What Does Woodward’s Origins of the New South Have to Say to the Twenty-First Century Reader?

c vann woodward imdb

Less than a decade after C. Vann Woodward’s epic tome, Origins of the New South (1951), had been published, the author was already lamenting the passing of the geographic/political/economic unit he had dedicated his life to studying. In “The Search for Southern Identity,” an article originally published in 1958 in the Virginia Quarterly Review and reprinted in The Burden of Southern History, Woodward explained that every identifiable marker of southern distinctiveness—“the one-horse farmer, one-crop agriculture, one-party politics, the sharecropper, the poll tax, the white primary, the Jim Crow car, the lynching bee”—had been either destroyed or were “on their way towards vanishing.” A … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: John Brooke on Joseph Smith, Alchemy, & the Longue Durée

sunstone mormon

I entered my first semester of graduate school with supreme overconfidence. It was August 2001, three weeks before the terrorist attacks of September 11. I had just graduated from a tiny liberal arts college in central Illinois in May. The school was initially founded by self-exiled Kentucky abolitionists around 1848, at a time of antebellum experimentation. At this little campus with historic red-brick buildings dating back to the 1850s, I had gotten used to being a big fish in a little pond: out of fewer than 500 students, I was one of three honors graduates that year. I worked in the college archives. I knew a lot of history. I thought I was good. Grad school changed all that. All of a … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song

gary gilmore

I just wanted to say thanks to all who have supported me over the years: Reverend Campbell, for my spiritual guidance; Aaron, the father of Darrian, my son; and Maurie, my attorney. Thank you everybody. This is not a loss, this is a win. You know where I am going. I am going home to be with Jesus. Keep the faith. I love y’all. Thank you, Chaplain. These were the last words uttered by Kimberly McCarthy, Texas inmate number 999287. She was born in May of 1961 and was thirty-six years old when she committed the crime that would eventually take her to death row. Although she proclaimed her innocence up to her execution, she was convicted of stabbing to death a seventy-year-old woman during a … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Why I Love Michael Holt, His Bowties, & the Whig Party

Academic celebrity death match

As an undergraduate student in Professor Michael Holt’s “Coming of the Civil War” class at the University of Virginia, I felt rather lost for the first part of the semester. It was a large lecture class that made it intimidating to ask questions or make comments (not that I would have anyway). Moreover, Dr. Holt was the quintessential university professor – impeccably dressed in a sport coat and bowtie (this was UVa after all) with a shock of white hair – and he treated us as though we already had an intensive handle on the history of antebellum America. Which I definitely did not. The central texts for the course were Holt’s own book, The Political Crisis of the 1850s and Eric Foner’s Free … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: The Shadow over Lovecraft

lovecraft - the lurking fear

The flimsy, Ballantine paperback edition of The Lurking Fear and Other Tales, an oddball collection of short stories spanning much of the career of H.P. Lovecraft, sports what has to be one of the least frightening cover illustrations in horror fiction. A leering monster, the face of which looks like the lovechild of a unidentified primate and a vampire bat, peers through the broken shards of a window. The candle clutched in its hand illuminates bared teeth and scraggly hair. The more I think about that cover, the more fantastic it becomes. It is a throwback to the 1920s and 30s pulp magazines that were Lovecraft’s bread and butter, a time of adventure fiction that was painted in broad … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Halttunen on Confidence Men, Painted Women, and Borrowed Watches

confidence men and painted women

We begin our annual Dog Days Classics series this year with a reflection on the work of Karen Halttunen.  Past entries have looked at influential works by Barbara Fields, Giovanni Arrighi, the Roberts Caro and Wiebe and many others. In spring 2005, I was a graduate student at the University of Illinois, just a few months out from passing my oral prelim and beginning my dissertation research on Progressive Era higher education and intercollegiate football.  I was also getting ready to teach my first stand-alone course, Civil War and Reconstruction, in the upcoming summer term.  I realized that having grown up in central Illinois in a working-class family that rarely traveled, I had never … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Lanny Budd, Upton Sinclair’s Ideal Idler


"It was profoundly true that movements of the spirit came first, and that events of history were consequences thereof." -Upton Sinclair, Wide is the Gate Several years ago I was directed toward Upton Sinclair’s socialist-minded quasi-spy novels about a young man named Lanning Prescott Budd. The 11 books span the breadth of time from the onset of The Great War to the rise of the Cold War, but as I have been able to acquire only the first half of the series, my investigation has followed Lanny only so far as the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. A New York Times reflection on the books gives a decent introduction to the protagonist: Born in 1900, he was the illegitimate child of an … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: The Wages of Whiteness and the White People Who Love Them

white people

July, 1956. It had been over a decade since the Carnegie Foundation solicited Gunnar Myrdal’s opinion on American race relations. A Nobel Prize in economics and Swedish citizenship rendered him an objective observer. That year James Baldwin wrote a scathing critique of what is now a long forgotten book—Daniel Guerin’s Negroes on the March. “Labor’s interests may often be identical with the Negro’s interests,” Baldwin explains, “but Mr. Guerin fails to understand that, in the light of the white worker’s desire to achieve greater status, his aims and those of the Negro often clash quite bitterly.” (Baldwin, “The Crusade of Indignation”) In the 1986, sociologists Michael Omi and Howard … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Robert H. Wiebe and The Search for Order

A junk shop in Elizabethton

“Men in confusion clutched what they knew.” This is how Robert Wiebe describes the actions of America’s leaders in their “rudimentary bureaucracy” as the nation entered World War I in 1917. Much of the debacle that followed – both the wave of violent repression at home and the political failures of Woodrow Wilson, outfoxed at Versailles and in the Senate – resulted from just such limits of knowledge and practice. In essence, Progressive leaders used old solutions to solve new problems. But rather than a condemnation of human weakness, this sentence encapsulates Wiebe’s subtly empathetic historical vision: that historical actors of all stripes – radical or conservative, anonymous farmers or … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: A Look Back at Barbara Fields’s “Ideology and Race in American History”

black and white nashville tennis player face

Thirty years after its original publication, Barbara Fields’s essay, “Ideology and Race in American History,” remains one of the preeminent academic investigations into the development of race and racial ideology within American history. I was first exposed to Barbara Fields’s work during a graduate seminar at Columbia University on the post-Reconstruction American South. Fields’s analysis of the roots of racial ideology in American society had a profound impact on my own intellectual outlook. In this post, I aim to reexamine Fields’s classic essay, “Ideology and Race in American History,” along with a later piece, “Slavery, Race, and Ideology in the United States of America,” in order to … [Read more...]


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