Common Land in Appalachia


Common land has played a key role in Appalachian life. Communal areas are used to graze livestock, as woodlots, for collecting non-forestry products, for hunting, and for recreation. During the process of modernization, ownership and utilization of the land was consolidated among the local and non-local elites and industrial interests at the expense of the quality of life of the general community. While a large amount of scholarship has been done on land commons and Appalachia separately, the focus on communal land and resources in Appalachia has been more limited. Contemporary approaches to land commons include public use areas, community land trusts, and working lands conservation easements. These institutions are not easily separated from the related issues surrounding them, such as natural resources and community engagement. Large, formal public establishments such as federal and state forests and parks are not comprehensively included, as they are extensively covered elsewhere, except in particular instances where they relate to commons and local use.

Introductory Text: 

The following offers a general history of land commons and communal use in Appalachia:

Williams, John Alexander. “Appalachia.” Encyclopedia of American Social History (Mary Kupiec Cayton, Elliott J. Gorn, and Peter W. Williams, ed.). New York: Scribner, 1993: 1031-1044. ASU MAIN STACKS HN57 .E58 1993 v.1.

Library of Congress Subject Headings: 

Highly Relevant:

Agriculture--United States--History

Appalachian Region--History

Appalachian Region--Economic conditions

Appalachian Region, Southern--Social life and customs


Communal rangelands

Forestry and community–Appalachian Region

Hunting--United States

Land use

Land use, Rural--United States

Land use, Rural--Planning

Land reform

Land tenure--United States

Land trusts--United States

Mountain life--Appalachian Region, Southern

Natural resources, Communal

Pasture, Right of

Protected areas

Public lands--United States

Recreation areas--Public use

Rural development--United States


Also Relevant:

Appalachian Region

Appalachian Mountains

Appalachians (People)

Community development

Conservation easements

Coal mines and mining--United States

Ecological reserves

Grazing--United States

Land use, Rural

Land use--United States

Land value taxation

Natural areas

More General:

Forests and forestry

Human ecology--United States

Land use--Environmental aspects--United States

Mixed-use developments

Natural areas

Public lands--United States—History

Sustainable agriculture

Sustainable forestry


Land capability for wildlife

Land reform--Developing countries

Land settlement patterns

Land subdivision

Land use mapping


Reclamation of land

Clipping Files Subject Headings – W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection: 


Appalachian – Economic Conditions

Appalachia – History

Economics – Appalachia

Forests and Trees

Housing – Appalachia


Land Use


Natural Resources



Library of Congress Call Numbers: 

Highly Relevant:






























Also Relevant:





More General:












The following texts are among those commonly cited:

Appalachian Land Ownership Task Force, The. Who Owns Appalachia?: Landownership and Its Impact. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1983. ASU SPEC APP COLL HD210.A66 W48 1983.

Boyer, Jefferson C. “Reinventing the Appalachian Commons”. Social Analysis. Winter 2006, V. 50, Iss 3: 217-232. Academic OneFile. ASU WEB ACCESS.

Harper, David. “Community Land Trusts: Saving the Land to Which We Belong.” Saving Land (Formerly The Exchange. V. 1-26, 1982-2008). Summer 2007: 9-13. <

Hufford, Mary, curator. Tending the Commons: Folklife and Landscape in Southern West Virginia. Digital Collection. Library of Congress: American Memory. 2005. <

Newfont, Kathryn. Blue Ridge Commons: Environmental Activism and Forest History in Western North Carolina. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012. ASU SPEC APP COLL SD413.N65 N49 2012.

Williams, John Alexander. Appalachia: A History. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002: 33-48, 83-220. ASU SPEC APP COLL F106 .W68 2002.

Guides, Encyclopedias, and Dictionaries: 

Abramson, Rudy and Jean Haskell, ed. Encyclopedia of Appalachia. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2006: 123-125, 129-130, 175-181, 276, 336-337, 395-402, 417, 419-420, 423-424, 428-429, 1591. ASU SPEC APP COLL F106 .E53 2006.

Christensen, Karen and David Levinson, ed. Encyclopedia of Community: From the Village to the Virtual World. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 2003: 283-284, 290-296. ASU MAIN STACKS HM756 .E53 2003.

Geist, Helmut, ed. Our Earth’s Changing Land: An Encyclopedia of Land-Use and Land-Cover Change. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2006: 92, 134-137, 219-220, 300-302, 334-335, 241-246, 349-355, 357-362, 363-365, 373-375, 410-416, 431-441, 452, 453, 581-582, 600-605. ASU REFERENCE GF90 .O87 2006.

International Independence Institute. The Community Land Trust: A Guide to a New Model for Land Tenure in America. Cambridge, Mass.: Center for Community Economic Development, 1972: 1-15. ASU MAIN STACKS KF736.L3 I56.

Land Trust Alliance, The. Starting a Land Trust: A Guide to Forming a Land Conservation Organization. Arlington, Va.: The Land Trust Alliance, 1990: 1-14. ASU MAIN STACKS KF736.L3 S73 1990.


Bollier, David. Commons Bibliography. 90 citations divided into sections, ranging from 1944-2011. <

Brown, Jo. B. “Annual Appalachian Studies Bibliography”. Journal of Appalachian Studies. V. 1-, 1996- . A thorough bibliography of recent works on Appalachia in existence since 1995. Released annually in the spring edition and cumulated online. ASU SPEC APP COLL F106 .J74.

