The Mississippi Encyclopedia

By Van West, Carroll | The Journal of Southern History, August 2018 | Go to article overview

The Mississippi Encyclopedia


Van West, Carroll, The Journal of Southern History


The Mississippi Encyclopedia. Edited by Ted Ownby, Charles Reagan Wilson, Ann J. Abadie, Odie Lindsey, and James G. Thomas Jr. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2017. Pp. viii, 1451. $70.00, ISBN 978-1-62846-692-8.)

Almost thirty years ago, the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi launched a movement in the study of the South with the publication of Encyclopedia of Southern Culture (Chapel Hill, 1989), a reference book edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris that influenced multiple states to develop and publish their own encyclopedias over the next decade and a half. The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture was scholarly and reflective, stubbornly insisting that while southern history may have its warts, there could be little doubt that southern culture had profoundly shaped the nation's cultural expressions. The editors grounded that book and the volumes in a subsequent new edition in sound scholarship, pithy but telling entries, and diverse perspectives from scholars across various disciplines.

The Mississippi Encyclopedia is also edited by a team of scholars at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, with more than 600 authors contributing some 1,500 entries. It is a reflection of its predecessor but also a step forward in both approach and chronological depth. Organized alphabetically, not thematically, the book mixes Mississippi's past into one grand collage that leads readers to consider intersections between deeper and more contemporary pasts. One set of entries, for example, moves from Boston Red Sox pitcher Dennis Ray "Oil Can" Boyd, to mid-twentieth-century segregationist, author, and judge Thomas Pickens Brady, to influential yet neglected rock musician Delaney Alvin Bramlett, and to the fourth and sixth Mississippi governor Gerard Chittocque Brandon. Politics, segregation, Stax Records, race, and the World Series are discussed within the space of three pages, a happenstance caused by the alphabet that forces readers to step outside their specialist comfort zones, if only for a moment.

The editors certainly emphasize that Mississippi has more than its fair share of writers and musicians. William Faulkner and Elvis Presley are only the beginning; hundreds of entries cover music and literature. But with entries such as "Grant, Ulysses S., in Mississippi" and "Reagan, Ronald, in Mississippi," the editors also note when national leaders have intersected with state events.

The injection of the natural world into the encyclopedia is another strength and is perhaps the best indication that the volume's title actually means that the book is about everything that is Mississippi. …

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