Skip to 0 minutes and 8 secondsHello, and welcome to this course on the history and culture of the American South. My name is Brian Ward and I'm a professor in American Studies at Northumbria University. Together with a team of experts on all things Southern I'll be your guide for what we hope will be an enjoyable and illuminating exploration of some of the key events, people, movements, and themes connected with the U.S. South. It's a fascinating complex region that, as we'll discover together, has exerted enormous influence on the history, politics, and cultures of the United States, and indeed on the rest of the world.

Skip to 0 minutes and 39 secondsThis is, after all, the land that gave us Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Hank Williams, Elvis Presely, James Brown, the Allman Brothers Band, R.E.M, and Outcast. All around the world the sounds of spirituals, jazz, blues, country, Cajun, zydeco, rock and roll, and even the Miami basin Dirty South strains of hip hop have been closely associated with the region. The South has also spawned many great and influential writers, among them William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Tennessee Williams, and Alice Walker. You'll have the opportunity to engage with some of these southern artists and to consider how they have expressed their own sense of original identity through their work.

Skip to 1 minute and 17 secondsIn the same spirit you'll be asked to think about how the mass media, in particular film and television, have molded popular conceptions and misconceptions of the region. From Birth of a Nation and Showboat, Fire, Inherit the Wind, Deliverance, Driving Miss Daisy to Forrest Gump, Sling Blade, and Selma, the sometimes many contradictory faces of the U.S. South have been a regular presence on cinema screens. And it's been the same story on TV-- from The Beverly Hillbillies, I Dream of Jeannie, Dallas, and the Dukes of Hazzard to Treme and True Blood, television has helped to shape how the rest of the world has perceived the region, its inhabitants, and cultures.

Skip to 1 minute and 54 secondsIf we turn to yet another kind of Southern creativity, you also get the chance to learn about and maybe even to prepare and sample some of the region's signature foods and drink-- from barbecue to bourbon, and from South Carolina low-country shrimp and grits to Louisiana gumbo Southern cuisine has long been internationally recognized as a hallmark of Southerness. Of course we'll also think about major developments in Southern social, economic, and political history. You'll be able to trace the development of the region from its colonial roots, when Europeans and Africans first encountered Native Americans as part of the Atlantic world system of commerce and migration.

Skip to 2 minutes and 29 secondsAnd you'll travel through the American Revolution and the rise of plantation slavery into the Civil War era and the Reconstruction period that followed it. And then on into the Jim Crow period of segregation where we'll look at the impact of two world wars and the Great Depression, and of the New Deal on Southern life. And we'll explore the origins and the achievements of the modern African-America freedom struggle, along with its multiple legacies, including the major political realignment of American politics and the economic transformations associated with the sunbelt South. Finally we'll take a long, hard look at the contemporary South and ask, as we will be doing throughout the course, what, if anything, is really distinctive about the US south today?

Skip to 3 minutes and 10 secondsAnd that question about the nature and the extent of Southern distinctiveness, about the ways in which the region is being represented in literature, music, film, and television is one of the key themes binding together the entire course. We want to understand how popular understandings, or sometimes misunderstandings, stereotypes if you like, about the region have come into being and found traction so that just about everyone has a sense they know something about the South. But do they? We'll ask you to think about whether this common stock of ideas about Southern identity is connected in any real meaningful way to the material foundations, the nuts and bolts realities, of the Southern experience.

Skip to 3 minutes and 47 secondsAnd from the outset, it's certainly worth bearing in mind that the South is and always has been an extremely diverse part of the US, with a whole range of sub regional cultures and a wide array of demographic, climatic, social, religious, political, and economic characteristics. Atlanta is very different from Appalachia. The Mississippi Delta is very different from Miami. And Texas, what do we make of Texas, a state that's often thought of as more Western than Southern? Certainly we need to think about the complexity of the South and get away from the idea that it's a monolithic entity.

Skip to 4 minutes and 17 secondsRace, gender, class religion, politics, climate-- as we shall see, these are overarching forces that time and time again work to decisively influence the course of Southern history and politics. But you'll discover how they've worked somewhat differently for different groups of Southerners located in different parts of the region at different times. In sum, then, this course allows you to engage with the history of a region that has been by turns enchanting and exasperating, a source of deep fear and loathing, but also of deep admiration, endless fascination, and no little imitation. It's a place of enormous poverty, racial intolerance, religious bigotry, ill health, and violence.

Skip to 4 minutes and 56 secondsYet it's also a site of tremendous creativity, with a well-earned reputation for openness, hospitality, good living, and a deep respect for family, place, God, and history. With a course that takes us from Robert E Lee to Harper Lee, from the Ku Klux Klan to the Kings of Leon, from Coca-Cola to kudzu, and from Gone With the Wind to Hurricane Katrina, we can promise you an exhilarating and thought provoking introduction to the enigma that is the American South.

Welcome to the American South

We hope you will enjoy this course and learn about a region of the United States that is infamous for its history and culture. In this first step, you will meet Prof. Brian Ward who will explain the course outline, course learning objectives, and explain the scope of study for the next five weeks.

The South is an intriguing place, with no easy definition. This first week will challenge assumptions you might have about the region, its past, present, and future. Join us to explore this region of the United States and develop your own impressions of the people, place, and culture of the American South.

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The American South

Northumbria University Institute of the Humanities