A Southern Peace? History, Literary Studies, and the New Southern Studies

AHA Session 36
Friday, January 2, 2015: 3:30 PM-5:30 PM
Liberty Suite 3 (Sheraton New York, Third Floor)
David Moltke-Hansen, Cambridge Studies on the American South
Integrating the Discipline of History into the New Southern Studies
Natalie J. Ring, University of Texas at Dallas
Sideways, Backwards, and Queer: Toward a New Southern Studies
Benjamin E. Wise, University of Florida
Fables of the Reconstruction
Scott Romine, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Session Abstract

This roundtable discussion takes up recent debates within the field of “the New Southern Studies,” which, until recently, have centered on the inherently troubled usage of the descriptor “southern.” Leading voices in the field, including Leigh Ann Duck and Jon Smith, have proposed jettisoning “the South” altogether, burdened as it is by its legacy of white supremacy, racial violence, and exceptionalism.  In a forthcoming article for The Journal of American Studies, however, Natalie Ring provocatively argues that the NSS is burdened less by its indebtedness to a troublesome region than by its “persistence as a default referent for southern literature.”

Ring (History, University of Texas, Dallas), whose recent work examines the ways in which a powerful coalition of national and regional interests sought to “rehabilitate” the “problem South” in the post-Reconstruction era, will open the session, offering a brief overview of the field’s development. She’ll then sketch out why and how historians have played a limited role and discuss several benefits and obstacles for increased participation by historians.  Ring will be followed by three southernists, two historians and one literary scholar, who will discuss the ways in which their own work on the American South is informed by other disciplines and methodologies. Ben Wise (History, University of Florida), whose recent work on William Alexander Percy explores the life of a queer, white supremacist plantation owner, will survey recent examples of work in the history of sexuality in the American South to explore the limitations of historical methodologies, as well as the possibilities created by cross-disciplinary engagement. Scott Romine (English, University of North Carolina, Greensboro), whose recent work focuses on the literature of Reconstruction, will discuss the ways in which post-Civil War literary texts shaped historical narratives of the era. Romine’s case study highlights the benefits gained from approaching monographs not merely as a historian might, but also as a literary critic, a point Wise will also make in his comments. Sarah Gardner (History, Mercer University), whose recent work looks at the New York literary establishment’s influence on ideas about the American South, will discuss the ways in which cultural and intellectual historians can draw on the work of literary scholars, especially when engaging a topic as persistently dialogic as “the idea of the South.”

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