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THE OLD SOUTH: GLOBAL AND LOCAL PERSPECTIVES ON POWER, POLITICS, AND IDEOLOGY Harold D. Woodman Civil war historical literature is enormous, covering, it would seem, every facet of the drama, and still there is no sign that the field has been played out. Of course, many new studies do little more than provide additional details about one or another event or actor in the story, thereby adding primarily to the quantity of our detailed knowledge. But others add to the quality of ourunderstandingbyprovidingnewways of looking at the familiar or by investigating developments which had hitherto been considered of little or no importance. Two recent books fall into the latter category: Raimondo Luraghi, The Rise andFallofthe Phntation South1 and J. Mills Thornton III, Politics andPowerina Síaue Society: Ahbama, 1800-1860.2 It would be difficult to imagine two books dealing with the same general subject more different in scope and emphasis. Luraghi, an Italian historian who has researched extensively in the United States and has written widely on the American Civil War,3 peers at the South with the eyes of a European using a wide-angled lens, shifting its focus broadly over time and space. Something of the breadth and range of Luraghi's vision may be seen in the first paragraph of his first chapter: The cultural history of the Old South has a remote source; strange as it may seem, its deepest roots are found in Italy. It may appear paradoxical (and, in a way, it is), but no genuine understanding of southern civilization can be achieved without unraveling the deep and not easily detected ties between it and the Italian classicism of the Renaissance (and, through the Renaissance, to the classical cultures of both Rome and Greece) (p. 15). In the 150 pages that follow, Luraghi takes his readers not only back to the origins of western civilization but also across space to compare efforts to industrialize the Confederacy with state socialism in the Soviet Union and China. This voyage through time and space leaves the reader 1 (New York: New Viewpoints, 1978. Pp. 191; cloth $12.50, paper $5.50.) 2 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978. Pp. xxv, 492; $22.50.) 3 See Storia delh Guerra Civile Americana (4th edition; Torino, 1975) and "The Civil War and the Modernization of American Society—Social Structure and Industrial Revolution in the Old South Before and During the War," Civä WarHistory, XVIII (Sept., 1972), 230-251. Civil War History, Vol. XXV, No. 4 Copyright ® 1979 by The Kent State University Press 0009-8078/79/2504-0004 $00.65/0 339 340CIVIL WAR HISTORY breathless, not entirely convinced, but in possession of a number of rich and provocative insights. Thornton's view is much more limited. His eyes are those of a Yale educated native Alabamian, his lens that of a microscope, its focus rarely leaving the borders of his native state. He begins by assuming that American federalism means that national events may be most profitably understood from the states' perspectives: "A state's history possesses its own concerns, its own actors, its own logic." He assumes also "that all actions in history are based, necessarily, on subjective perceptions" (p. xv), making it necessary, therefore, to know how people viewed events. His goal therefore is to describe, for one state, the institutional, ideological, and political context into which national events fell. I wish, if I may so phrase it, to place upon the reader the spectacles through which antebellum Alabamians peered out at their frightening world (p. xvii). If Luraghi's study is a breath-taking romp through time and space, Thornton's is a leisurely, plodding journey through four decades, never straying beyond the borders of Alabama, visiting counties and even beats to follow the details of politics. Despite such differences, however, both books are alike in their emphasis on ideology. Both seek to discover the nature and the historical roots of Southern ideology in the class structure of the ante-bellum South, and both show how a distinctive Southern ideology divided the sections and brought secession and war. Though they differ completely in their descriptions of the content of that ideology and of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 339-351
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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