Regionalism, race, and the meaning of the Southern past: Professional history in the American South, 1896--1961
Johnson, Bethany Leigh
Boles, John B.
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation is a study of organized, professional history in the American South centered on two formal associations: the Southern History Association (1896--1907) and the Southern Historical Association (1934--present), which sponsors the Journal of Southern History. The professional historians who led these associations emerged from the memorialization culture of the Lost Cause at the turn of the twentieth-century and formed the historical wing of the resurgent intellectual commitment to regional identity that fostered the so-called Southern Renaissance. As participant intellectuals in sectional reconciliation, constitutional disfranchisement, the Great Depression, World War II, and the incipient civil rights movement, these historians often found themselves at the center of important debates about regional identity and social change in the South. This dissertation follows the protracted intellectual and political battle first to segregate and then to integrate the southern historical profession and indeed the idea of "southern history" itself. Though largely white, these historians intended to be neither pro-Confederate, sectionally chauvinistic, nor nostalgic in motivation. Instead, they constantly negotiated between their regional devotion and their national ambition, and also between their sense of their own racial integrity and the counter-claims southern African Americans and reform-minded whites made over "the South" and the meaning of its past. These historical associations were not wholly reactionary but instead fostered both a real dedication to and substantive critiques of the South and its historical practice. This dissertation keeps in focus the subtleties of change in emphasis and in interpretation that enabled more radically activist historians to lay claim to the fractures in the South's "past" and put it to use to justify change in the present. Few historians abandoned the discourse of "southern history" when its definitions became too restrictive or untrue. Instead, white and black American historians transformed the field.
Black history; American history; Sociology; Ethnic studies