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FW: H-South Review: Farmer on Boles, ed., _A Companion to the Ame rican South_

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  • A.J. Wright
    fyi..aj wright // ajwright@uab.edu ... From: Ian Binnington, H-South [mailto:binningt@uiuc.edu] Sent: Tuesday, July 09, 2002 9:45 AM To: H-SOUTH@H-NET.MSU.EDU
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      -----Original Message-----
      From: Ian Binnington, H-South [mailto:binningt@...]
      Sent: Tuesday, July 09, 2002 9:45 AM
      To: H-SOUTH@...
      Subject: H-South Review: Farmer on Boles, ed., _A Companion to the
      American South_


      H-NET BOOK REVIEW
      Published by H-South@... (July 2002)

      John B. Boles, ed., _A Companion to the American South_. Blackwell
      Companions to American History. Malden, Mass. and Oxford, UK: Blackwell
      Publishers, 2002. xii + 554 pp. Index. $124.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-631-21319-8.

      Reviewed for H-South by James O. Farmer, Jr. (Jimf@...), Department of
      History, University of South Carolina Aiken

      Testimony to a Vibrant Scholarly Field (and a cutting edge "who's who" for
      south junkies)

      Graduate students in southern history rejoice! Your vade mecum is here
      (although a bit hefty for carrying, and a bit pricey for the typical
      graduate student). Actually, all serious academic southernists will want to
      consult at least some of the chapters in this excellent collection of
      historiographical essays. John B. Boles, managing editor of _The Journal of
      Southern History_, has once again put our tribe in his debt by editing a
      worthy updating of his and Evelyn Thomas Nolen's 1987 volume, _Interpreting
      Southern History_, which was an updating of Arthur S. Link and Rembert W.
      Patrick's 1965 _Writing Southern History_. [1]

      In their preface to _Interpreting Southern History_, Boles and Nolen noted
      the dramatic changes in the scope, methodologies, and interpretive schemes
      in the field since the appearance of Link and Patrick's volume twenty-two
      years earlier. The ensuing fifteen years have witnessed a comparable
      evolution, and it is surely not too soon for a sequel to the 1987
      collection. In the present volume twenty-nine essays sum up the state of
      the field today, compared to thirteen in the Boles and Nolen offering, and
      although this is partly a matter of how the pie is sliced, it is also a
      measure of the growing depth and breadth of the field. Perhaps most
      dramatic is the contrast in the earliest period, for here we have five
      essays addressing the years before 1800, including chapters devoted to
      Indians, and the Spanish and French, where there was one in the earlier
      volume. Other areas receiving more attention are predictable: women,
      marginalized groups, the environment, and the most recent decades.

      The advent of on-line search engines and data bases have made it possible
      for scholars to quickly compile bibliographies and abstracts, easing the
      otherwise formidable task of keeping up with even a small corner of an
      academic field as large as the American South. However, these digital tools
      have not rendered a volume such as this one obsolete, for we still need
      carefully wrought historiographical essays by scholars who have read widely
      and deeply and can synthesize a long list of sources gracefully and
      provocatively. This is what the present volume provides, and so we share
      our debt to Boles with the twenty nine scholars who have, quibbles aside,
      performed their tasks admirably.

      There will, of course, be arguments about the treatment of individual
      books, and the priorities of the writers as to the volumes they consider
      most influential, but I applaud the essayists who chose, first, to begin
      with the classics in their fields, no matter how old, and second, to devote
      more space to a smaller number of books, placing them in context and
      allowing them the room needed for careful evaluation. Often a page or even
      two, and occasionally more, are devoted to a single work. Some chapters
      offer a narrative structure into which the most significant interpretations
      are woven. In every chapter, many other works are evaluated briefly, and
      even more are cited in the bibliographies, which in some cases list over
      one hundred titles. But the approach taken in these chapters avoids the
      tendency of one paragraph per book, which falsely implies an equality of
      value. Lacking the will to summarize all twenty nine chapters, I offer my
      eccentric selection of and comments on some of the book's essays.

      Amy Turner Bushnell's essay on Indians in the early south offers a
      trenchant survey of what for most southernists is an obscure area. She
      describes the "new Indian history" which "is more conscious of
      relationships among Indian nations and of intercultural spaces." It
      combines a sense of Indian agency, institutional and policy history, and
      social science models to put "Native Americans center stage in a drama
      reaching back to when the south was theirs" (4). Cynthia Kierner discusses
      the trend away from individual colonial histories and toward subregional
      and community studies that focus on social and cultural history. She
      devotes eight pages to the Chesapeake and four to the Carolinas and
      Georgia, reflecting her sense of the relative wealth of the studies she
      examines. In both cases, older works, by Edmund Morgan and Peter Wood,
      still define the terms of scholarly debate.

