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HillbillyA Cultural History of an American Icon$
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Anthony Harkins

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195189506

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195189506.001.0001

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The Emergence of “Hillbilly,” 1900–1920

The Emergence of “Hillbilly,” 1900–1920

(p.47) Chapter Two. The Emergence of “Hillbilly,” 1900–1920

Anthony Harkins (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter follows the evolution of the word and the image of “hillbilly” from its first appearance in print in 1900 to the end of World War One. Starting as a regional label with a specific localized significance, the term and persona were soon spread by jokebook writers, professional linguists and, above all, the new mass medium of motion pictures. In hundreds of action shorts, directors such as D. W. Griffith (himself a Kentuckian) depicted a violent and lawless people whose feuds and drunkenness posed a serious threat to the “proper” late-Victorian social order. By the mid 1910s, however, silent films and other popular culture media began to present a parallel but distinct interpretation of the mountaineer as a comical foil for bumbling urban naifs. Despite its evolving meaning, “hillbilly” remained a relatively uncommon and thoroughly ambiguous label throughout this era.

Keywords:   jokebook, silent films, Victorian, Griffith, motion pictures, mountaineer, feuds

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