The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture - Vol. 14

The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture - Vol. 14

The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture - Vol. 14

The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture - Vol. 14

Synopsis

Southern folklife is the heart of southern culture. Looking at traditional practices still carried on today as well as at aspects of folklife that are dynamic and emergent, contributors to this volume of The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture examine a broad range of folk traditions.

Moving beyond the traditional view of folklore that situates it in historical practice and narrowly defined genres, entries in this volume demonstrate how folklife remains a vital part of communities’ self-definitions. Fifty thematic entries address subjects such as car culture, funerals, hip-hop, and powwows. In 56 topical entries, contributors focus on more specific elements of folklife, such as roadside memorials, collegiate stepping, quinceañera celebrations, New Orleans marching bands, and hunting dogs. Together, the entries demonstrate that southern folklife is dynamically alive and everywhere around us, giving meaning to the everyday unfolding of community life.

Excerpt

In 1989 years of planning and hard work came to fruition when the University of North Carolina Press joined the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi to publish the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. While all those involved in writing, reviewing, editing, and producing the volume believed it would be received as a vital contribution to our understanding of the American South, no one could have anticipated fully the widespread acclaim it would receive from reviewers and other commentators. But the Encyclopedia was indeed celebrated, not only by scholars but also by popular audiences with a deep, abiding interest in the region. At a time when some people talked of the “vanishing South,” the book helped remind a national audience that the region was alive and well, and it has continued to shape national perceptions of the South through the work of its many users—journalists, scholars, teachers, students, and general readers.

As the introduction to the Encyclopedia noted, its conceptualization and organization reflected a cultural approach to the South. It highlighted such issues as the core zones and margins of southern culture, the boundaries where “the South” overlapped with other cultures, the role of history in contemporary culture, and the centrality of regional consciousness, symbolism, and mythology. By 1989 scholars had moved beyond the idea of cultures as real, tangible entities, viewing them instead as abstractions. The Encyclopedia’s editors and contributors thus included a full range of social indicators, trait groupings, literary concepts, and historical evidence typically used in regional studies, carefully working to address the distinctive and characteristic traits that made the American South a particular place. The introduction to the Encyclopedia concluded that the fundamental uniqueness of southern culture was reflected in the volume’s composite portrait of the South. We asked contributors to consider aspects that were unique to the region but also those that suggested its internal diversity. The volume was not a reference book of southern history, which explained something of the design of entries. There were fewer essays on colonial and antebellum history than on the postbellum and modern periods, befitting our conception of the volume as one trying not only to chart the cultural landscape of the South but also to illuminate the contemporary era.

When C. Vann Woodward reviewed the Encyclopedia in the New York Review of Books, he concluded his review by noting “the continued liveliness of . . .

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