Notable Scholarship in Southern Studies

Southern Literary Review would like to acknowledge and recommend a few works of scholarship that, we think, will interest our readers.  Each book is about Southern themes or literature, broadly defined.


Jon Smith.  Finding Purple America: The South and the Future of American Cultural Studies.  Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 2013.

Jon Smith

From the publisher:

The new southern studies has had an uneasy relationship with both American studies and the old southern studies. In Finding Purple America, Jon Smith, one of the founders of the new movement, locates the source of that unease in the fundamentally antimodern fantasies of both older fields.

The old southern studies tends to view modernity as a threat to a mystic southern essence—a dangerous outside force taking the form of everything from a “bulldozer revolution” to a “national project of forgetting.” Since the rise of the New Americanists, American studies has also imagined itself to be in a permanent crisis mode, seeking to affiliate the field and the national essence with youth countercultures that sixties leftists once imagined to be “the future.” Such fantasies, Smith argues, have resulted in an old southern studies that cannot understand places like Birmingham or Atlanta (or cities at all) and an American studies that cannot understand red states.

Most Americans live in neither a comforting, premodern Mayberry nor an exciting, postmodern Los Angeles but rather in what postcolonialists call “alternative modernities” and “hybrid cultures” whose relationships to past and future, to stability and change, are complex and ambivalent. Looking at how “the South” has played in global metropolitan pop culture since the nineties and at how southern popular and high culture alike have, in fact, repeatedly embraced urban modernity, Smith masterfully weaves together postcolonial theory, cultural studies, Lacanian psychoanalysis, and, surprisingly, marketing theory to open up the inconveniently in-between purple spaces and places that Americanist and southernist fantasies about “who we are” have so long sought to foreclose.

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Jeff Taylor.  Politics on a Human Scale: The American Tradition of Decentralism.  Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2013.

Jeff Taylor

From the publisher:

Featuring a foreword by Congressman Glen Browder, Politics on a Human Scale examines political decentralization in the United States, from the founding of the republic to the present.

Part of the desirable equilibrium is a sense of proportionality. Some sizes, some amounts, some levels are more appropriate than others. Decentralism is the best political tool to ensure equilibrium, to promote proportionality, and to obtain appropriate scale. Power distribution should be as wide as possible. Government functions should be as close to the people as practicable. In this way, individual human beings are not swallowed by a monstrous Leviathan. Persons are not at the mercy of an impersonal bureaucracy led by the far-away few. Decentralism gives us politics on a human scale. It gives us more democracy within the framework of a republic.

The longest chapters in the book deal with crucial turning points in U.S. history—specifically, when decentralists lost the upper-hand in the two major political parties. Decentralism in our nation runs deep, both intellectually and historically. It also has considerable popular support. Yet today it is a virtual political orphan. In Washington, neither major political party is serious about dispersing power to lower levels of government or to the people themselves. Still, there are dissident politicians and political movements that remain committed to the decentralist principle.

Power needs to be held in check, partly through decentralization, because power holds a great and dangerous attraction for humans. Recognition of this human tendency is the first step in guarding against it and getting back on a better path.

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Chester G. Hearn.  Lincoln and McClellan at War.  Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 2012.

From the publisher:

At the beginning of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln and his highest-ranking general, George B. McClellan, agreed that the United States must preserve the Union. Their differing strategies for accomplishing that goal, however, created constant conflict. In Lincoln and McClellan at War, Chester G. Hearn explores this troubled relationship, revealing its complexity and showing clearly why the two men—both inexperienced with war—eventually parted ways.

A staunch Democrat who never lost his acrimony toward Republicans—including the president—McClellan first observed Lincoln as an attorney representing the Illinois Central Railroad and immediately disliked him. This underlying bias followed thirty-five-year-old McClellan into his role as general-in-chief of the Union army. Lincoln, a man without military training, promoted McClellan on the advice of cabinet members and counted on “Little Mac” to whip the army into shape and end the war quickly. McClellan comported himself with great confidence and won Lincoln’s faith by brilliantly organizing the Army of the Potomac. Later, however, he lost Lincoln’s trust by refusing to send what he called “the best army on the planet” into battle. The more frustrated Lincoln grew with McClellan’s inaction, the more Lincoln studied authoritative works on military strategy and offered strategic combat advice to the general. McClellan resented the president’s suggestions and habitually deflected them. Ultimately, Lincoln removed McClellan for what the president termed “the slows.”
According to Hearn, McClellan’s intransigence stemmed largely from his reluctance to fight offensively. Thoroughly schooled in European defensive tactics, McClellan preferred that approach to fighting the war. His commander-in-chief, on the other hand, had a preference for using offensive tactics. This compelling study of two important and diverse figures reveals how personality and politics prolonged the Civil War.

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Claudia Milian.  Latining America: Black-Brown Passages and the Coloring of Latino/a Studies.  Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2013.

Claudia Milian

From the publisher:

With Latining America, Claudia Milian proposes that the economies of blackness, brownness, and dark brownness summon a new grammar for Latino/a studies that she names “Latinities.” Milian’s innovative study argues that this ensnared economy of meaning startles the typical reading practices deployed for brown Latino/a embodiment.

Latining America keeps company with and challenges existent models of Latinidad, demanding a distinct paradigm that puts into question what is understood as Latino and Latina today. Milian conceptually considers how underexplored “Latin” participants––the southern, the black, the dark brown, the Central American—have ushered in a new world of “Latined” signification from the 1920s to the present.

Examining not who but what constitutes the Latino and Latina, Milian’s new critical Latinities disentangle the brown logic that marks “Latino/a” subjects. She expands on and deepens insights in transamerican discourses, narratives of passing, popular culture, and contemporary art. This daring and original project uncovers previously ignored and unremarked upon cultural connections and global crossings whereby African Americans and Latinos traverse and reconfigure their racialized classifications.

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About Allen Mendenhall

Allen Mendenhall is a writer, attorney, and educator. His book Literature and Liberty (Rowman & Littlefield / Lexington Books) was released in 2014. He blogs at The Literary Lawyer. Visit his website at

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