Saturday, May 31, 2008

Resurfacing in Chapel Hill

Well, it was a long trip from Tuscaloosa to Chapel Hill.

I'm sitting here in my pet friendly hotel in Chapel Hill listening to the Democratic Rules Committee debate; riveting stuff, for sure. And because Chapel Hill is a new beginning for me, I thought that I'd post Thomas Cole's Falls of the Kaaterskill, which is about nature and the new. It's also a connection to my past, however, because it's home is the fabulous Westervelt Warner Museum in Tuscaloosa.

I have new found respect for folks like movers. I also have new found respect for the antebellum southerners I study. The amount of energy it took to settle the south and the physical difficulties were extraordinary. But what the move--packing my books and files, even with the help of movers--as well as the drive impressed upon me how difficult is was to sustain and propagate intellectual culture. The library at the antebellum University of Alabama had something like 5000 volumes; it was one of the largest libraries in the country at the time. Yet it must have been extraordinarily expensive and difficult to assemble those book. Moreover, it's testimony to the extraordinary commitment to the community of ideas that people in the old south, in places that were so difficult to get to, read and wrote about ideas of religion, politics, and moral philosophy. They sustained a culture in the face of adversity. Now, that may also tell us something about why that culture was so thoroughly conservative. (Although in the eighteenth century the hurdles were even greater and that was not so nearly conservative an intellectual culture.)

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