Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Death and the American South

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Death and the American South

Article excerpt

Death and the American South. Edited by Craig Thompson Friend and Lorri Glover. Cambridge Studies on the American South. (New York and other cities: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Pp. xii, 280. $95.00, ISBN 978-1-107-08420-9.)

Based on a conference held at North Carolina State University in 2011, this intriguing edited collection highlights the centrality of death and deathways in the southern experience. The volume's editors, Craig Thompson Friend and Lorri Glover (both of whom also contribute essays), argue that while the collection explores "the intimate relationship between death and southern history," they have no intention of articulating a distinctly southern conception of death (p. 2). With eleven essays by contributors including both senior scholars and recent Ph.D.s (and everything in between), this collection ranges chronologically from the settlement of Jamestown to the 1990s and thematically from suicide to yellow fever epidemics and from scalping to 1930s condolence notes. In this unvaryingly excellent set of essays, the authors throughout highlight the political, social, and cultural uses of death in the American South.

Although the essays in this collection do not speak to one another in any substantive way, several connecting themes emerge. Not unsurprisingly, many of the essays highlight the relationship between southern ideas about death and race. Craig Thompson Friend's essay examines how peoples of Native American, European, and African descent in the colonial South used the mutilation of dead enemies to further political goals. Friend contrasts the use of scalping and beheading as tools of terror to establish racial dominance. In one of the collection's most original essays, Jamie Warren examines the contested nature of enslaved people's corpses. She argues that although slave owners claimed mastery over slaves' living bodies, death transformed this relationship. Many slave owners, Warren argues, recognized the claim that enslaved African Americans had to the dead bodies of their kin. Other slave owners, however, believed that their control extended after death, consigning enslaved bodies to medical schools for anatomical research and dissection.

The centrality of evangelical religion also features prominently in many of the essays. Peter N. Moore's essay examines how colonial South Carolina evangelicals articulated ideas about the "good death" (p. …

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