What a thrill it was to be asked to come North to discuss my scholarship with the wonderful people at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. I was invited several months ago by Dr. Janette Greenwood of the History Department to speak with students and to deliver the annual Bland-Lee Lecture, which is supported by a generous donation from the Chester Bland family in honor of former history professor Dr. Dwight Lee.
My first talk was with students from two different classes, one on public history and one on collective memory and mass violence. We met in the Goddard Rare Book Room of the library, a room filled with beautiful volumes of books, perfect for a salon-like discussion. While there I talked with students about the work of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in preserving Confederate Memory in the era of the New South. Students asked terrific questions, many of which were based on their reading of my book Dixie’s Daughters.
Later in the day, after a very welcome plug by golocalworcester, I had the privilege of speaking before a crowd of close to 75 people about the northern origins of the romanticized South. It was the first time I’ve had the opportunity to discuss my work with a northern audience, so I was pleased to hear their thoughts.
I began by asking those gathered (including Clark University President David Angel) if they had ever spent time in the South. Many raised their hands, although I’m not sure how much time they had actually spent here. Then I asked, “how many of you have preconceived notions about the South?” A majority of the hands in the audience went up. Then, I proceeded to illustrate the ways in which the North and northern purveyors of popular culture have been responsible for how we as a country perceive the South, including up to the present day. Afterward, I fielded questions for more than 30 minutes. To the point of exhaustion. I realized that, to this day, northerners still don’t quite understand the South. It is still regarded as a region of “others.” But to be fair, I imagine many southerners look askance at northerners as well. And so it has been since we’ve been a nation.
One of the pleasant parts of my visit was the opportunity I had to speak with Clark students. They were smart, engaged, community-minded, and all-around outstanding individuals. All of them serve as reminders that a strong liberal arts education is an outstanding foundation upon which to build our future.