Friday, April 28, 2006

Southern Culture, by the books

In 1989, Bill Ferris and Charles Reagan Wilson delivered a monumental work. Published by UNC Press, the 1,634-page Encyclopedia of Southern Culture was an armful, literally. Its pages are crammed with all manner of entries about the South.
We professional Southerners especially appreciate learning about things we always wondered about. I picked up the heavy volume the other day and read about the movement to provide postal service in rural areas. Until the advent of Rural Free Delivery, farm families had to travel to small post offices in town to get their mail. With the advent of RFD routes, mail finally came to individual farms early in the 20th century – but there were more RFD routes in the Midwest than in the South. The entry suggests politics had something to do with it.
We’re shocked, but not a lot.
The entries are relatively short and full of information. There’s an entry about how Sears-Roebuck revolutionized the retail business and made getting farm supplies so much easier in rural areas. But merchants in town had a fit, sponsoring bonfires to burn Sears-Roebuck catalogs. They feared Sears would run them out of business – the same fears some small merchants have about big discount houses today, such as Wal-Mart.
There’s also a reminder of what Gov. Eugene Talmadge of Georgia used to tell voters. You’ve got but three friends in this world: “God Almighty, Sears-Roebuck, and Eugene Talmadge.”
UNC Press published that book in conjunction with the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. Now UNC Press is engaged in a follow-up – and editors there wisely decided on a different approach. Instead of another massive, all-inclusive volume that takes a long time to publish and a lot of effort to pick up, this time there will be a couple dozen volumes of the new Encyclopedia of Southern Culture.
“Observers have pointed out that it took twice as long to complete the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture as it took to fight the Civil War,” Charles Reagan Wilson wrote in The Southern Register, published by the Center for the Study of Southern Culture.
This time round, readers will find quicker volumes on bookshelves, with more pictures and other illustrations. The first two are “Religion,” edited by Samuel S. Hill, and “Geography,” edited by Richard Pillsbury. They were involved in writing and editing the original “Encyclopedia of Southern Culture.” Additional volumes will appear over the next four years, published again by UNC Press.
I sneaked a peek at “Geography” and wound up, as usual, kicking back and thumbing through one afternoon. I discovered, among many other things, that I live in a religious region called the “North Carolina Anomaly” – defined as a “Historic Zone of Mixed Denominations,” unlike other regions where Baptists, Methodists or Catholics predominate.
Over here in the Upper Neuse Basin Drainage District, we’ve been called a lot of things. “North Carolina Anomaly” is pretty high-toned, but we’ll take it. Beats the heck out of Sodom On Crabtree Creek.
I think.


DavidLauderdale said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DavidLauderdale said...

Jack, thank you for telling about the encyclopedia update. It was news to me.

Also wanted to make sure you are aware that South Carolina will have its first encyclopedia out this fall.

As a newspaper columnist, I've found many excuses to get lost in the pages of the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Both encyclopedias were helpful in today's episode about boiled peanuts.

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