The New Regionalism: Essays and Commentaries

The New Regionalism: Essays and Commentaries

The New Regionalism: Essays and Commentaries

The New Regionalism: Essays and Commentaries

Synopsis

A Dialogue Among Scholars That Reveals Issues and Attitudes in the Contemporary Renaissance of Regional Studies

Interest in American regions has undergone a revival since the 1970s. This book presents views of key interpreters of the South, the West, New England, and the Midwest. Although they choose differing approaches and methodologies, they collectively explore the landscapes and peoples of regional cultures that long have been a significant factor in understanding American culture.

The dynamic subject of regionalism fostered a popular and intellectual movement in the period between the world wars. Such notable figures as the sociologist Howard Odum, the historian Walter Prescott Webb, and the urban planner Lewis Mumford proposed theoretical bases for regional study and aspired to shape public policy in the New Deal era. These modernists were aware of the cultural crisis that shook western civilization after World War I. They saw regional cultures as models of the well-integrated communities that might offer hope to their disenchanted contemporaries. However, interest in regionalism declined in the 1950s, as the decade concerned itself with the view that consensus and homogenization would destroy regional identity.

Through films, television, and novels set in different regions, American popular culture kept regional cultures in the national spotlight. By the 1970s, it was clear that regions not only had survived but also continued to play a prominent role in the shaping of cultural attitudes and political thought and behavior.

The essays in this volume, papers presented at the Porter L. Fortune History Symposium at the University of Mississippi in 1993, are products of thisnew wave of scholarship. The New Regionalism the scholars discuss here focuses on the geography of place, the local context of differing physical environments, and the centrality of social relations that includes attention t

Excerpt

In The New Regionalism in American Literature (1930) Carey McWilliams asked whether there was "much novelty about 'the new regionalism.'" Noting that the earliest forms of American culture came out of provincial contexts, he insisted that "about the only justification for the phrase is polemic: it attracts attention and provokes discussion." Still, he did use the term in his title, undoubtedly concluding that provoking discussion was not such a bad idea for a book. What McWilliams called the new regionalism is today the old regionalism. Richard Maxwell Brown argued in a 1981 essay that the 1970s gave birth to a new new regionalism, and David Goldfield has used the term new regionalism in a review of books on urbanization and regionalism. the papers in this volume take an updated look at the four major American regions: New England, the South, the Midwest, and the West. They offer differing thematic approaches and methodologies and collectively present major topics appearing in very recent regionalist historical writing. the underlying purpose is to see what a conversation among scholars reveals about current regionalism.

The regionalism of the 1930s and 1940s is the beginning point in understanding any new regionalism. Critics of regionalism sometimes see it representing antimodernist tendencies, romanticizing rural, traditional life. Robert L. Dorman argues, however, that the regionalism theories of the years from 1920 to 1950 were part of a broader modernist movement in the United States. Like the makers of the Harlem Renaissance, the cosmopolitan intellectuals of the Partisan Review, and the communists of the New Masses, regionalists dismissed popular culture, lionized artistic innovation, and promoted versions of cultural pluralism. Unlike these other modernist movements, regionalists emphasized the centrality of place--lived environments as unique, valuable enti-

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