Courses Research Contact Bio Home



History 470
The American South

Spring 2017



Instructor: Steve Estes
Class: T/Th 1-2:50 p.m. (Nichols 204)
Office: Stevenson 2070D
Office Hours: T: 3-4:00, Th: 12-12:30, 3-4:30 or 707.664.2424

Dorothea Lange, "Plantation Owner" Clarksdale, MS (1936)

This course investigates the history and culture of the American South. Throughout the semester, we will trace the region’s past, from its Native American origins to its antebellum opulence and from the devastation of the Civil War to the development of the modern, multicultural “Sun Belt.” At present, there is some question as to whether this new multicultural South is still distinctly “southern.” Yet, the dogged devotion of some southerners to the region’s history and culture—proudly flying the Confederate battle flag, for instance, despite its association with a defense of slavery—suggests that “old times there are not forgotten.” If the South remains distinctive in many ways it also embodies both the promise and problems of the United States, as it has since Virginia slaveholders articulated the young nation’s desire for independence in 1776. In other words, if we understand the American South, we can better understand America.

Denise Kiernen, The Girls of Atomic City
Edward Larson, Summer for the Gods
Lawrence Powell, The Accidental City
Michael Shaara, Killer Angels
Paul Theroux, Deep South
Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

This course meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Regular attendance and participation are mandatory. You are allowed five absences without any excuse. After the fifth absence, your participation grade suffers. Class attendance is important because I do not assign a textbook that gives a course overview. The midterm test and the final exam will be based on information covered in course lectures, discussions, and outside readings. There will also be six short quizzes on the outside readings, which will be factored in with classroom participation. Students will write a four-page book review on one of six outside readings for the course. Finally, students will write a ten-page term paper on a topic of their choice relating to southern history. A one-page proposal is due on April 4, and the full paper is due on May 2.

Assignments, Exams, & Grades:
Term Paper: Each student in the class will write a ten-page term paper to be handed in at the beginning of class on May 2. Your paper should examine an event, person, place, or cultural phenomenon that highlights a watershed moment in southern history. In terms of events, for example, you could examine the experiences of Southern troops during the Vietnam War or the impact of feminism on southern women during the 1960s and 1970s. In terms of people or places, you could do a biographical study of a civil rights leader, Confederate general, country music singer, or southern politician. If you are interested in cultural history, you might write about blues music, the Gullah language, Creole cuisine, NASCAR, or a southern rapper/rock band.

A one-page proposal that outlines the source material and tentative argument for your paper is due on April 4. Whatever you decide to write about, you must come speak with me about your topic during my office hours at least two weeks before the term paper is due.

Papers must be typed double-spaced with 12-point font and normal margins. They must be based on at least five primary and four secondary (scholarly) sources. Primary materials are sources produced during the time you are studying. They include published sources such as newspapers, magazines, movies, songs, letters, speeches, diaries, records of organizations, and (for recent topics) oral history interviews. The secondary research should include a survey of the previously published scholarly work on your topic. What have other historians said about your topic? How is your paper adding to the work that has already been done?

Book Review: Each student will do a four-page paper on one of the outside readings assigned to the class. You will choose which book to review on the first day. Papers must be typed double-spaced with 12-point font and normal margins. Essays must answer a broad question that will be given out in class two weeks before papers are due. Students will turn in papers at the start of class on the day we discuss the outside readings.

Quizzes/Discussions: There will be six in-class discussions of the outside readings over the course of the semester. Students should have completed the assigned sections of each book before the discussion and should be prepared to contribute to a conversation about the major themes covered by the author. At the beginning of each in-class discussion, there will be a short quiz of multiple-choice questions about the book. The grades on these quizzes and quality of discussion participation determine students’ grades for this portion of the class.

Mid-Term and Final Exam: These exams are broken into two parts. The first section requires students to answer five out of seven short answer questions describing historical figures, organizations, and events covered in lectures or outside readings. The midterm covers material in the first half of the course, while the final exam focuses on the second half.

All assignments will be graded on a 100-point scale. The grading breakdown will be:
Book Review 10%
Term Paper 20%
Midterm 20%
Final Exam 20%
Quizzes/Discussion 30%

Course Schedule

Section I: From Slavery to Freedom




1.24 Introduction: What is the South? Who are Southerners?
Video Clip: Gone With the Wind


1.26 Birth of a (Nicotine) Nation:
Jamestown, the Chesapeake & Tobacco Culture


1.31 Black Majority:
From the Caribbean to the Carolina Low Country


2.02 Colonial Diversity & Cracker Culture:
French, Spaniards and Backcountry Bumpkins


2.07 Colonial Dissonance:
Southern Society Before the Revolution


2.09 New Orleans:
Southern Culture / Global Culture (Discussion)

The Accidental City (excerpts)
(Quiz & Paper)

2.14 Reading Day (No Class)


2.16 War on Three Fronts:
The Revolution & Constitutional Crisis


2.21 Go West Young Man:
Settling Cotton Country & Cotton’s Coronation


2.23 Southern Herstory:
Women in the Old South


2.28 The View from the Quarters:
Runaways, Rebels & Survivors


3.02 Slavery in Fiction:
Imagining the Peculiar Institution (Discussion)
The Underground Railroad
(Quiz & Paper)
3.07 The Impending Crisis:
Sectional Conflict & Compromise


3.09 Anything But Civil:
The “War Between the States”


3.14 Spring Break (No Class)


3.16 Spring Break (No Class)


3.21 The Blue and the Grey:
Historical Novel (Discussion) & Midterm Review
Killer Angels
(Quiz and Paper)
3.23 Midterm Exam Study Notes & Books

Section II: From the New South to the Sun Belt




3.28 Broke by the War:
The Triumph of Reconstruction & Tragedy of Redemption
3.30 Farm Debt & Dilemmas:
Sharecropping & the Populist Challenge
4.04 The Strange Career of Jim Crow
The “New South” & the Nadir of Race Relations
Term Paper Prospectus Due
4.06 Reading Day (No Class)  
4.11 Booker T and WEB:
Racial Uplift Strategies
4.13 The Cross and the Chalkboard: (Discussion)
The Scopes Trial
Summer for the Gods (excerpts)
(Quiz & Paper)
4.18 From Pedestal to Politics:
Southern Women and Progressive Reform
4.20 The Great War and Great Migration
The South in the 1910s-20s
4.25 A New Deal for the South:
The Greater Depression
4.27 War on the Home Front: (Discussion)
Building the Bomb, Rebuilding the South
The Girls of Atomic City
(Quiz & Paper)
5.02 A Cold War in the Sun Belt:
Massive Resistance to Integration and Communism
Term Paper Due
5.04 We Shall Overcome:
The Southern Civil Rights Movement
5.09 Who Stole the Soul of Rock & Roll:
The South & the American Musical Tradition
5.11 South to the Future:
The Republican Revolution & Southern Culture Since the 70s
Deep South (excerpts)
(Quiz & Discussion)
5.16 Final Exam (1 – 2:50 p.m.) Study Notes & Books