Troy University’s department of history and Phi Alpha Theta, a history honor society, hosted a lecture on Monday on Southern history as a part of its series of history lectures centered on the South.
The McPherson-Mitchell lecture, entitled “The South is Where You Find It: Contours of Southern Identity, Old and New,” was presented by James C. Cobb.
Cobb is a B. Phinizy Spalding professor at the University of Georgia and the former president of the Southern Historical Association.
“We are pleased to host Cobb and hear his perspective of the changing sense of how Southerners define themselves and the region,” said Timothy Buckner, assistant professor of history.
Cobb has authored four books, with his most recent being published by Oxford University Press in 2010.
His books focus on the cooperation of economy, society and culture to create the identity of the South.
Monday’s lecture focused on these aspects, illuminating what makes the South particularly special.
Focusing on statistics, Cobb painted the picture of what it means, now, to be considered Southern.
“A homicide victim in the South is more likely to have been killed by someone he or she knew,” Cobb said, “And in a recent study, over 62 percent of restaurant sales were fast food sales.”
To continue with his statistical background of Southerners, Cobb said that those in the South are less likely to get their teeth cleaned, representing the most toothless states in the country.
Taking it back to the beginning, Cobb discussed the formation of Selma clay, which he said made Southern soil very viable for cotton growth.
He said that with this profitable crop, the South was able to build a status but not without consequences for others.
“Their wealth was overwhelmingly concentrated in slavery,” Cobb said. “For example, a slave owner in, say, Pike County was much richer than a man in the North at this time.”
Considered the “Cotton Belt,” the Southern states culminated the richest stretch of land in 1860, and this is where the wealthiest planters and slave owners called home.
However, the reign of the South did not last long.
“This fact quickly changed with emancipation,” Cobb said, “And this created a serious reversal in wealth with the poorest counties being located in the South.”
Oddly enough, Cobb said, because the South is always changing, it is inaccurate to define it strictly by its history.
Since then, the South has had to evolve continuously to create an economy, but still hold on to its culture.
But what defines the South today?
“Today,” Cobb said, “The further South you go in Florida, the Norther you get. This goes to prove that you cannot define the South by its history.”
Cobb said that, today, the South is nothing if not defined by its contradictions.
Small towns with big industry is where the South is headed, Cobb said. With cotton production spread throughout the country today, the South has hadto define new ways to produce capital.
“Small towns and counties in the South are now bringing in money by attracting plants, such as automobile plants, to the areas,” Cobb said.
“These companies now see the South as this country’s ‘new Mexico’ due to the low cost of production and operations.”
However, Cobb said that there will be a turning point soon.
“What the South will realize in the future is that they did not buy these plants but only rented them,” Cobb said.
He said that this is because manufacturers will find cheaper ways to produce their products. What defines the South is its ability, when necessary, to evolve.