One of the more insightful commentators on the American South, North Carolina journalist W. J. Cash, once wrote that while the region “proceeds from the common American heritage,” with “many of its elements...readily recognisable as…variations on the primary American theme,” its “peculiar history…has so greatly modified it from the general American norm that [the region constitutes] not quite a nation within a nation, but the next thing to it.”
This module will explore the American South’s distinctive historical development from the period of the first successful European settlement through the collapse of the slaveholding regime at the end of the Civil War. Above all, we will be investigating the manifold effects of racially-based slavery on the history of the region. How did notions of racial superiority and inferiority develop out of the culturally diverse and racially fluid society of the early 17th century Chesapeake? What effect did the new racial hierarchy have on white Southerners, and in particular how did non-slaveholding whites perceive their relation to the institution of slavery? How did southern whites reconcile the subjugation of African-Americans with the rhetoric of liberty and equality that dominated the revolutionary era? What was the effect of this rhetoric upon the slaves themselves? To what extent was the strain of evangelical Christianity that dominated the colonial and antebellum South shaped by the controversy over slavery, and how did slaves appropriate the same religious traditions for themselves? How did the society that grew up on the foundations of racially-based slavery differ from the one which evolved in the northern states over the same period? Was it possible to reconcile the growing divergence between a slave society and one based on free labour within the framework of the Union, or was Civil War inevitable? And where did defeat in that costly conflict leave the South: on a path towards greater integration into the American nation, or committed to continuing exceptionalism?
Two questions to be attempted in a two-hour written exam (50%) and one assessed essay (based on assigned readings and an online collection of primary documents) of 3,500-4,000 words including citation and bibliography (40%). Ten percent (10%) of the overall grade will be based on attendance at and regular, informed participation in tutorials.