The U.S. South and Europe: Transatlantic Relations in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

The U.S. South and Europe: Transatlantic Relations in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

The U.S. South and Europe: Transatlantic Relations in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

The U.S. South and Europe: Transatlantic Relations in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

Excerpt

The U.S. South has always been a distinctive region: not only in the eyes of Americans from other sections of the United States but also in the perception of many Europeans. Once considered as the epitome of isolation and backwardness, the South has recently evoked considerable interest among popular audiences as well as among academic observers on both sides of the Atlantic. One reason why the South captivates national and international attention is its stunning economic development. In 1938 President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously called the region “the Nation’s No. 1 economic problem.” In 1994 New York Times journalist Peter Applebome described the South “as a dominant economic, political and cultural force in American life.” Applebome aptly noted that “to understand America, it is necessary to make sense of the South.” Surely the South is the key to understanding recent American politics and the rise of conservatism in particular. As political scientists Earl Black and Merle Black have demonstrated, the South, with its growing population and congressional representation, provides the Republican Party with its core white conservative constituency. The peculiar fusion of evangelical conservatism and free-market capitalism that many Europeans find hard to comprehend originated in the South. Then again, President Bill Clinton, a southern Democrat, has enjoyed great popularity among Europeans for two decades not least because he personifies the easygoing side of southern culture.

European interest in the American South is not confined to contemporary politics but has a long history predicated on perceived cultural differences between the South and the rest of the United States. As British scholar Helen Taylor explains the region’s transatlantic appeal: “Long associated with hot passions and tempers—of the blues, the Ku Klux Klan, voodoo, and rock and roll—the South is a region associated deliciously . . .

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