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The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Volume 2: Geography

The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Volume 2: Geography

by Richard Pillsbury (Editor), Charles Reagan Wilson (Editor)

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The location of "the South" is hardly a settled or static geographic concept. Culturally speaking, are Florida and Arkansas really part of the same region? Is Texas considered part of the South or the West? This volume of The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture grapples with the contestable issue of where the cultural South is located, both on maps and in the


The location of "the South" is hardly a settled or static geographic concept. Culturally speaking, are Florida and Arkansas really part of the same region? Is Texas considered part of the South or the West? This volume of The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture grapples with the contestable issue of where the cultural South is located, both on maps and in the minds of Americans.

Richard Pillsbury's introductory essay explores the evolution of geographic patterns of life within the region--agricultural practices, urban patterns, residential buildings, religious preferences, foodways, and language. The entries that follow address general topics of cultural geographic interest, such as Appalachia, exiles and expatriates, Latino and Jewish populations, migration patterns, and the profound Disneyfication of central Florida. Entries with a more concentrated focus examine major cities, such as Atlanta, New Orleans, and Memphis; the influence of black and white southern migrants on northern cities; and individual subregions, such as the Piedmont, Piney Woods, Tidewater, and Delta. Putting together the disparate pieces that make up the place called "the South," this volume sets the scene for the discussions in all the other volumes of The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Published in conjunction with the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, this work is a significantly expanded update of the acclaimed Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, first released in 1989. While the original was published as a single volume, the New Encyclopedia will be a 24-volume set published over five years, with each relatively small volume devoted to a particular aspect of Southern culture. These inaugural four volumes include Religion; Geography; History; and Myth, Manners, and Memory. Others in the set will include Urbanization, Race, Media, Recreation, Foodways, Law and Politics, and Science and Medicine. Each volume begins with an overview article written by the volume editor, followed by thematic essays arranged alphabetically, then by topical articles, also arranged alphabetically. All essays and articles are signed by the contributor and include bibliographic references. Many new articles have been added, and most of the existing ones have been revised to reflect recent developments in scholarship, especially with respect to race, gender, politics, and the arts. Revised articles also contain updated statistical and bibliographic information. Bottom Line This set represents a solid improvement on a celebrated reference work. The individual volumes will be essential for scholars of various Southern studies topics; the full 24-volume set is highly recommended for all reference collections in the South and larger reference collections elsewhere. [For more information, go to www.uncpress.unc.edu.-Ed.]-Elizabeth L. Winter, Acquisitions Lib. & Information Ctr., Georgia Inst. of Technology, Atlanta Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date:
New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture Series
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6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.60(d)

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The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture Volume 2: Geography

The University of North Carolina Press

Copyright © 2006 The University of North Carolina Press
All right reserved.

Chapter One

Landscape, Cultural

The South stretches more than 1,200 miles westward from the Atlantic Ocean to create the largest of the American landscape regions. Isolated from the mainstream of American cultural and economic life through much of the 19th and most of the 20th centuries, the people of this sprawling region created a distinctive way of life and landscape. Though the South was recognized as a distinct American economic and political region from colonial times, its unique character did not mature until the 19th century. Colonial housing, town patterns, general material culture, and even diet were all largely transplanted from Europe and were much like those found in the northern colonies well into the early 19th century. The region's character as a distinct cultural entity began in earnest when the northern economy industrialized both economically and culturally. The South's continuing adherence to what were becoming relict traditional ways elsewhere in the nation created an increasingly visible cultural difference from other regions. The continuing dependence upon a monocultural agriculture (tobacco, cotton, rice, etc., depending on the subregion), the increasingly pervasive impact of tens of thousands of African- heritage residents not found elsewhere in the nation in large numbers, widespread poverty that curtailed socialand technological advancement, and a crushing social and economic isolation after the Civil War all contributed to the elaboration and definition of this region's distinctive culture and landscape.

