Thursday, May 22, 2008

New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: The Law and Politics Volume

Following up on a brief mention over at my home (, I want to mention a very exciting new book: volume 10 in the UNC Press' New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Jim Ely and Bradley Bonds edited it. These sorts of volumes are absurdly difficult to conceptualize: how can you capture something so sprawling as southern law--to say nothing of politics--in a few hundred pages. So they're necessarily selective. But that's the fun it is, isn't it? Seeing what you can put together--what cast of a few dozen characters can be made to speak for a region and many centuries? Reminds me of Richard Wightman Fox and James Kloppenberg's fantastic Companion of American Thought. Back in the day, it was a great present for almost all occasions.
Here is the press' description of the volume:
Volume 10 of The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture combines two of the sections from the original edition, adding extensive updates and 53 entirely new articles. In the law section of this volume, 16 longer essays address broad concepts ranging from law schools to family law, from labor relations to school prayer. The 43 topical entries focus on specific legal cases and individuals, including historical legal professionals, parties from landmark cases, and even the fictional character Atticus Finch, highlighting the roles these individuals have played in shaping the identity of the region.
The politics section includes 34 essays on matters such as Reconstruction, social class and politics, and immigration policy. New essays reflect the changing nature of southern politics, away from the one-party system long known as the "solid South" to the lively two-party politics now in play in the region. Seventy shorter topical entries cover individual politicians, political thinkers, and activists who have made significant contributions to the shaping of southern politics.
Of course, it invites comparison with the law section of the Encyclopedia of New England, published a few years back by Yale University Press (of which I was a co-editor).
Sally's the master of things southern and legal, so I'll be interested in her thoughts on this important volume. There is a synthetic essay by Maxwell Bloomfield and Jim Ely and there are both topical essays (like southern law schools, convict lease system...) and biographical entries. One thing that I'm interested in is how the editors present the system of southern law? How do ideas appear in the story? How does the southern legal system relate to the national system? How do little people and legal mandarins fit into the story? Where does violence fit in and civil rights, too? What about the dissenters. Ah, there's just so much work to be done on southern legal history.

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