. 

It is inaccurate to see Appalachia as a place where all the people have Scots-Irish roots. In fact the population has never been all white. Appalachians are Muslim and Buddhist as well as Christian and Jewish. The region's inhabitants are of Native American, African, Latino, Asian and European descent. With such a varied landscape, population and culture, how do we come to understand the complex story of Appalachia?

Many have been introduced to the region through two landmark Catholic documents. The first document, This Land is Home to Me: A Pastoral Letter On Powerlessness, observes that the region has been exploited for its energy resources, namely its abundant, high quality coal. Billions of dollars worth of coal resources have been removed from the area, largely by absentee agents. Abuse of the land has resulted in the impoverishment of many of Appalachia's people. This Land is Home to Me is an eloquent study on the social sin of institutionalized poverty and its effects on the good people of the region. 

The second document At Home in the Web of Life: A Pastoral Message on Sustainable Community reflects twenty years of change since the publication of the first pastoral letter. The fate of many Appalachian communities is now even more precarious, but still it revolves around the relationship between the land and its people. At Home in the Web of Life addresses the social sin of environmental indifference and abuse. As a corrective the document holds up as example to the greater society the special relationship with the land that is felt, and still practiced, by many Appalachians.

By steeping ourselves in their messages we discover that we come to understand Appalachia by being in relationship with its land and its people. The Appalachian culture has been largely subsumed by the dominant U.S. culture, but not entirely. Its melodies still strain to be heard. Its many dialects still trip from many tongues. Appalachia's venerable richness, its ancient roots, its encompassing reach make it perhaps impossible to accurately and thoroughly define or even describe. This profile will attempt to focus on one part of its central region. Later editions will take up other areas, and will give more depth and breadth to this representation.