Away Down South: A History of Southern Identity

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Overview

From the seventeenth century Cavaliers and Uncle Tom's Cabin to Civil Rights museums and today's conflicts over the Confederate flag, here is a brilliant portrait of southern identity, served in an engaging blend of history, literature, and popular culture. In this insightful book, written with dry wit and sharp insight, James C. Cobb explains how the South first came to be seen—and then came to see itself—as a region apart from the rest of America.

As Cobb demonstrates, the legend of the aristocratic Cavalier origins of southern planter society was nurtured by both northern and southern writers, only to be challenged by abolitionist critics, black and white. After the Civil War, defeated and embittered southern whites incorporated the Cavalier myth into the cult of the "Lost Cause," which supplied the emotional energy for their determined crusade to rejoin the Union on their own terms. After World War I, white writers like Ellen Glasgow, William Faulkner and other key figures of "Southern Renaissance" as well as their African American counterparts in the "Harlem Renaissance"—Cobb is the first to show the strong links between the two movements—challenged the New South creed by asking how the grandiose vision of the South's past could be reconciled with the dismal reality of its present. The Southern self-image underwent another sea change in the wake of the Civil Rights movement, when the end of white supremacy shook the old definition of the "Southern way of life"—but at the same time, African Americans began to examine their southern roots more openly and embrace their regional, as well as racial, identity. As the millennium turned, the South confronted a new identity crisis brought on by global homogenization: if Southern culture is everywhere, has the New South become the No South?

Here then is a major work by one of America's finest Southern historians, a magisterial synthesis that combines rich scholarship with provocative new insights into what the South means to southerners and to America as well.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Cobb takes over 200 years of southern intellectualism and condenses it into a readable history of southern history.... An accessible, wide-ranging picture of southern identity, useful for students, professionals, and those generally interested in how the South sees itself."—Matthew L. Downs, Southern Historian

"The inhabitants of Away Down South come at us thick and fast, benighted and bemused, roaring down some unpaved back-country road, pedal to the metal. If this sounds like a breathless rendition of Southern history by an academic who loves to name names, it certainly is. Still, no one remotely interested in the South will be able to resist this book, and readers are bound to learn from Cobb's enormous erudition."—Ira Berlin, The Washington Post Book World

"In this riveting read, Cobb charts the twisting, shifting history of Southern identity and how folks, Southern and non-Southern, have thought about the region.... Hopefully, he has a sequel planned."—Publishers Weekly

"If South-gazing is your bag, Away Down South is your book.... With C. Vann Woodward's death, Cobb is perhaps our best historical interpreter of the South and this may be his best book, better even than his fine book about the Mississippi Delta.... Not only has he done his homework, he has reflected deeply and the result is mature (as in good wine), mellow, stylish and tasty."—Edwin M. Yoder Jr., Weekly Standard

"In this comprehensive, thoughtful, and utterly fascinating account, Cobb stalks the elusive mind—or rather minds—of the South. I don't use the word 'masterpiece' often, but it's the right word here." —John Shelton Reed, author of My Tears Spoiled My Aim: And Other Reflections on Southern Culture

"A special treasure for all of us who have loved, studied, and tried to understand the South, a wonderfully complicated part of our country which—despite the changes chronicled in Jim Cobb's fine work—still more than any other region, thinks of itself as being different and special. Away Down South provides not only context and perspective but Cobb's own unique and powerful insights into the South's inherent contradictions." —Hamilton Jordan

"If you want to know what makes the South tick, you might well look to James C. Cobb for insight. For that matter, if you want to understand the inner workings of the contemporary United States, Away Down South would be a good place to start." —John Egerton, author of The Americanization of Dixie: The Southernization of America

"A tour de force from one of the South's premier historians. James Cobb shows, with characteristic wity and acuity, how a distinctive regional identity from the time of Jamestown to the Iraq war depended not just on how white and black southerners thought of themselves, but also on what others thought of Dixie." —Anthony J. Badger, author of The New Deal: The Depression Years 1933- 1940 and co-author of Race in the American South

"Away Down South exemplifies the many bonds that connect Southern history and American Studies.... Cobb combines skillful literary interpretation with analysis of social structure, and unites a deeply felt commitment to social and racial justice with rigorous standards of scholarship. He ends with a forceful argument against the use of history in identity politics and vice versa, the immense value of which separation his own book serves to illustrate."—Matthew Mancini, American Studies

Publishers Weekly
What makes the South Southern? Is it the history of slavery and segregation? The unrelenting heat? NASCAR? All this and more, says the University of Georgia historian Cobb (The Most Southern Place on Earth). In this riveting read, Cobb charts the twisting, shifting history of Southern identity and how folks, Southern and non-Southern, have thought about the region. Cobb devotes a good bit of space to writers-from antebellum novelist John Pendleton Kennedy to William Faulkner- and their conceptions of the South. And Cobb doesn't focus only on white Southerners' understanding of their region. He also traverses Maya Angelou's memoirs and the activism of Martin Luther King Jr., and he introduces entrepreneurs like Sherman Evans and Angel Quintero, two black Charlestonians who launched Nu South sportswear, which melds icons of the Confederacy with images of African nationalism. Occasionally, Cobb strikes a pedestrian note, to wit, his discussion of recent fights over the place of the Confederate flag, which concludes mildly that battles over "symbolic memory" show that "the politics of the past is always part of the politics of the present." Further, one might wish that Cobb had devoted more space to discussions of pop culture: Southern food, Southern music. Hopefully, he has a sequel planned. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195315813
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 12/20/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

James C. Cobb is B. Phinizy Spalding Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Georgia. A former president of the Southern Historical Association, he has written numerous of award-winning books and articles, including The Most Southern Place on Earth, which was a finalist for a Los Angeles Times Book Award.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Cavalier and Yankee: The Origins of Southern "Otherness"
2. The South Becomes a Cause
3. The New South and the Old Cause
4. The Southern Renaissance and the Revolt Against the New South Creed
5. Southern Writers and "The Impossible Load of the Past"
6. The Mind of the South
7. The South of Guilt and Shame
8. No North, No South? The Crisis of Southern White Identity
9. "Successful, Optimistic, Prosperous, and Bland": Telling about the No South
10. Blackness and Southernness: African Americans Look South Toward Home
11. Divided by a Common Past: History and Identity in the Contemporary South
12. The South and the Politics of Identity
Notes
Index

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2006

    A Very Disappointing Volume

    I have just finished reading Away Down South, and found it very cumbersome and hard reading. It was not what I had expected, and as such was a disapointment.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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