The Scope of Southern Honor
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July/August 2008 ยท Historically Speaking 15 how it adapted itself to the market and adapted the market to itself, has been hinted at (by John Mayfield, Kenneth Greenberg, and odiers), but we still have no clear sense. And what about honor as an internal, emotional experience? This may seem paradoxical, because Wyatt-Brown has stressed the essentially social nature of southern honor, the degree to which all claims to rank had to be ratified by community consensus. But he has also suggested that the honor ethic was a haunting, depressing, and enraging burden, and I think that needs to be explored from inside the male mind as well as from the outside. Why has nothing remotely like Southern Honor been produced in twenty-five years? Why does it still stand so alone? I don't know, but I wondered while rereading the book if perhaps we discourage ourselves and our students from taking the kind of chances Wyatt-Brown took. Because let's face it: he did take chances, and he almost didn't get away with them. The reviewers used words like "brilliant ," "sweeping," and "magisterial," but they also used words and leveled charges not as pleasant. I think Orlando Patterson hit closest to the mark when he said that "a good part of [the book's] intellectual excitement comes from the fact that it takes many chances, both methodologically and interpretively . Timidity is not one of Professor Wyatt-Brown's failings." Indeed, it isn't. But I worry sometimes about it becoming one of mine, one of ours, one that we may too easily pass on to our students. Wyatt-Brown wrote Southern Honor with an impressionistic, Cashian, Faulknerian fearlessness , and it's that literary fearlessness that I think we need more of. Stephen Berry is assistantprofessor of history at the University of Georgia. His most recent book is House of Abraham: Lincoln and the Todds, a Family Divided by War (Houghton Mifflin, 2007). The Scope of Southern Honor Orville Vernon Burton Because Southern Honor is written with the literary grace characteristic of Bertram Wyatt-Brown, many have missed the interdisciplinary and theoretical sophistication that has truly made this book a classic, not a word I often use. This book has inspired a generation of cultural historians, rejuvenated the field of American Studies, and pointed the way to the scholarly microhistory and community history that has so "honored" our profession. Some have not paid attention to the subtide , Ethics and Behavior in the Old South, which alerts us to the anthropological insights incorporated into what has become a major interpretation of the South. To appreciate the genius and the influence of Southern Honor, one must go back to our previous understanding of the literature on the American South. Before Southern Honor, there was W. J. Cash's The Mind of the South, and basically three, or perhaps three-and-a-half, interpretations of the Old South, none of which by itself satisfactorily explained the American South. Although with a very different interpretation, Wyatt-Brown explicidy drew upon Cash for a model, and he wrote eloquendy about Cash and the savage ideal and sense of honor before the publication of his own monumental Southern Honor.' For all who want to understand what Wyatt-Brown was trying to do in Southern Honor, I recommend they read his insightful and exciting 1975 essay entided "The Ideal Typology and Antebellum Southern History: A Testing of a New Approach." Wyatt-Brown, like Cash, sought to show "how all parts of southern society functioned to form a social whole." Like Cash, he emphasized continuity, arguing that "the main thrust of southern life was the preservation Upcountry white hunters in the Old South. From David Hunter Strother, Virginia Illustrated (Harper and Brothers, 1857), 173. of its traditions."2 Wyatt-Brown has correcdy pointed out that "Cash is simply part of a southern scholar's intellectual frame of reference, and it is impossible to not deal with him."' One can expand Wyatt-Brown's claim and add that for us historians of the American South it is impossible to not deal with Wyatt-Brown. When I attended graduate school in 1969, the reigning interpretation of the...


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