Widespread change began to be felt in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as textile milling, coal mining, and other industrial activities changed the economic order in some areas. Labor recruiters during World War I brought economic hope to thousands as they moved north to better jobs, but the final destruction of the plantation/sharecropper system during the Great Depression forced even more thousands off the land to seek opportunity elsewhere and to realize that other lifestyles existed. These realizations became even more apparent during and after World War II as hundreds of thousands of southerners were shipped out of the region, while millions of outsiders were introduced to the alluring qualities of the region as well. Substantive social change, however, did not take place until the civil rights movement freed both African- and European-heritage residents alike from the region's failed social system. The expanded external investment in the region that came as a result of this change brought the hoped-for economic and social growth and a new pace of cultural change.

This historic landscape and way of life are currently undergoing a pervasive transformation of character. Nationalization of the culture and landscape is most visible in the largest cities, where traditional life has virtually disappeared under the onslaught of growth and the swirl of in-migration. Even the most rural of residents have been introduced to McDonald's, video games, alien foods, Southern Living, manufactured homes, and Star Wars. Sitting on the porch in the evening, telling stories of the past, making music, and spooning is today something of the movies if not of the present.

Few pure traditional southern cultural landscapes remain today. Enhanced traditional landscapes, on the other hand, have become increasingly common. Rising education levels and disposable incomes, increased ennui with a seemingly rootless national society, the return of retiring expatriates, and the arrival of tens of thousands of "nouveau" southerners have heightened awareness of the importance of a sense of place and the positive qualities of this one. Southern traditional landscapes have become fashionable. Charleston, S.C., alone hosts seven million visitors a year searching for a sense of history-amply provided in its rebuilt, often reconstituted, and increasingly nonsouthern-owned historic district. Williamsburg, Savannah, New Orleans, and other cities have done likewise in search of both visitors and new residents.

Urban foraging by city dwellers in search of roots, even if just for the day, has encouraged the retention and resuscitation of folkways and landscapes that have not existed "in the wild" for a generation or more. Artists, craftspeople, and providers of traditional foods have all found new markets in these foraging shadows. As if all this were not enough, those who like "quaint" but not old "new towns" have created an ersatz world of genteel southern living that never existed, such as in Seaside and Centennial, Fla.

Geographically, the traditional southern cultural milieu extended northward from the Gulf of Mexico to just beyond the Potomac and Ohio rivers and westward from the Atlantic coast to central Texas. Transition zones, or spheres of influence, were found along the northern border, where the region intermixed with the Midwest, and on the western margins, where it mingled with the Hispanic Southwest. The western limits of the region have always been the most poorly defined because of decreasing population densities. The explosive in-migration of Hispanics in recent years has further blurred this line. The northern boundary has come under assault as well. The industrial Northeast and Midwest have moved southward in search of cheap labor, cheap land, low taxes, and state-offered development incentives. Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and South Carolina, for example, have all become sites for Japanese and European automobile manufacturing plants with promises of more in the future. Northern Virginia especially has been influenced by the expanding influence of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan economic region. Florida too is rapidly changing. The inundation of retirees and the Orlando phenomenon have increasingly made that state southern in location only.

All of the region's major cities, especially Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Washington, D.C., and Raleigh-Durham, have become islands of national culture in a sea of decreasingly distinctive regional culture. Especially attractive rural areas, such as the Sea Island Coast and the southern Smoky Mountains, have been virtually transformed into nationalized islands of life as affluent retirees and second homeowners have purchased retreats in these areas. These nouveau southerners have often adopted and clung to the region's mythic past more tenaciously than have the residents who were born there.

Landscapes are mirrors of the lives of the past and present. The numbers of buildings, their locations, when they were built, their designs and floor plans, the ways that the surrounding areas are arranged, the crops in the fields, the commercial buildings and their services, along with a myriad of other details, tell the entire economic and cultural history of a place. Even culture without material form-foodways, language, and attitudes, for example-influences what is perceived in the landscape. The following discussion of the geography and history of the region is a guide to reading this landscape. The discussion begins with a characterization of the traditional past and its character, followed by an attempt to place that past within a contemporary context.

Shaping the Traditional Southern Landscape. The geography of the traditional South was strongly shaped by a combination of the physiography and early migration patterns. The physiography defined what could and could not happen; the migration patterns created the opportunities for those potentials to take place. Understanding both the land and how it came to be settled is important to understanding the evolution and character of the southern landscape.

