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  • Remembering Charles Hudson
  • Robbie Ethridge (bio)

Charles Hudson, Franklin Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia, passed away peacefully in his home on June 8, 2013, at the age of eighty. Charlie was the foremost scholar on the history and culture of Indians of the American South. He was a professor of anthropology and history at the University of Georgia for over forty years, during which time he laid the groundwork for two fundamental changes in the study of the prehistory and history of the Native peoples of the American South. Charlie authored or co-authored nine monographs, edited or co-edited five anthologies, wrote three pieces of historical fiction, and published dozens of articles and book chapters on the Southeastern Indians. He also served on the board of editors for Native South from its inception until his death.

Born in Monterey, Kentucky, in 1932, Charlie grew up on a small tobacco farm, until the age of fifteen when the family moved to Frankfort, Kentucky. After high school Charlie joined the Air Force in July 1950. He was in communications intelligence and spent three years in Japan. Returning from the service Charlie attended the University of Kentucky on the gi Bill, where he discovered the field of anthropology. In 1959 Charlie earned an ab degree with honors and afterward entered graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Charlie’s dissertation fieldwork was with the Catawba Indians. However, trained in mid-twentieth-century anthropology that was largely ahistorical, Charlie found himself unprepared to understand the historical contingencies that had contributed to the development of the contemporary Catawba people—people whom he found to be little different [End Page 146] from the rural, poor, southern farmers he grew up with in Kentucky. This lack of historical context began to nag at him.

Charlie joined the faculty of the University of Georgia (uga) in 1964. He soon began teaching a course on the Southeastern Indians, the lectures of which would come to form his seminal work, The Southeastern Indians, published in 1976 by the University of Tennessee Press and still in print today. Reviewers hailed the book as a landmark, and indeed The Southeastern Indians dramatically changed our understanding of Southern Indians. Charlie’s cultural and social analysis in the book, however, was synchronic, and this troubled him. Then, in an astonishing move for a young scholar, Charlie set out to overturn what he had just established in The Southeastern Indians. In 1977–78 Charlie held a senior fellowship at the Newberry Library in Chicago. It was at this time that he began thinking about how to write a long-term social history of the American South that included Indians. He also read widely in the Annales School of social history, which he saw as a paradigm for doing this work.

Charlie understood the first step in such of a project would require a political map of the contact-era Native South, and he set about drawing such a map by reconstructing the routes of the early Spanish explorers through the region. From this work, Charlie wrote his 1997 masterpiece Knights of Spain, Warriors of the Sun: Hernando de Soto and the South’s Ancient Chiefdoms. This work initiated a second paradigm shift in Southeastern Indian studies because it offered an initial understanding of what kind of Indian societies existed across the Southeast in the 1540s. Scholars could now compare this with the Indian societies in the Southeast at about 1750, and then go about explaining what kinds of social transformations occurred between the middle of the sixteenth century and the middle of the eighteenth century.

Charlie also was an inspired and inspiring teacher, and he won several teaching awards and developed lifelong relationships with his students and colleagues alike. At first glance one would not necessarily recognize anything spectacular in one of Charlie’s classes. Other than the fact that he rode a motorcycle, Charlie was decidedly understated. Like most other anthropology professors he wore khakis and a blue button-down, he lectured from hand-written notes, he showed numerous slides and visuals, and he gave standard essay assignments and exams. And like any good teacher he lectured...


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