Southerners and Southern History: Not Just the Confederate Experience

Twenty-one years ago next month I came out to Arizona State University to interview for a assistant professorship.  The position called for someone who could teach the Civil War and Reconstruction, military history, and southern history.  I could indeed teach all three of these courses: for the most part, I had been unable to teach those subjects at Wofford College, where I was then employed, although in retrospect this was a blessing in disguise, because it meant that I had to teach other subjects (diplomatic history, cultural and intellectual history, women’s history, and, of course, western civ) that have stood me in good stead in being an American historian.  Of the three areas cited in the ASU advertisement, the one that caused me to think the most was southern history.  True, I had spent ten years in the South (Virginia, Tennessee, and South Carolina), and I had studied much history that usually fell under the umbrella of southern history.  My diverse experiences had cautioned me against accepting any simple stereotype of the South.  My greatest concern was that people in the Southwest might not find the history of the Southeast very compelling, especially unless I linked it to race relations.  Even then when I taught such a course, it did not draw large numbers.  As I redefined my areas of specialization to comport more correctly with my interests (something that comes with tenure), I left southern history behind as an independent course, although my understanding of southern history is evident in my current areas of interest (as is my interest in the history of the Northeast, but that’s a subject for another day).

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