      Betty Wood's treatment of slavery to 1808 is a particularly excellent
      example of the historiographer's art. Like Kierner, she builds her essay on
      seminal studies reaching back some thirty years, those of David Brion
      Davis, Winthrop Jordan, Edmund Morgan, and Peter Wood. Into that framework
      she places the works of Sylvia Frey, herself, Ira Berlin, Philip Morgan and
      Kathleen Brown. In the last essay in Part I, Ira D. Gruber treats the
      Revolutionary era in the form of a dialogue on the importance of ideology
      versus rational self-interest. He shows how the current generation has
      either built upon the work of Bernard Bailyn and Gordon Wood, as in the
      case of Jack N. Rakove and Timothy Breen, or has departed from them, as
      with Joyce Appleby, Rhys Isaac, and Rachel Klein. His conclusion: the
      rational self-interest crowd has had the better of it lately.

      Part II, covering the antebellum South, is the longest section, with eight
      essays. Mark Smith's essay on the plantation economy focuses on the
      perennial question of profitability. Beginning with U. B. Phillips and
      Lewis Gray, he focuses mainly on Eugene Genovese, Robert Fogel and Stanley
      Engerman, Gavin Wright, Roger Ransom, Peter Coclanis, Richard Kilbourne and
      Wilma Dunaway. His conclusion: "slavery was profitable as a business but
      probably damaging for the southern economy as a whole" (115). Stephanie
      Shaw's essay on slave culture effectively creates a dialogue among the
      authors she examines. She describes the works of Phillips, Herbert
      Aptheker, Kenneth Stampp and Stanley Elkins as the "cornerstones for the
      historiography of antebellum slavery," and then treats subsequent writers
      in terms of their positions relative to these four on a range of questions.
      She masterfully shows how more light on one question triggers further
      inquiry on others, creating a self-sustaining industry of slavery studies
      that has attracted some of the most gifted scholars in the field.

      Samuel Hyde, Jr. notes the somewhat confused state of yeomen studies and
      expresses regret that, despite some interesting works, this large class has
      yet to "enjoy the intensive analysis that characterizes the recent
      historiography of slavery and the planter elite" (152). Randy Sparks's look
      at religion in the pre-civil war era begins in the colonial period with the
      works of Jon Butler, Rhys Isaac, Sylvia Frey and Betty Wood, and Philip
      Morgan. (Here we have an example of the many redundancies in the book;
      Isaac especially was treated extensively in earlier essays, but the
      comparisons are interesting and so the redundancy is not resented.) Moving
      forward chronologically, he praises the works of Christine Heyrman and
      Stephanie McCurry, noting their addition of women to the story as well as
      their disagreement on the revolutionary nature of early evangelicalism,
      which he considers the central issue of the last two decades. His treatment
      of religion in the study of Civil War causation is limited to a brief
      discussion of Mitchell Snay's work

      Daniel Crofts offers a lecture-like overview of four aspects of antebellum
      politics: tensions between oligarchy and democracy, the political parties,
      state and local politics, and the South's relationship to the nation. J.
      Mills Thornton and William Freehling get more space than most, and the
      nexus of politics and culture is acknowledged in extensive comments on the
      works of Eugene Genovese and Bertram Wyatt-Brown. Antebellum women are
      examined by Sally McMillen in an even-handed survey. Noting the
      complexities of gender, class and race, she begins with Anne Firor Scott's
      1970 book, and shows how more recent works have elaborated upon, taken
      issue with, or offered tangential studies from it. Prominent players here
      are Catherine Clinton, Jane Turner Censer, Joan Cashin, Elizabeth
      Fox-Genovese, Suzanne Lebsock, Deborah Gray White, Victoria Bynum, Jean
      Friedman, Stephanie McCurry and Drew Faust. McMillen's bibliography of some
      eighty sources shows the fertility of this relatively young field.

      David Moltke-Hansen develops his essay on the intellectual and cultural
      world of the Old South with a novel device. Noting that this field was
      generally ignored until about a quarter century ago, he explains its
      flowering as a result of changes in modern American culture, and then
      proposes that, "the distance traveled in the study of the intellectual and
      cultural life of the Old South over the last quarter of the twentieth
      century can be measured by the degree to which the 1989 _Encyclopedia of
      Southern Culture_ remains useful or has become increasingly dated" (214).

      His conclusion points to the use of the singular, culture, and suggests
      that we now see it as plural. He looks at scholars who emphasize the
      European or African origin of southern cultures, and at those who stress
      the rise of new, often syncretic, cultures here. Included in the first camp
      are Grady McWhinney, Raimondo Luraghi, Bertram Wyatt-Brown, John Michael
      Vlach, while the second is represented by Charles Joyner and Rhys Isaac.
      Marxism has informed the work of other historians, most notably, Eugene
      Genovese and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, whose explication of the conservative
      mind of the southern elite has created much anticipation of their projected
      multi-volume work, "The Mind of the Master Class." Moltke-Hansen also
      treats Louis Rubin and his critic Michael Kreyling, and Michael O'Brien,
      who "has already done more than anyone to call attention to the range of
      antebellum southerners' secular, humanistic, intellectual engagements and
      productions...." (223). Others, including biographers of several antebellum
      thinkers, have enriched our understanding of the mind(s) of the Old South,
      but there is still much to learn, especially about the institutions in
      which southern thought matured and functioned.

