Shared Traditions: Southern History and Folk Culture

By Williams, Michael Ann | The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Shared Traditions: Southern History and Folk Culture


Williams, Michael Ann, The Arkansas Historical Quarterly


Shared Traditions: Southern History and Folk Culture. By Charles Joyner. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999. Pp. xiii, 361. Acknowledgments, introduction, illustrations, notes, index. $49.95, cloth; $19.95, paper.)

A central concern of Charles Joyner's scholarly career has been to characterize the nature of the South. In this effort, he unites the concerns of the disciplines of history and folklore, both by studying southern folk culture from a historical perspective and by applying folkloristic and anthropological analysis to historical topics. Joyner is perhaps uniquely qualified to approach the intersection of these disciplines, as he holds separate doctorates in both fields.

Shared Traditions consists largely of essays researched or published over the course of Joyner's career. After an introductory essay on southern folk culture, the anthology is broken into five parts, which include several considerations of the Old South, a group of essays on the work of three scholars (David Potter, David Hackett Fischer, and Henry Glassie), four examinations of the New South, three essays on the dialogue between folklore and history, and a single chapter on "The Future of Folk Culture," which looks at cultural conservation on the Sea Islands.

Dates and publication information are provided for some but not all the chapters of Shared Traditions. Joyner notes that most have been revised, some substantially, in order to unify the book. Still, the essays would have benefited from some additional contextualization, particularly an introduction to each chapter or section that gives the reader further information on when and why an essay was written. For instance, it might not be clear to all readers why a consideration of Henry Glassie's research on Northern Ireland is relevant to a book on southern history and folk culture. Other chapters appear dated, either because they lack consideration of more contemporary scholarship or because they represent an approach as current that now seems outdated. Shared Traditions is most successful if viewed as an anthology of Joyner's research and writings, though its organization sometimes works against this approach.

In grappling with the nature of southern culture, Joyner ranges from the broad sweep to the microscopic. In general, Joyner concludes that the South is unique in its biracial culture. Although few scholars would now question the multiculturalism of the South, whether it is uniquely this way is more a matter of debate. …

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