Sex and violence still sell, and with the popularity of the Hatfields and McCoys miniseries (13.9 million viewers watched the Memorial Day debut), University Press of Kentucky has watched one of its 1982 releases of the same name, by Otis K. Rice, climb to the top of Amazon’s bestseller lists. (Otis K. Rice, 1919–2003, was professor emeritus of history at West Virginia University Institute of Technology and was named West Virginia’s first Historian Laureate in 2003.)
Using court records, public documents, official correspondence, and other documentary evidence, Rice’s book, The Hatfields and McCoys, presents an account that attempts to sort fact from fiction, event from legend. By examining the legacy of the Civil War, the weakness of religious and educational institutions, the exaggerated importance of family, the impotence of the law, and the isolation of the residents, Rice traces the origins of the feud that has inspired the History Channel’s surprise hit.
No one at the University of Kentucky seems surprised at the enduring popularity of Appalachia’s most famous family feud.
According to Ann Kingsolver, Director of the Appalachian Center at the University of Kentucky, “The intransience of our current political climate has only helped to spur interest in long-time blood feuds like the Hatfields and McCoys.” In the aftermath of the Civil War, the pro-Confederate McCoys would no doubt have clashed with a prominent, pro-Union family like the Hatfields. Such division is analogous to the current right-left divide that generated the Occupy Wall Street movement and other partisan divisions that we see playing out in our nation today, a connection which may have reverberated in the minds of viewers who helped to make the History Channel’s miniseries its largest hit to date.”
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