Landforms. The physiography of the South may be divided into four great regions with portions of others found along the margins. The Appalachians are the largest single physiographic region and provide the initial basis for the separation into the Upland (Appalachia and its outliers) and the Lowland (Coastal Plain and adjacent areas). This general division into distinct areas is more than one of elevation; it is also one of cultural origins.

The southern Appalachians consist of five provinces. The Piedmont is a gently rolling erosional plain lying along the eastern edge of the Appalachians and is the only portion of these mountains that is a part of the Lowland South. Its western edge is marked by the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountain ranges that contain some of the most rugged terrain on the eastern seaboard of the United States. The Blue Ridge stretches southward from New Jersey until it widens into a broad knot of infertile, crystalline rocks known as the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina, Tennessee, and northern Georgia. These formations created a barrier to westward migration and provided the initial basis for the creation of the Upland South.

A band of heavily folded sedimentary rocks forming an almost corrugated effect more than 50 miles wide in some areas is found directly to the west. The resulting alternating linear ridges and valleys provided a series of distinctive living environments that tended to isolate those who settled there. The valleys were floored with moderately good limestone and shale soils, but the flanking mountains were good for little more than livestock foraging and forest products.

The Appalachian Plateaus lie to the west of these areas. Few good agricultural soils are found here, except in two eroded domal areas, the Kentucky Bluegrass and the Nashville Basin. Early farmers took up these rugged lands because that was all they could obtain, and they settled into a life of subsistence farming supplemented by small amounts of tobacco and moonshine production. The Industrial Revolution brought development of a far different sort. Some of the world's finest bituminous coal deposits underlie large areas of the eastern margins of the Appalachian Plateaus. But often the owners did not realize the value of the wealth under their lands and sold the mineral rights for a fraction of the true value. The ensuing economic boom brought little economic benefit to most of these people and often made their lives more difficult. Unlike the Pennsylvania coalfields, however, these fields were mined primarily by the sons of the longtime residents, not by outsiders, as in western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia.

The Ozark and Ouachita mountains are two hilly outliers of Appalachia lying just west of the Mississippi River, primarily in Arkansas and Missouri. Poor soils in the uplands, coupled with isolation from most markets, brought scant agricultural profit to the farmers who settled in them. In contrast, the Arkansas River valley, a band of rich agricultural lands separating the upland areas, was endowed with rich soils and easy access to markets. Cotton was the dominant early crop. Rice was introduced in the late 19th century, and the area soon became the largest rice-producing region in the United States. Corn, soybeans, and catfish farming now supplement rice as the primary crops.

A rolling area of low hills, isolation, and little economic value lies south of the Middle West and west of the true Appalachian Plateaus. These areas were excluded from the mainstream of economic development for generations. They continue even today to play only a small role in the evolution of the region's distinctive cultural heritage.

The Lowland South is composed primarily of the Piedmont and Coastal Plain physiographic provinces, as well as Florida. The Piedmont is a low granitic erosional surface with only a few low hills. Stone, Kennesaw, and Kings mountains, for example, are covered with a moderately thin layer of red clay soils. Piedmont soils did not make for productive agriculture, but they were available and handy. The eastern edge is marked by a series of falls and rapids along the streams that drain the Piedmont. This "fall line" created a break point for river navigation. Goods had to be unloaded and reloaded either onto wagons or onto smaller vessels above the falls. Mill operators of all types who sited mills on almost every stream that crossed the divide also quickly took advantage of the waterpower potential. A series of larger communities soon developed along the larger streams, including Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Richmond, Durham, Columbia, S.C., Augusta, and Columbus, Ga.

The Coastal Plain is composed of three main subareas. The Atlantic Coastal Plain is a flat alluvial area that slips into the Atlantic Ocean with little ceremony. The coast is composed almost entirely of large areas of swamp (flooded areas with trees) and marsh (flooded areas without trees), with scattered beach ridges creating islands of upland habitation sites. These ridge islands and their associated marshes provided a rich biotic environment for cypress swamps, fish breeding grounds, and the cultivation of rice. Charleston, Wilmington, and other cities are sited on river cut banks, on bluffs of varying heights, and as a result are several miles inland from the shoreline. The Gulf Coastal Plain is similar except that the angle of the beds' downward tilt is somewhat greater, with fewer swamps and marshes. These tilting beds also create a series of low ridges, or cuestas, parallel to the coast in the interior that provide the only relief between central Mississippi and Alabama and the coast.

