The State of Southern History

Attending the afternoon session on the state of the field of southern history was well worth the trip here. Some caveats about this summary: The references to scholarly works were voluminous, and capturing the many references was impossible in most cases.

Sheldon Hackney, the chair of the session, was a no-show, but Philip D. Morgan, Peter Kolchin, and Jane Dailey put on a great panel in his absence. Morgan addressed the historiography of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries in three areas: environment, Native Americans, and slavery. In considering the environment, Morgan mentioned avian culture, its importance to the colonial South, and its different conceptions for European colonists and Native Americans. As for Native Americans, he also mentioned the burgeoning scholarship on Indian slavery, which is an area that I have been reading as part of my research on Jackson. Turning to the Chesapeake, Morgan mentioned Lorena Morgan’s book on the 17th-century Chesapeake and slavery.

Peter Kolchin covered the 19th-century, focusing on slavery, the Civil War as a pivotal experience for the region, and southern distinctiveness. I appreciated his remarks about the difficulty to generalize about the 19th-century South, as well as his comments on the need to value quality over quantity in tenure and promotion decisions, as well as the training of graduate students.

Jane Dailey rounded out the panel. Since her comments were about the 20th century, I won’t cover them here. I’ll conclude with one final comment: This panel met in one of the ballrooms. The 150 chairs were filled, and, at the crowd’s peak, the number of individuals standing or sitting on the floor peaked at around 50.

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