- Halls of Honor: College Men in the Old South
Robert F. Pace's lively book offers the flavor of college student life in the antebellum South. Crisply written and filled with entertaining quotes, one can almost feel the cramped beds that students slept in and hear the notes that a flute-playing dorm mate is playing through paper-thin walls. Pace is less effective, however, as he tries to make larger sense of his findings. While at times quite convincing, he ultimately relies too much on the concepts of adolescence and honor to explain experiences that could be analyzed from a number of other angles.
Pace organizes his book according to different aspects of student culture. In turn, he explores academic life, dorms and the wider campus environment, friendships and courtships, and rebellion, violence, and [End Page 330] duels. He ends the book by documenting the impact of the Civil War on campus life, showing how it rudely invaded the idyllic world of the academy. The picture that emerges of male college students is one of pampered young gentlemen, some who brought their own slaves along to serve them. Jealous of their honor, they were quick to stand up to faculty and fellow students when challenged. As Pace discusses the duels that broke out on campus, one is left convinced of his contention that the southern honor code shaped interactions amongst students. These testy young men, like their proud elders, worked hard to appear strong before an audience of their peers. Whether faced with oral exams or the jeers of a classmate, they rose quickly to rebuff any challenges to their standing in society.
Pace also tries to explain student experience by informing the reader that he is describing young men going through the "natural ambivalence of adolescence," a period of "transition fraught with conflicts and struggles" (5–6). Filled with storm and stress it might sometimes be, but the category of adolescence is no more "natural" than other cultural categories like race and gender. Despite the best efforts of developmental psychologists in recent years to purge the legacy of G. Stanley Hall, he lives on. While Pace notes in his introduction that female students in the South failed to show any of the turbulent tendencies displayed by young men, he still insists that adolescence itself was a determining factor in students' behavior. I do not mean to suggest there might not be some developmental constants in the world, perhaps some even gender-
specific. Nonetheless, the stage of adolescence, or youth, as it was actually known in the antebellum era, came with a certain set of prescriptions and expectations particular to the era. By not putting this stage of life in historical context, Pace is left with a less effective analytical construct with which to interpret his findings.
In the wake of the American Revolution, most Americans, northerners and southerners alike, became convinced that youth should have a larger share of freedom in society. Adults were expected to give the young more respect than they had in earlier times. When former president John Adams recommended in 1818 that Harvard University quell a student rebellion by resorting to whippings, fellow Federalist Harrison Gray Otis remarked that Adams had failed to keep up with changing times. "Old Mr. Adams mistakes the genius of the age, to tell of whipping and to practice scolding," he observed. "The principles of Government in States and Families are changed." To Otis, persuasion had to be used instead, [End Page 331] for "a boy of 18 for all the purposes of government is as much a man as he will ever be" (Steven J. Novak, The Rights of Youth: American Colleges and Student Revolt, 1798–1815 [Cambridge: Harvard University, 1977], 168). Many of the contests between faculty and students that unfold in this book could be more effectively analyzed if Pace took note of this shifting terrain of age role expectations. For example, when Pace describes the violent conflict that unfolded at the University...