The Mississippi Delta and Mississippi River valley slash through the western end of the Gulf Coastal Plain to make a natural pathway into the interior. The Mississippi River and its distributaries meander across most of south Louisiana in an area of marsh, mosquitoes, and more marsh. This isolated area was unsettled except for a few Acadians, colloquially Cajuns, who were descendants of French settlers from Canada and the Caribbean, a scattering of Creoles of diverse cultural heritage, African-heritage workers where sugar plantations existed, and a few Indians, known locally as Redbones. These people made their living cultivating sugar on the uplands and fishing and hunting along the natural levees of Bayou Lafourche, Terrebonne, and others. The discovery of oil after World War II changed all of this. Settlements unconnected physically or culturally with outside life were thrust into the mainstream, and the traditional ways soon began to erode.

"The Delta" region has not actually been the river delta for thousands of years and is located primarily in western Mississippi. The term was synonymous for whites with great plantations and lush lifestyles until the boll weevil and low cotton prices brought this romanticized life to an end. The diaspora of tens of thousands of African-heritage residents, along with many European-heritage poor, along the tracks of the Illinois Central Railroad during the 20th century, created some of the most evocative literature and music of the times. Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City all developed large enclaves of southerners, black and white, changing these cities forever as well. The arrival of these southern refugees in the North introduced barbecue, southern blues, real jazz, and the foundations of rock and roll to the remainder of the nation. The counter stream in recent years has had its impact on the original home areas as well. The Delta itself remained mired in poverty until recent stirrings of industrialization, a renewed cotton market, and catfish have begun to slow, but not stanch, the flow of out-migration of the region's young.

Florida has a completely separate geologic structure for most of its length. Composed of a limestone ridge flanked by coral sticking southward into the Gulf of Mexico, it was largely uninhabited until the 20th century. Florida played little role in the creation of the traditional southern landscape, except for the saw grass areas north of Ocala. South Florida remained mostly empty until Henry Flagler's railroad was completed in the 1890s and air-conditioning became economically viable after World War II. South Florida has never been a part of the cultural South and remains an independent cultural milieu to this day.

Migration Streams and Patterns. The European invasion of today's South began in the early 17th century with a series of tentative colonial intrusions along the Atlantic Coast. Chesapeake, Va., was the region's first cultural hearth. The Virginia planter culture thrived on the cultivation and export of tobacco. Large commercial farms, known here as plantations, were created early and quickly made their owners very wealthy. Virginia society was primarily British in origin, and the cultural landscape that evolved reflected its English origins. The demand for new lands in the Chesapeake area exceeded supply by the early 18th century. Settlement expanded westward onto the Piedmont to fill the demand and then again into the mountains (today's West Virginia remained a part of Virginia until 1861) and finally into the Ohio River valley in the late 18th century. Virginian influences are visible today throughout northern West Virginia, southwestern Pennsylvania, and southern Ohio, although they are becoming fainter with each passing year.


Excerpted from The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture Volume 2: Geography Copyright © 2006 by The University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission.
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What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
This set represents a solid improvement on a celebrated work. The individual volumes will be essential for scholars of various Southern studies topics.--Library Journal

If you are a southerner and have ever wondered why you do the things you do, why you eat the foods you eat or talk the way you talk, why the trees grow the way they grow, and even the weeds in your yard, then you need The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. If you don't have an old person to pass it down to you firsthand, this might be the next best thing.--Rick Bragg

A comprehensive read and simply fascinating browse.--Jack Temple Kirby, author of Poquosin: A Study of Rural Landscape and Society

Meet the Author

Richard Pillsbury is professor emeritus of geography at Georgia State University and author or coauthor of five books, including Atlas of American Agriculture: The American Cornucopia. Charles Reagan Wilson is director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi and coeditor of the original Encyclopedia of Southern Culture.

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