Conclusion
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Conclusion My comments at the end of the preceding essay may perhaps leave the reader with the impression that I think synthesis in history is impossible, or at least unhelpful. Quite the contrary; it is my hope that the bringing of these articles together may offer synthetic possibilities.To clarify this point, let me conclude with some more general reflections. In the first place, because my scholarly interests have spanned both the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, periods that in the history profession are usually regarded as separate fields, I have come to think of this division ,particularly in south­ ern history,not only as artificial but also as tene­ brific. Far from being distinct subjects of inquiry, the later periods grow organically from the earlier ones, and putting them into conversation helps to make logical sense of each of them, clarifying how the periods are linked by the common intellectual and po­ liti­ cal forces on which they draw. I trust that the articles collected here have worked to throw light on some of these interconnections. A sec­ ond implication of this collection speaks to the intellectually rather embattled subfield of po­ liti­ cal history. Too many po­ liti­ cal historians tell their stories as if politics were merely a product of the social and economic forces that surround it, thus becoming too readily complicit in rendering their field epiphenomenal. Politics certainly interacts with the society and the economy it represents,of course,and on many occasions socioeconomic considerations have causative primacy. But on other occasions the structures of po­ liti­ cal and legal institutions or the commitments of po­ liti­ cal ideology and conviction are themselves the causative forces, and shape the society , the economy, and indeed cultural sensibility and religious faith. In the South, as I have sought to describe it here, the inherited ideologies of antebellum two-­ party competition and the power of the twentieth century’s one-­ party sys­ tem gave form to all social experience.The failure to recognize their significance may be profoundly misleading.In his portrait of Ala­ bama in his great South­ ern Politics in State and Nation (1949), for instance, V. O. Key correctly identifies the importance of the “friends and neighbors vote” Conclusion / 217 in the mid-­ twentieth century, but fails to understand the deeper institutional constraints that gave it its force in Alabamians’ lives. He thus tends to discount the continuity of class conflict expressed in white Alabamians’ voting at that period. I suspect that no reader has missed a third implication of this volume, my conviction of the necessity of a close examination of local conditions and circumstances for a correct understanding of Ameri­ can history. That necessity proceeds from a recognition that even events that Ameri­ cans experience in common are perceived and interpreted from the particular context in which each Ameri­ can lives, in­ clud­ ing inevitably many other events and assumptions that other Ameri­ cans have not shared. America is a vast and diverse federation; the very acceptance of the existence of regional distinctiveness is testimony to the power of that fact.But though the grouping of states into regions is of­ ten conceptually useful, the state in a federal sys­ tem has its own unique experience. No one, surely, would confuse the po­ liti­ cal culture of Arizona with that of New Mexico, or Louisiana’s with Arkansas ’s, though they are neighbors and share regional histories. And yet, as several of the articles in this volume seek to argue, the state does not really impose itself fully on the life of its communities. In Ala­ bama, residents of the Black Belt think about their world in very different ways from residents of the hill counties; and similar distinctions may be made within every state. And more than that, within communities, racial, religious, ethnic, and gender groups have all experienced their lives in ways that give unique shape to their perspectives, of­ ten at the level of unexamined but unshakeable assumption . These observations may seem commonplace, but the history of America is very of­ ten written without genuine attention to them. I believe that taking state and local history seriously can work to reveal Ameri­ can history for the patchwork of rival perceptions that it is. A fourth implication of this volume, on the other hand, may initially seem to be at war with the one I have just emphasized. For I also think that this collection works to reveal the Ameri­ canness...


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Subject Headings

  • Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877).
  • Civil rights -- United States -- History.
  • Southern States -- History -- 1865-1951.
  • Southern States -- History -- 1951-.
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