, assistant professor of history at Williams Baptist College, discusses his new book, Hillbilly Hellraisers: Federal Power and Populist Defiance in the Ozarks
(University of Illinois Press, 2017), regional relations with the federal government, and the evolution of grassroots politics.
Perkins searches for the roots of rural defiance in the Ozarks--and discovers how it changed over time. Eschewing generalities, Perkins focuses on the experiences and attitudes of rural people themselves as they interacted with government in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He uncovers the reasons local disputes and uneven access to government power fostered markedly different reactions by hill people as time went by. Resistance in the earlier period sprang from upland small farmers' conflicts with capitalist elites who held the local levers of federal power. But as industry and agribusiness displaced family farms after World War II, a conservative cohort of town business elites, local political officials, and Midwestern immigrants arose from the region's new low-wage, union-averse economy. As Perkins argues, this modern anti-government conservatism bore little resemblance to the populist backcountry populism of an earlier age but had much in common with the movement elsewhere.
Beth A. English is director of the Liechtenstein Institute's Project on Gender in the Global Community at Princeton University. She also is a past president of the Southern Labor History Association.