Technology, Innovation, and Southern Industrialization: From the Antebellum Era to the Computer Age

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Because of its strong agrarian roots, the South has typically been viewed as a region not favorably disposed to innovation and technology. Yet innovation was never absent from industrialization in this part of the United States. From the early nineteenth century onward, southerners were as eager as other Americans to embrace technology as a path to modernity.

This volume features seven essays that range widely across the region and its history, from the antebellum era to the present, to assess the role of innovations presumed lacking by most historians. Offering a challenging interpretation of industrialization in the South, these writings show that the benefits of innovations had to be carefully weighed against the costs to both industry and society.

The essays consider a wide range of innovative technologies. Some examine specific industries in subregions: steamboats in the lower Mississippi valley, textile manufacturing in Georgia and Arkansas, coal mining in Virginia, and sugar planting and processing in Louisiana. Others consider the role of technology in South Carolina textile mills around the turn of the twentieth century, the electrification of the Tennessee valley, and telemedicine in contemporary Arizona—marking the expansion of the region into the southwestern Sunbelt.

Together, these articles show that southerners set significant limitations on what technological innovations they were willing to adopt, particularly in a milieu where slaveholding agriculture had shaped the allocation of resources. They also reveal how scarcity of capital and continued reliance on agriculture influenced that allocation into the twentieth century, relieved eventually by federal spending during the Depression and its aftermath that sparked the Sunbelt South’s economic boom.

Technology, Innovation, and Southern Industrialization clearly demonstrates that the South’s embrace of technological innovation in the modern era doesn’t mark a radical change from the past but rather signals that such pursuits were always part of the region’s economy. It deflates the myth of southern agrarianism while expanding the scope of antebellum American industrialization beyond the Northeast and offers new insights into the relationship of southern economic history to the region’s society and politics.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780826217950
  • Publisher: University of Missouri Press
  • Publication date: 5/15/2008
  • Series: NEW CURRENTS SO ECON and SOC Series , #1
  • Edition description: index, tables
  • Pages: 248
  • Sales rank: 1,391,598
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Susanna Delfino is Associate Professor of History and Institutions of the Americas at the University of Genoa, Italy.

Michele Gillespie is Associate Provost for Academic Initiatives and Kahle Associate Professor of History at Wake Forest University.

Together they also coedited Global Perspectives on Industrial Transformation in the American South (volume 1 of the series) and Neither Lady nor Slave: Working Women of the Old South.

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Table of Contents

Foreword: Industry in the Old South: Polemics and Politics Gavin Wright Wright, Gavin

Introduction Susanna Delfino Delfino, Susanna Michele Gillespie Gillespie, Michele 1

Steamboats and Southern Economic Development Robert H. Gudmestad Gudmestad, Robert H. 18

Pits of Frustration: The Failed Transplant of British Mining Methods in Antebellum Virginia Sean Patrick Adams Adams, Sean Patrick 41

Slavery and Technology in Louisiana's Sugar Bowl Richard Follett Follett, Richard 68

Building Networks of Knowledge: Henry Merrell and Textile Manufacturing in the Antebellum South Michele Gillespie Gillespie, Michele 97

Entrepreneurial Networks and the Textile Industry: Technology, Innovation, and Labor in the American Southeast, 1890-1925 Pamela C. Edwards Edwards, Pamela C. 125

Technocracy on the March? The Tennessee Valley Authority and the Uses of Technology Stephen Wallace Taylor Taylor, Stephen Wallace 163

Telemedicine: An Important Component in Arizona's Economic and Social Development Yoneyuki Sugita Sugita, Yoneyuki 181

Contributors 203

Index 205

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