The eleven essays featured in this collection arose from a series of conferences at the universities of Manchester, Copenhagen, Cambridge, and Florida between 2008 and 2010. Emphasizing inter- and multi-disciplinary perspectives in the study of the American South, [End Page 293] this scholarship will appear as a three part series published by the University Press of Florida.
This initial volume emphasizes both the limitations and possibilities of Atlantic frameworks, addressing key historiographical debates concerning approaches towards the South as a culturally distinct region. Similar efforts to counteract such characteristics within the historiography of the South have explored the cultural, economic, and political ties of the South beyond national borders (The South and the Caribbean: Essays and Commentaries, edited by Douglass Sullivan-Gonzales and Charles Reagan Wilson , for example). This collection, however, provides a much welcomed address of the challenges laid out by historians of both the Atlantic world and the American South, perhaps most poignantly offered by Jack Greene in his 2007 Journal of Southern History piece titled “Early Modern Southeastern North America and the Broader Atlantic and American Worlds.”
The contributors to this volume primarily hail from history departments, but a handful of scholars from literature, English, and theater studies departments provide contributions that illustrate the flexibility of Atlantic approaches for cross-disciplinary study of the South. Keith Cartwright’s concluding essay provides readers with a chance to meditate on the future of Atlantic approaches across historical, literary, and cultural disciplines, while Natanya Keisha Duncan, Kathleen Gough, and Leigh Ann Duck each build on post-1990s scholarship on the black Atlantic, as they evaluate personal currents of exchange to and from the United States, Africa, and Europe.
The editors provide a pleasant balance between essays that directly address the strengths and faults of the Atlantic framework and pieces that validate its application. Several fresh case studies illustrate how competing legal and political regimes in the Atlantic world influenced the lives of individuals within the South while also engaging with defined historiographical challenges. Jon Sensbach’s essay on early southern religions addresses how the “weight of an apparent fundamentalist destiny overpowers the narrative of southern history,” illustrating the transatlantic character of southern religions, particularly [End Page 294] indigenous religions or non-Protestant denominations before the eighteenth century (p. 49). Although the subject of Martha Jones’s essay has been examined by other scholars, readers interested in the Saint-Dominguan refugee experience in the United States will find this piece provides new material that emphasizes the experience of French slaves as they “confronted new rules, rituals, and structures of power” under the diverse legal regimes of Atlantic port cities (p. 106).
Contributors are sensitive to the temporal and thematic limitations that have challenged scholars of the American South in their application of the Atlantic world framework beyond the study of colonial era. Offering the longest piece in the volume, Brian Ward initiates readers into this theoretical engagement, praising the power of local and regional studies that emphasize transoceanic exchange while acknowledging the geographical restrictiveness of Atlantic studies that have primarily emphasized coastal regions or focused on activity on the ocean itself. Trevor Brunard’s essay turns towards another set of boundaries established within Atlantic scholarship, confronting what he and several other contributors view as “an unfortunate distancing between the historiographies and historical practice of colonial America and antebellum American history”(p. 130). Jeffrey Kerr-Ritchie’s excellent critique of the 1970s scholarship surrounding U.S. emancipation and comparative abolition reminds us that even seemingly progressive comparative approaches can still perpetuate notions of a distinct South as a “geospatial framework, expanded to situate the U.S. South in the Atlantic world, ended up generating its own kind of exceptionalist narrative”(p. 150). The thematic fluidity of the essays may seem murky at times, but taken as a whole, the volume engages in a much needed exploration of a conceptual paradigm that offers stimulating challenges for the boundaries of the American South as defined by past scholarship...