Burch, John R., Jr. The Bibliography of Appalachia: More than 4,700 Books, Articles, Monographs and Dissertations, Topically Arranged and Indexed. Jefferson, N.C.: MacFarland & Company, 2009. An extensive, representative bibliography of Appalachia, including both new and historic works arranged by topic and indexed by subject and author. Part of the Contributions to Southern Appalachian Studies series. ASU SPEC APP COLL Z1251.A7 B87 2009.

Fisher, Steve. “Assault on the Land”. A Selective Bibliography on Appalachia, with an Emphasis on Political Economy. s.l.: s.n.,1981: 32-35. Bibliography written to aid instructors in social sciences and grassroots organizing concentrating on Appalachia. Section of interest contains almost 60 citations from journals, articles, and books. Most citations in this section, similar to the bibliography as a whole, are from the 1970s. ASU SPEC APP COLL Z1251.A7 F57 1981.

__________. A Selective, Annotated Bibliography on Land Ownership and Property Taxation, with an Emphasis on Appalachia. New Market, Tenn.: Highlander Center, 1980. A revision of a preliminary annotated bibliography focusing on land ownership and tax issues in Appalachia. Offers around 500 citations from journals, articles, and books, most dating from the 1970s. ASU SPEC APP COLL Z7164.L3 F5 1980.

Graves, Glenna Horne. A Selected Bibliography on Agriculture and Modernization Relating to the Appalachian South. Lexington, Ky.: G.H. Graves, 1988. Around 80 citations on the modernization of agriculture in the region. Earliest work is from 1911, though the vast majority are from the 1970s and 1980s. ASU APP COLL STACKS: Z 5075.U6 A6 1988b.

Hess, Charlotte and Emily Castle, ed. The Comprehensive Bibliography of the Commons. Indiana University Digital Library Program, 2010. Searchable bibliography covering from 1998 to 2010 with over 60,400 citations and 25,000 abstracts. <

International Land Coalition. Securing the Commons: Annotated Bibliography. 14 citations, ranging from 2001-2008. <

Abstracts and Indices: 

Digital Library of the Commons. Indiana University Digital Library Program. Provides free access to dissertations, articles, and papers on the commons. Allows the user to perform advanced searches or browse by document type, date, subject, region, conference, etc. Also features an image database and a comprehensive bibliography. <

Highly relevant subject headings:


Forest Resources



Land Tenure and Use

Rangeland management

Theory and General & Multiple-Use Sectors

Tourism management

Wildlife Sectors

Social Sciences Citation Index (formerly Social Sciences and Humanities Index. Vol. 1-9, 1965-1974). Part of the Web of Knowledge. Thomson Reuters. Provides 1,950 journals in 50 different scientific disciplines. Lets the user refine searches by publication subject, document type, research area, author, etc. < ASU WEB ACCESS.

JSTOR. ITHAKA. Offers over 1,500 journals and primary sources in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities from at least two to five years prior. User’s can browse by discipline, title, publisher, or perform advanced searches. <>. ASU WEB ACCESS.

Sociological Abstracts. ProQuest. Offers abstracts and citations of and access to journal articles on the social and behavioral sciences, as well as abstracts of books, chapters, and reviews. Hosts almost a million records from 1952 to the present. Most citations link to other articles across the ProQuest network. Advanced search is available by source type, document type, language, etc. < ASU WEB ACCESS.

The most relevant and productive subject searches for the above three indices include:


Common land

Land use

Land ownership


Appalachian Journal: A Regional Studies Review. Boone: Appalachian State University. V. 1-, Fall 1972- . Semiannual. ASU SPEC APP COLL F216.2.A66.

Ecological Economics: The Journal of the International Society for Ecological Economics. Amsterdam, NL; New York: Elsevier; International Society for Ecological Economics. V. 1-, Feb. 1989- . Monthly. ScienceDirect Freedom Collection. ASU WEB ACCESS.

International Journal of the Commons. s.l.: International Association for the Study of the Commons. V. 1-, 2007- . Semiannual. Directory of Open Access Journals. ASU WEB ACCESS.

Journal of Appalachian Studies. Huntington, W. Va.: Appalachian Studies Association. V.1-, Fall 1995- . Semiannual. ASU SPEC APP COLL F106 .J74.


Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

New Economics Society, The (Formerly the E. F. Schumacher Society from 1980-2010).

Other Sources: 


Hardin, Garrett. “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Science. V. 162, Dec. 13, 1968: 1243-1248. JSTOR. ASU WEB ACCESS.

Propen, David and Daniel Kirk. “Trust The Land: Land Management and Business Structures for the Future.” Annals of Earth: A Publication of Ocean Arks International and the Lindisfarne Association. V. 27, Iss 1, 2009: 11-13. Environment Complete. ASU WEB ACCESS.

Rodgers, Christopher. “Reversing the ‘Tragedy’ of the Commons? Sustainable Management and the Commons Act 2006.” The Modern Law Review. V. 73, No. 3, May 2010: 461-486. JSTOR Archive Collection. ASU WEB ACCESS.

Compiled by: 

Zachary D. Swick