Recently moving away from my childhood home to the flatlands of the north central region of Kentucky exposed me to a view of my native region that I had been mostly ignorant of. The scholars, popular culture, and the federal government consider the place of my birth Appalachia. Therefore, I had to develop a category for understanding Appalachia as a region and not just a town, university, or mountain range. I had to develop a category for understanding my region of southwestern Virginia as Appalachia. Most importantly, I had to develop a category for understanding myself as Appalachian and not just, generically speaking, an American.
In the field of Appalachian studies there is some disagreement over an appropriate definition for Appalachia. Should the region be defined geographically, culturally, economically, or defined by a combination of these or other factors? Some have even contested the legitimacy of defining the region as distinct in any manner from the rest of the country. However, in the wider American culture, Appalachia is spoken of as a particular region of the country and those who speak about it mostly have an idea in their minds of what the region is. Therefore, attempting to define the region should not be looked upon as an effort in futility.
The Appalachian Regional Commission
One source is especially important to consult in any discussion of formulating a definition for the Appalachian region. The source is the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). The ARC’s definition of Appalachia is the most widely used amongst scholars and reporters when the topic of Appalachia arises. According to their website, the ARC “is a regional economic development agency that represents a partnership of federal, state, and local government. Established by an act of Congress in 1965, [the] ARC is composed of the governors of the 13 Appalachian states and a federal co-chair, who is appointed by the president.” The ARC was developed “in the mid 1960s, at the urging of two U.S. presidents, [wherein] Congress created legislation to address the persistent poverty and growing economic despair of the Appalachian Region. Furthermore, looking deeper into the history of the ARC, their website says the following:
In 1960, the Region's governors formed the Conference of Appalachian Governors to develop a regional approach to resolving these problems. In 1961, they took their case to newly elected President John F. Kennedy, who had been deeply moved by the poverty he saw during campaign trips to West Virginia. In 1963 Kennedy formed a federal-state committee that came to be known as the President's Appalachian Regional Commission (PARC), and directed it to draw up “a comprehensive program for the economic development of the Appalachian Region.” The resulting program was outlined in an April 1964 report that was endorsed by the Conference of Appalachian Governors and Cabinet-level officials. President Lyndon B. Johnson used PARC's report as the basis for legislation developed with the bipartisan support of Congress. Submitted to Congress in 1964, the Appalachian Regional Development Act (ARDA) was passed early in 1965 by a broad bipartisan coalition and signed into law (PL 89-4) on March 9, 1965.
At any rate, before moving to the ARC’s actual definition of the Appalachian region, it is important to note that the ARC’s definition seems to include only certain elements while excluding others in defining the region. The elements of culture and other possible unifying factors are seemingly absent as influencers in the formulation of a definition. Therefore, as one source has noted, the ARC definition is “commonly accepted today as the political definition of Appalachia.” Next week we will turn to the ARC’s definition of the Appalachian region.
 Edwards, Grace Toney, JoAnn Aust Asbury, and Ricky L. Cox eds., A Handbook to Appalachia: An Introduction to the Region (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2006), xiv.