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The Burden of Southern History [Paperback]

by C. Vann Woodward, William E. Leuchtenburg
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 1, 2008 0807133809 978-0807133804
C. Vann Woodward's The Burden of Southern History remains one of the essential history texts of our time. In it Woodward brilliantly addresses the interrelated themes of southern identity, southern distinctiveness, and the strains of irony that characterize much of the South's historical experience. First published in 1960, the book quickly became a touchstone for generations of students. This updated third edition contains a chapter, "Look Away, Look Away," in which Woodward finds a plethora of additional ironies in the South's experience. It also includes previously uncollected appreciations of Robert Penn Warren, to whom the book was originally dedicated, and William Faulkner. This edition also features a new foreword by historian William E. Leuchtenburg in which he recounts the events that led up to Woodward's writing The Burden of Southern History, and reflects on the book's--and Woodward's--place in the study of southern history. The Burden of Southern History is quintessential Woodward--wise, witty, ruminative, daring, and as alive in the twenty-first century as when it was written.

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

C. Vann Woodward (1908-1999) was Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University, where he taught from 1961 until 1977. One of the leading historians of the century, Woodward wrote several books about the American South, his main field of interest. He edited Mary Chesnut's Civil War, for which he received the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for history. His other major works include Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel; American Counterpoint; The Strange Career of Jim Crow; Reunion and Reaction; Thinking Back: The Perils of Writing History; and Origins of the New South, 1877-1913, for which he received the Bancroft Prize. He served as president of the Southern Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and the American Historical Association, and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

William E. Leuchtenburg is William Rand Kenan, Jr., Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the author of more than a doezen books on twentieth-century American history, including The White House Looks South: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Louisiana State University Press (August 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807133809
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807133804
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #527,181 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Classic March 6, 2012
I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of essays on the South. I've read all of Woodward's major works and this rates as one of the best because, throughout, you can see his engagement intellectually with difficult theories and histories. The sections where he engages "the ironies of Southern history" are fascinating because he completely challenges the American myth of success in global affairs. His addendum on the aftermath of the Vietnam War is timely as well.

His sections on William Faulkner, John Brown, Southern identity, Populism, and Reconstruction are first rate and describe histories as concisely as anything in print. His also goes into some of these issues very well in "The Origins of the New South." I cared less for the chapter on Robert Penn Warren because I don't think much of his work has aged well and the chapter on the Guilded Age is less coherent.

In sum, this is an important part of Woodward's canon and speaks very well to his importance as a thinker.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Essays from a Southern Intellectual April 23, 2007
This is a collection of essays on then contemporary southern culture and history. The essays generally deal with the transformation then taking place- the end of segregation, the civil rights movement, and surging population and industrial development.

The essays have a sentimental quality I don't find in more modern writings. They are short in the quality of thesis ('Southern Identity lies in a common memory', 'The country made ambiguous moves towards racial equality during the civil War and reconstruction' but is long in the quality of its prose. It's not a bad read, even if there is little new. Of course, you shouldn't be reading books from 1960 for new material in the first place.

So what was Woodward trying to tell his audience? I saw two themes. To the south he seemed to be asking people to let go of segregation as another lost cause. He doesn't condemn it in moral tones, but rather that fighting for it against the tide of history was futile and self destructive. To the north he asked for patience, pointing out that virulent racism persisted in the north well after the civil war. So the theme was getting people to deal peacefully with the concept of racial equality.

While most of the essays stuck to this theme, the last two essays stuck out.

'The Populist Heritage and the Intellectual' is an analysis of criticism of the populist movement by then contemporary historians. I've never heard the term Populist used in anything other then a derogatory fashion, Woodward suggests there is a lot more to it then that. Woodward suggests populism was an agrarian protest movement that failed to find intellectual support, and was consequently pilloried. He cites it as the one movement that sought to bring back civil rights to the south in the 1890's.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Burden of C. Vann Woodward May 7, 2009
C. Vann Woodward was a fine historian with liberal sentiments when it came to race while still loving his native South. "The Burden of Southern History" is a collection of his essays that has now gone through numerous editions. Woodward is sometimes excellent ("The Irony of Southern History" is perhaps the finest essay in this collection) but some of his pieces are flat. Woodward is good on the works of Robert Penn Warren and on how three Northern writers viewed the South in the Gilded Age. His piece on the reaction to John Brown's raid and changes in the South in the aftermath of Bill Clinton's victory in 1992 are not up to the same level of quality. Nonetheless, this is a fine collection from a humane spirit and a good writer.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Great Minds of American History July 10, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is revised and reprinted regularly because no one else has ever done better at understanding the South and its place in America and American history. After a couple of decades, Woodward would look back at what he wrote, bring it up to date and move forward. This classic is absolutely necessary to understanding American history.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Seminal Work March 14, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book is a must read for any southern history scholar. The argument presented still holds true today, one must include every perspective if one is going to talk about the South.
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