- The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, volume 2: Geography ed. by Richard Pillsbury, Charles Reagan Wilson
The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, volume 2: Geography, is intended as an updated version of the geography volume in the original multi-volume encyclopedia published in 1989. Fittingly, the General Introduction written by Charles Reagan Wilson, Director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, includes a brief, yet enticing discussion of transformations occurring across “The South” related to increased globalization and its economic, cultural, and demographic results over the past decade and a half. Wilson discusses myriad contemporary, critical approaches to researching “The South,” southern culture, and southern identity that pose significant questions such as whose South, southern culture, and southern identity have been constructed, where, and how? Similarly, volume editor Richard Pillsbury (xviii)notes that the geography of southern culture has experienced tremendous changes in the past 30 yr and purports that the volume will “cast these changes within the context of traditional southern culture.” Unfortunately, this crucial contemporary component is sorely lacking in the remaining 224 pages of this work. Indeed, the entries that follow in this volume provide a substantial historical geography of the South and its cultural milieu, but with a handful of notable exceptions mentioned subsequently in this review, they deprive the reader of a comprehensive picture of the diverse, dynamic, and ultimately contested cultural geography of the region in the early twenty-first century.
The purpose of this second volume (Geography) in The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture is relatively clear: to provide a sense of the “where” of southern culture and its significant changes over time and “to provide a contextual setting for the discussions that follow in later volumes” (Pillsbury, xviii). The text is primarily comprised of short (2–8 pages) entries authored by 45 contributors from across geography, the social sciences, and humanities. The volume succeeds in describing the cultural geography of “The South” from a historical perspective, but falls short in connecting that discussion to the cultural and geographic complexities that characterize the region today. A coauthored entry “Industrial Regions” (Harrison Campbell and Alfred Stuart) is one [End Page 365] exception, offering a concise yet extensive account of economic restructuring and its impact on the industrial landscapes of the region. Dona Stewart’s piece on Atlanta also stands out, as it successfully links historical context to the present cultural geographies of a southern U.S. city with increasing regional, national, and global significance.
Although topics are quite accessible through both the table of contents and an extensive index, the organization of the volume into what appears to be two separate sections is somewhat perplexing. Specifically, the first section (Landscape, Cultural) includes a section overview of thirty-four pages, followed by alphabetized entries. The second section contains no title and section overview and includes a new set of alphabetized entries, many, but not all of which are places (e.g. “Atlanta”, “Carolina Lowcountry”, and “Sea Islands”). It remains unclear to this reviewer why the text is organized in such an unorthodox way (e.g., why is there not a section title and overview for the second section beginning with “Acadian Louisiana” and what criteria were used to place entries in one section rather than the other?). A clearer explanation of the text’s organizational structure in one of the introductory chapters would greatly improve the utility of the volume for potential readers, from laypersons to undergraduate students.
“Landscape, Cultural,” the first section of the text, is seemingly intended as an overview of the cultural landscapes of the region, although volume editor Richard Pillsbury never explicitly states his purpose. This primarily historical account is peppered with assertions such as “Few pure traditional southern cultural landscapes remain today” (Pillsbury, 2), yet it includes no explanation of what these are and...