Editor’s Page
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Editor’s Page

As a teaching assistant during graduate school and as a young instructor, students often asked, “Why do I need to learn about [fill in the subject]? That happened a long time ago and doesn’t matter now.” As I learned to be a better teacher, I began to make connections between the past and present unmistakably clear in my lectures. Although on disparate historical topics, the three articles in this issue relate to one another because of their timeliness. Each of them speaks to issues that we, in Kentucky and the United States, face today.

The first article, by former KHS research fellow Blair M. Smith, loosely utilizes categories of leadership theorized by early-twentieth-century German sociologist Max Weber. Smith argues that in a frontier setting like late-eighteenth-century Kentucky, social structures were embryonic and, therefore, society was relatively fluid. This fluidity allowed for charismatic leaders of limited education and wealth to challenge the more traditional, and supposedly natural, leadership of the educated and landed elite. Although authority contests in eighteenth-century Kentucky might seem to hold no relevance to today, Smith’s tale, in some ways, seems very similar to our own time, especially in 2016 as we, as a nation, will go to the polls and decide on new leaders. How much will security concerns affect the election this year? Will Americans vote for charismatic leaders or traditional leaders?

Smith’s article is followed by a thought-provoking piece by george white jr. White tells the economic history of the commonwealth, from the frontier days through the present, as the story of white privilege. African American businessmen and businesswomen often struggled to gain a foothold in the world of commerce because whites did not want them to succeed and actively sought to hamper black economic development. Through most of Kentucky’s history, laws, customs, and [End Page 133] violence combined to prevent African Americans from attaining the same levels of financial success as whites. Even in the late twentieth century, after the “victories” of the civil rights movement, the numbers tell a startlingly tale. As issues of race and racism envelope our nation today, white’s article reminds us about the ways racial privilege has affected the economic development of Kentucky.

In the third article, Jeffery A. Duvall describes the decline of the tobacco culture in Carroll County, Kentucky, and neighboring Switzerland County, Indiana. During the Great Depression, the federal government began using a quota and minimum-price-support system to help struggling tobacco farmers (in Kentucky and elsewhere). Duvall’s microhistorical look at tobacco farmers in one Kentucky county and its Indiana neighbor gives us insight into larger issues in the twentieth and twenty-first-century United States. Duvall details the decline of Depression-era Keynesian economic policies, which have been replaced by the neoliberal approach of our contemporary moment. Globalization, specifically the growth of cigarette manufacturing in places like China, has also hurt tobacco producers in Carroll County and elsewhere in the United States. Where once there were warehouses full of tobacco, grown by Kentucky’s small farmers, now there are only empty buildings.

The past has relevance for today, and we at KHS hope that engaging with Kentucky’s history will help people confront the challenges of the future. [End Page 134]

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