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The Anguish of Displacement

The Politics of Literacy in the Letters of Mountain Families in Shenandoah National Park
Katrina M. Powell
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Following Congress’s approval of the creation of Shenandoah National Park in 1926, displaced Virginia mountain families wrote to U.S. government officials requesting various services, property, and harvested crops. The collection of 300 handwritten letters that resulted from this relocation reveals a complex dynamic between the people and the government and captures a moment in American history when the social, historical, and political climate was ripe for such uprooting. In The Anguish of Displacement: The Politics of Literacy in the Letters of Mountain Families in Shenandoah National Park, Katrina M. Powell explores the function of literacy as social and symbolic action and shows how these letters exposed multifaceted issues surrounding literacy, its use and disuse, and its power in documenting individual stories within the broader, overarching narratives about the Virginia landscape and the mountaineer.

Through rhetorical and socioliterary analysis, Powell examines what individual literate acts say about public educational practices, placing competing discourses about the region’s history alongside contemporary literacy theory. Through this approach, she both uncovers the complexities of gender, material condition, and education in determining and resisting social position and contributes to evolving theories of literacy and identity, arguing for their inextricable link.