      George C. Rable takes the measure of Civil War scholarship by looking at
      issues of leadership - political and military, strategy, the common
      soldier, class tensions in the Confederacy, religion and its impact on the
      war's outcome, slavery during the war, and the homefront, including women.
      Pointing to a fruitful new area of study, Rable praises Daniel Sutherland's
      work on the Confederate community of Culpeper County, Virginia. The
      contentious field of emancipation studies is well treated by Laura F.
      Edwards, who notes that scholarship here is particularly indicative of our
      present political concerns. Michael W. Fitzgerald reviews the bitter field
      of Reconstruction scholarship, and shows that it is finally reaching a
      level of maturity necessary for, and marked by, more subtle and nuanced
      studies.

      Sam Webb's essay on populism and progressivism begins with the myths
      popularized by W. J. Cash, and then shows how various scholars, from Vann
      Woodward to Lawrence Goodwyn, Steven Hahn, Jack Temple Kirby, George B.
      Tindall and Dewey Grantham have challenged them. Woodward again takes
      center stage in James Beeby and Donald Nieman's chapter on Jim Crow.
      Despite valuable studies by Glenda Gilmore, Howard Rabinowitz, Tera Hunter
      and Leon Litwack, the authors conclude that much more needs doing,
      especially with the connections between gender and race. In this
      connection, Elizabeth Hayes Turner's piece on women in the New South
      demonstrates the vitality and growing sophistication of this field
      generally, and its list of some seventy five works testifies to the impact
      of women historians on our awareness and understanding of gender in the
      southern past.

      John Inscoe's essay on Appalachia reminds us of the ever-widening range of
      investigation into the South's history, and the resulting appreciation of
      its diversity. Unlike most of the other writers, he provides a narrative
      history of the sub-region and weaves the works under review into it. His
      theme is the growing respect with which scholars have treated the people of
      the mountains. Mart A. Stewart's essay on southern environmental history,
      more than the others, is a call to arms. He notes that "in the 1980s,
      one-third of the hazardous waste landfills in the United States were
      located in five southern states . . . and all of them were sited in places
      where neighboring residents were largely black and always poor" (413).
      Thus, while he praises the works of several scholars in this old but new
      field, he urges that more are needed. He has, it should be added, done his
      share in this regard.

      Finally, Pamela Tyler's treatment of works on the impacts of the New Deal
      and World War II dramatizes the growing realization of the pivotal nature
      of this fifteen year period. She pays special attention to the works of
      Pete Daniel, Jack Temple Kirby, Jacquelyn Hall and her co-authors, Bruce
      Schulman, Morton Sosna, and Jim Cobb, but adds that the fictional works of
      William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor still stand alone in their insights
      into this traumatic era.

      A few quibbles: As valuable as this book is, one may not be too greedy to
      wish that its editor, who surely is capable of the task, had included an
      essay addressing the general trends in the field during the last two
      decades. Also, most if not all of the topics and periods covered here have
      been the subject of historiographical essays that have appeared in the
      periodical journals in recent years. Reference to these would have provided
      readers with alternative overviews and interpretations. Finally, with rare
      exceptions, the essays do not include dissertations, and thus we are not
      alerted to works that will soon enrich the field further.

      Reference works such as this are either enhanced or diminished by their
      indexes, and here the editor has chosen an approach that some users will
      question. Authors and titles are listed in the chapter bibliographies, but
      not in the index. The Boles and Nolen volume, by comparison, has footnotes,
      and a seventy-page index, which is nothing but authors and titles. Here, on
      the other hand, historical periods, states, topics and concepts are listed
      in the index, so that one can instantly find that the yeomanry are
      discussed on pages 139-53, or that the book contains comments on twenty
      three topics related to South Carolina. This reader would have preferred an
      index that includes authors _and_ topics and concepts, but the chapter
      bibliographies and the otherwise sterling quality of the production make
      this one hindrance bearable.

      Every academic library should add this volume to its holdings, and every
      serious student of southern history should consult it. One can only wonder
      what another fifteen or twenty years will yield, as the insights discussed
      in this volume are digested and the lacunae noted here are addressed.

      _Notes_

      [1]. John B. Boles and Evelyn Thomas Nolen, eds., _Interpreting Southern
      History: Historiographical Essays in Honor of Sanford W. Higginbotham_
      (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1987); Arthur S.
      Link and Rembert W. Patrick, eds., _Writing Southern History: Essays in
      Honor of Fletcher M. Green_ (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press,
      1965).

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