Proposal preview

U.S. South in Global Perspective: 1800 to the Present

The American South has long been considered a region in the United States that was historically underdeveloped, economically backwards, or even pre-modern. This impression lives on today, as the South, according to many, still appears to be out of the mainstream of American development, not just economically but also politically. However, studies from both historical and economical approaches in recent decades have shown that the American South was never an outsider to the global economy; instead, the region and its population were influenced by global trends, particularly in the time period upon which this panel focuses. The papers included cover the period from the early 19th century–when cotton production takes off to meet the demands of this global product around the world, not to mention fueling industrialization in Europe—to the present. While the Civil War suddenly destroyed the South’s lucrative trade and Reconstruction delayed the region’s modern economic development, by the turn of the century cotton production resumed under a new tenancy system that degraded former slaves into exploitative sharecroppers, and legalized racial discrimination fixing them as second-class citizen. It was not until the Civil Rights Movement in the mid-20th century that blacks in the South were able to escape the shadows of slavery, as recognized citizens with equal rights, although the social stigma associated with the region remained. Clearly, the institution of slavery and plantation agriculture in the pre-Civil War South and its legacy overshadowed and damaged the relationship between the different races, as well as urban development in the South over time. Indeed, various indexes and economic indicators demonstrate the relative backwardness even today of many parts of the southern states, and the region as a whole.
The presentations on this panel focus on the economic development of the American South at each period from the early 19th century to today, showing how the region was affected by the impact of globalization. Even under slavery, southern business and merchant activities were global. As a staple-producing area dependent on extra-regional and global trade (financed largely from the North as well as Europe), the South never failed to maintain its global qualities, or exhibit features that resemble modern business practices. Tomoko Yagyu will analyze the global elements of the domestic slave trade, a lucrative business that developed in then antebellum South, a topic that has been studied extensively in recent decades. Masaoki Izawa will focus on labor and economic development in Mississippi’s Yazoo Delta at the turn of the century, when new wave of European immigrants were reaching American shores. The attempt to recruit Italian immigrants into the region ended in failure, only to be followed by the return of black sharecroppers: Examining this process illuminates the impact of global labor issues in a region that already marked racial and class tensions in local labor markets. By the time of the Civil Rights Movement in the 20th century, blacks had gained more ground upon which to base and mount resistance. The Civil Rights Movement occurred at a time when former colonies and undeveloped regions rose in a global wave to demand human rights, independence, and freedom. Louis Ferleger and Matthew Lavallee’s analysis show how black-owned business in the 1950s and 1960s, when blacks were still segregated and degraded as second-class citizens, were able to provide goods and services to black customers who could not attain them from white businesses. These networks of black-owned businesses were crucial to the success of the Civil Rights Movement, in cities such as Montgomery, Little Rock, Greensboro, Birmingham and Selma, among others. Louis Kyriakoudes’s work will explore the effect of the South’s global economic development on the region’s public health, through the case of cigarette use since World War II. The study will show that a combination of rising rural incomes, the growth of rural waged employment, and aggressive tobacco industry marketing efforts worked to increase cigarette prevalence, leading to a crushing burden of cigarette-induced disease that continues to this day. Ichiro Miyata’s research will focus on current day Atlanta and its urban development. With extensive previous work on the Atlanta public transit system and its urban features, Miyata will focus on the thriving urban cores of Atlanta in the 21st century, comparing it with another global city, Tokyo. The paper will particularly focus on how these urban core developments were financed. Southern urbanization and development will be discussed from a different perspective and a new framework in Mac McCorkle’s work. The research will focus on North Carolina, where a rapid if belated metropolitanization has been taking place over recent decades. Instead of the dominant notion of the “urban-rural” divide, McCorkle suggests that much of the new metropolitan North Carolina should be understood as definitionally hybrid, fluid “country-politan” territory, which portrays the ongoing development pattern more accurately. Finally, Peter Coclanis and David Carlton will shed light on the economic/political/social crisis in the rural and small-town South through a case study on North Carolina, to get a better sense of both the causes of the economic collapse of rural and small-towns and the possibilities of going forward. Coclanis and Carlton have worked extensively on North Carolina’s economic history and the impact of globalization on rural South for several decades, and will bring their expertise to bear on the strategies of revitalizing communities in rural parts of the South. These seven papers range over a period of nearly 200 years: Taken together, they add much-needed texture and nuance to the understanding of economic development and the long-term influence of globalization in the U.S. South.


  • Tomoko Yagyu, Keio University ,, Japan

Session members

  • Peter A Coclanis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ,
  • David L Carlton , Vanderbilt University ,
  • Louis A Ferleger , Boston University ,
  • Matthew Lavallee, Boston University ,
  • Masaoki Izawa, Kindai University ,
  • Ichiro Miyata, Saitama University ,
  • Louis M Kyriakoudes, Middle Tennessee University ,
  • Mac McCorkle , Duke University ,

Proposed discussant(s)

  • , ,


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