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Author Timothy Silver Shares the Environmental History Of Eastern America’s Highest Peaks on North Carolina Bookwatch

silver.jpgThousands of tourists visit Mount Mitchell each year — the most prominent feature of North Carolina’s Black Mountain range and the highest peak in the eastern United States.

From Native Americans and early explorers to land speculators and conservationists, people have long been drawn to this rugged region.

Drawing on the historical account found in his latest book Mount Mitchell & The Black Mountains: An Environmental History of the Highest Peaks in Eastern America, author Timothy Silver shares much of the complex history of this region on North Carolina Bookwatch, airing Sunday, July 20, at 5 p.m.

Silver is professor of history at Appalachian State University His previous books include A New Face on the Countryside: Indians, Colonists, and Slaves in South Atlantic Forests, 1500-1800.

As a history professor and an environmental historian, Silver uses his background to explain the book’s perspective and makes the nature of the region an active part of its history. Silver muses, “I tell my students that there’s a very simple definition for environmental history — it’s history with the plants and animals left in.”

As a result, among the book’s many tales of Elisha Mitchell, the renowned geologist and University of North Carolina professor for whom Mount Mitchell is named, are nature’s stories — of forest fires, chestnut blight, competition among plants and animals, insect invasions, and, most recently, airborne toxins and acid rain. As part of Silver’s narrative, the environmental history makes his account the first history of the Appalachians in which the natural world gets equal time with human history. It is only by understanding the dynamic between these two forces, Silver says, that we can begin to protect the Black Mountains for future generations.

Silver considers the author’s truism “write what you know” as the mantra he took closest to his heart in writing this book. His chronicle of the geological and environmental forces that created the mountains, tracing their history of environmental change and human intervention from the days of Indian-European contact to today, represent his lifelong interest in these Tar Heel peaks.

“I’ve been drawn to the area since childhood…my family has roots in the area and it’s also a place where I first became connected to the outdoors,” says Silver. “There are just so many stories there — stories of people and of nature — and that’s what I wanted to capture in the book. To me history is a good story, well-told, and that’s what I was after.”

North Carolina Bookwatch is part of UNC-TV’s ongoing commitment to produce programs for and about North Carolina. UNC-TV is the statewide 11-station broadcast network of the University of North Carolina.

For more information about North Carolina Bookwatch and UNC-TV’s other local productions, visit