Global Perspectives on Industrial Transformation in the American South

By Smith, Solomon K. | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, July 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Global Perspectives on Industrial Transformation in the American South


Smith, Solomon K., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Global Perspectives on Industrial Transformation in the American South * Susanna Dclfino and Michele Gillespie, eds. * Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005 * x, 240 pp. * $24.95

Like John Majewski's A House Dividing (2000) and Sean Adams's Old Dominion, Industrial Commonwealth (2004), the essays assembled by Susanna Delfino and Michele Gillespie for Global Perspectives seek to reconfigure our understanding of the southern economy by dispelling the persistent myths of stagnation, backwardness, and resistance to change and replacing these ideas with a new interpretation of the South based on economic and social dynamism as well as regional prosperity. Global Perspectives is the first volume in the series New Directions in the History of Southern Economy from the Southern Industrialization Project. Ranging from the late colonial age to the present, Global Perspectives offers innovative theoretical and methodological approaches with comparative themes aimed at placing the southern industrial experience in traditional and non-traditional contexts, including an international one.

The collection begins with Stanley Engerman's survey of traditional explanations that slavery kept the South from industrializing. He posits that these interpretations were wrong from their very conception. Taken as a separate nation, the South may have lagged behind the North and Great Britain in terms of industrialization but would have been among the wealthiest and most industrialized countries in the western world. Even more important, the southern slave society was unique in that it sustained industrialization simultaneously while fostering a thriving agricultural export sector.

Brian Schoen addresses southern concerns about economic dependence and the development of global interdependence by analyzing the economic philosophy of antebellum cotton producers. According to Schoen, southerners' adherence to free trade was consistent with their own interests because "it reflected the realities of an interdependent nineteenth-century global economy dominated by Britain's commercial and manufacturing empire" (p. 51). After 1830, southerners tried to lessen their increased dependency on the North by developing railroad networks, fostering industrialization, pursuing international opportunities, and increasing interdependence with Europe.

Although Engerman and Schoen set the tone for the collection, the most valuable essays focus on comparisons between the South and other regions. …

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