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John Gaventa papers

Identifier: AC-630

Scope and Contents

The John Gaventa Papers include materials generated and collected during Gaventa's career as a political sociologist, educator, author, and civil society practitioner. This includes correspondence, day planners and calendars, journals, materials from conferences, and papers, reports and studies written by Gaventa. The collection also includes resesearch notes, newspaper clippings, photographs, interview transcripts, and maps concerning coal mining in Appalachia and Wales and the economic and environmental effects of coal mining on these regions as well as materials concerning the American Association Limited and Sir Denys Lowson. There are also several posters advertising talks and film showings hosted by John Gaventa and cassette tapes and a VHS tape of speeches given by Gaventa.


  • 1882-1996, undated
  • Majority of material found within 1962 - 1996



The majority of the materials are in English with some items in Spanish and Swedish.

Biographical Note

John Gaventa was born in Tennessee in 1949. He obtained a BA in Politics, Sociology, and Philosophy from Vanderbilt University and his doctorate in Politics from Oxford University (Nuffield College). Much of Gaventa’s writing and research concern international development, grassroots organizations, social movements, and poverty and landownership in the Appalachian region. He also conducted extensive research on the American Association Limited, a British landowning company that owned 50,000 acres of land in Tennessee and Kentucky, which was suspected of not paying property taxes on the land it owned. His work has been widely published in academic and popular journals. He published his book Power and Powerlessness in an Appalachian Valley in 1980 and has since edited several other books.

In 1975 and 1976, Gaventa worked with sociologist Helen Lewis and filmmaker Richard Greatrex as part of the South Wales Mining Community study funded by a grant by the National Science Foundation and the Miners Library in Swansea, Wales to compare mining communities in South Wales with similar communities in Appalachia. They conducted the study in Upper Brynamman and Rhosamman in the Amman Valley, Wales.

From 1976 until 1993, Gaventa worked as the director and co-director of the Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee. Founded in 1932, the Highlander is an organization that supports grassroots organizations that fight for justice and equality. The center holds workshops on social justice and other related topics. After working at the Highlander Center, he worked as co-founder and co-director of the Community Partnership Center and professor of Sociology at University of Tennessee, Knoxville; professor and research fellow in the Power, Participation, and Social Change team, Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex; and as director of the Coady International Institute and VP of International Development. Gaventa also participated in conducting and writing several studies and reports regarding the Appalachian region, the American Association Limited, and the effects of coal mining on the Appalachian region.

The American Association Limited is a British land-owning company that during the 1970’s owned 17% of the land in Claiborne County, Tennessee. Alexander Arthur, a Scottish engineer, founded the company in 1886 and began mining coal and coke and converting ore into pig iron. He also founded the town of Middlesboro in the Yellow Creek valley. After the Panic of 1893, the company suffered financial difficulties. Sir Denys Lowson bought the company in the 1960’s. Lowson served as Lord Mayor of London before he bought the American Association and ran a large financial empire. During the 1970’s, the company was suspected of tax evasion and aU.S. Senate subcommittee ordered an investigation of the company. Lowson’s financial empire was also scrutinized resulting several court cases and parliamentary inquiries.


11 Linear Feet (16 boxes, 2 oversize folders, 1 audiocassette box)


The John Gaventa Papers consist of the papers and research materials of political sociologist John Gaventa. This includes research materials concerning coal mining in Appalachia and Wales and the economic and environmental effects of mining on these regions as well as materials concerning the American Association Limited and Sir Denys Lowson. It also includes correspondence, journals and calendars, publications and papers written by Gaventa, interview transcripts, photographs, and audiocassette tapes and a VHS tape of speeches given by Gaventa.


The collection is arranged into five series. Materials are arranged alphabetically and then chronologically within series and subseries. Series 1: Subseries: B is arranged chronologically.

Series 1: Personal Papers • Subseries A: Awards • Subseries B: Calendars and Journals • Subseries C: Clippings and Publications • Subseries D: Correspondence • Subseries E: Interview Transcripts • Subseries F: Professional Activities • Subseries G: Research

Series 2: Works • Subseries A: Papers • Subseries B: Publications • Subseries C: Reports and Studies • Subseries D: Speeches and Lectures

Series 3: Coal and Union History

Series 4: American Association and Lowson • Subseries A: American Association • Subseries B: Sir Denys Lowson

Series 5: Audiovisual Material

Acquisitions Information

This collection was donated by John Gaventa in May and September of 2006 and was accessioned as AC.2006.024.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Anne Walker and Rachel Lovelace-Portal in 2013. The finding aid was written by Rachel Lovelace-Portal in 2013. This collection was processed as part of a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. The grant funded extensive processing of the backlog within the W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection between 2012 and 2014.

John Gaventa Papers
Rachel Lovelace-Portal
July 3, 2013
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Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Research Center Repository