This book tries to answer two questions: What was and is the American South? What was and is a southerner? The answers to these questions depend largely on where and when they are asked. The answers are easier and clearer at some times than at others. The answer to the question about southern identity is harder and less clear now than at any time since the mid-eighteenth century. Still, the South endures. It endures in part because not even a flood of changes has washed away critical connections between the past and the present in the South.
Prologue, The American South
As the South disappears in demographic, economic, and political terms, there seems to be a corresponding effort to rediscover and revivify at least certain components of the southern way of life. Opinion molders sense the popular concern, and thus symposia, books, clothing, musical fads, and even college curricula--witness the proliferation of "southern institutes"-- speak to that concern. In a very real sense, southerners did not exist until about 1819, when they began to perceive themselves as an identifiable group. Th underlying socioeconomic factors that gave substance to the perception existed for more than a century before the perception arose. Self-identification as southern was the essence of southernness, and that perception has acquired a life of its own, in large part independent of material reality. Southernness is now almost an intellectual construct, "the flesh made word,"....Having a distinctiveness to lose makes possible a recognition of loss, and that triggers a process of retrospection and nostalgia that bodes well to keep the south alive and thriving. The South will continue to exist, if only by an act of will. After all,...they aren't having symposia in Phoenix to discuss the everlasting West.
John Boles, The Difficulty of Consensus on the South
Cooper, William J., Jr, and Terrill, Thomas E.
The American South: A History Second Edition, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996
Escott, Paul D. Et al.
Major Problems in the History of the American South, Vol. II. The New South
Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Company, 1999
Jones, Suzanne W., ed.
Growing Up in the South: An Anthology of Modern Southern Literature
New York: Penguin-Putnam, Mentor Division, 1991
Six films will be required viewing for this course. These represent nearly a century of images of the South in Popular Culture, and we will use them to investigate some persistent southern "types" and also some of the ways these types have evolved. Because these films are works of art in themselves, it seems fairer to me to present them in their entirety as single units, which means that they cannot be shown in the normal class time. Consequently, I'm showing them Wednesday afternoons, following the completion of the regular class schedule at 2:00 in CAS 227. If you cannot see them during the scheduled presentations, you will be responsible for viewing them on your own. Roger Williams University owns them all, and the can be viewed in the Library. The films are:
The South is one of a group of American Studies courses which explore regional differences in the American National Character. The quotes with which this handout begins are taken from two of the required texts for this course, and they pretty well summarize the concerns which will occupy us the next 14 weeks. It will be very much a work in progress across the course of the semester. While I can give a general outline of what we'll be doing now, be warned that I'm reserving the right to make changes as they seem necessary. Those who feel uncomfortable with this kind of approach will want to consider taking a different class.
The course will divide itself into three unequal parts. We will begin with a short introductory section, in which we will explore a number of images of Southern Culture. We'll use a series of short stories from the Jones anthology, a couple of interpretive essays from Major Problems in the History of the American South, and the "Prologue" to The American South: A History. We will continue to explore these images through the six movies which are an integral part of this course, and additional delvings into the Jones Anthology.
The central section of the course will be a short survey of the Ante-Bellum South, using selected chapters from The American South. Parts one and two should be completed by the middle of the term.
Part three will investigate selected aspects of the South since Reconstruction, using Major Problems and The American South as the principal sources for investigation. This will occupy us for the remainder of the semester.
1. Analysis of the films.Approximately 20% of Final Grade
You'll be required to write a paper analyzing changes in the images of certain "types" associated with the southern region: types such as the "chivalry" and the "redneck" or "cracker". I'll distribute further instructions about this project shortly before we see "Birth of a Nation," but generally I'm looking for your understanding of the images of Southern Culture each film portrays. You will note that the films are presented in chronological order and we'll be looking at how portrayals have changed across the years. We will want to see what is transient and what is enduring in images of Southern character. You will want to work on this project when the films are fresh in your mind, and not wait till the last minute to do it, thought he due date won't be until the end of the semester.
2. Midterm Exam (take-home, essay format) 30% of Final Grade
This exam will cover issues related to the pre-Civil War South
3. Project20% of Final Grade
Generally speaking, the project will center on one of the "Major Problems" presented in the text, or on some unique cultural product of the south (southern folklore, for example). Persons will be able to choose which topics they wish to investigate. Projects can take a number of different forms, and may be either the work of individuals or small groups. Whatever form the project takes it will encourage you to move beyond the materials in the texts using materials available through the Internet. Projects will be presented to the class.
4. Take-home Final Exam25% of Final Grade.
There will be a choice of general questions, any of which will require you to synthesize what you've read, incorporating your own judgement and evaluation.
5. Intangibles5% of Final Grade
Grading is never as scientific as it pretends to be. I'll do my best to assess such intangibles as faithful preparation for class, and active participation in it.
This class looks to be too large to keep track of attendance informally. I will pass around an attendance sign-in sheet each class session. More than four unexcused absences will have a negative effect on your grade. Reasonable excuses include illness, family emergencies, participation in athletic competitions, or attendance at events scheduled as requirements for other classes. I detail work for this course on a week by week basis. After next week I will not be passing out these weekly assignment sheets in paper form, but will post them to the class website: http://amst430south.homestead.com.