A New History of the American South

Course No. 8388
Professor Edward L. Ayers, Ph.D.
University of Richmond
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Course No. 8388
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What Will You Learn?

  • How British Anglicanism came to be replaced in the South by evangelical Christianity.
  • Trace the rise of abolitionism and antislavery societies, and the violent backlash of anti-abolitionists.
  • Investigate the vibrant musical culture of the postbellum South, and the African musical elements that converged in the birth of ragtime and jazz, as well as the evolution of blues, country music, and gospel.

Course Overview

The American South holds a special place in the minds of people around the world. The South’s extraordinarily colorful and dramatic history, its competing narratives of prosperity and cruelty, its role in the American Civil War, and its influence on the emerging conception of human rights are, for many, the stuff of legend.

Yet, misconceptions and incomplete information abound about the South, concerning not only its origins and development, but also its interconnections with the Northern states, its place in the larger scope of world history, and its repercussions for our own era.

To know the history of the American South, within its own context, is to come to terms with one of modern history’s most astonishing, polarizing, and illuminating stories:

  • Within just a few decades after the American Revolution, the South grew into a major force in the world economy, as the largest and most powerful slave-based society of the modern world;
  • The political, philosophical, and moral conflicts that surrounded the South’s vast prosperity triggered a war of global consequence;
  • The South’s tumultuous remaking following the Civil War witnessed both the boldest experiment in expanding democracy and the largest political revolt in American history; and
  • The Southern experience of defeat and regeneration resulted in a globe-spanning legacy of cultural, religious, and artistic expression.

 

In the 24 lectures of A New History of the American South, taught by an award-winning professor, Edward L. Ayers of the University of Richmond, you’ll delve into these remarkable stories, and many more, exploring in detail the rise and the fall of the slave South, and examining the full scope of a historical epoch that still profoundly influences life in the United States today.

 

Rediscover the American South

In these eye-opening lectures, you’ll track the historical forces that created the Southern U.S. colonies, how the colonies’ political and economic structures became conducive to the importation of slavery, and how, within the new American nation, the South became one of the most powerful exponents of the Atlantic slave trade.

You’ll trace the growth and evolution of the South, as its archaic system of slavery fused with the trappings of modernity to create a society that was one of the most prosperous and politically democratic in the world—for some—yet home to one of the cruelest forms of oppression for others.

In the flush of its prosperity, you’ll witness the South gamble everything on a bid to create its own nation, leading to devastating war, and the profound changes of emancipation and Reconstruction, events that transformed the South in ways that could never have been foreseen.

And, you’ll study the new society that rose from the ashes of the slave South, a society fraught with violent divisions over what the New South would be, and presenting new and crippling challenges to emancipated African Americans, as well as giving birth to some of America’s most enduring contributions to world culture, such as jazz, blues, country, and gospel music; Pentecostal religion; and the writings of Mark Twain and W.E.B. DuBois.

 

Enjoy Teaching of Rare Understanding and Insight

A distinguished scholar of the American South and of 19th-century American history, Professor Ayers is unusually well qualified to tell this story. A native of the South who has resided and studied in the North, Professor Ayers distills the narrative with nuanced insight into the ethos and the actions of both.

As an ongoing thread of the course, Professor Ayers uncovers the mindset of the advocates of slavery and segregation, and how the practices were rationalized and justified in terms encompassing the economic, theological, secular, political, and cultural. Along the way, his commentary highlights the factors of anti-slavery and anti-secession sentiment in the South, as well as the varieties of complicity in slavery in the North. The result is a revelatory look at Southern history, and at the critical events and historical currents that made the South what it is today.

 

Travel Deeply into a Seminal Era

In assessing the story of the South, you’ll focus on the period from the founding of the Southern colonies to the beginning of the 20th century, highlighting essential topics such as:

  • The Atlantic Slave Trade: Discover how the Atlantic slave trade, initiated by the Portuguese with the sanction of the Pope, was facilitated by African social systems in which both goods and human beings were items of exchange; learn about the mechanics of the slave trade, and how unimaginable wealth was created in the slave economies of the Caribbean;

 

  • The Forging of the Slave South: Follow the settling of the Southern colonies, and the economic conditions within Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia that made slavery a profitable business model; see how the slave economy expanded following the American Revolution, and how wars against both Native Americans and escaped slaves created solidarity among white Southerners;
  • Southern Prosperity and Culture: Witness the creation of the large-scale cotton economy that emblemized the South, and the remarkable wealth and lifestyles of plantation owners; learn how the enslaved lived and worked, the diversity of slaves’ occupations on plantations and within cities, and the ways in which slaves rebelled against a dehumanizing system;

 

  • Breakdown of the Union: Examine the events that marked the disintegrating relations between North and South, from the emancipation of the Northern states and the rise of antislavery and abolition movements to the heated struggles over slavery within Missouri, Kansas, and former Mexican lands, and the divisive presidential election of 1860;
  • Emancipation and the Experiment of Reconstruction: Learn how African Americans responded to emancipation in their quest for fundamental rights; relive the era of Reconstruction, and the bitter conflict between the North’s efforts to remake the South and white Southerners’ actions to reassert the power they held before the war; and

 

  • Segregation and the New South: Observe how political and legal means were employed across the postwar South to separate the races and maintain white supremacy; study the variety of social restrictions and violence that characterized African American life following Reconstruction; and learn how modern agriculture and industry transformed life in the New South.

 

Gain a Discerning Perspective on History

Professor Ayers brings to these lectures the same compelling style as a speaker that has made him a nationally recognized co-host of the history podcast BackStory. Throughout the course, he adds layers of revealing context and detail that aid in comprehending the extraordinary saga of the South.

In tracing the complexities of North/South relations, he reveals that Thomas Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence vigorously denounced slavery, and that the Congress of the new nation both gave substantial concessions to slaveholders and worked to limit slavery’s geographical scope.

As the course progresses, you’ll explore the vital role of religious faith in Southern culture, learning how evangelical Christianity offered disparate benefits for black and white Southerners, and later became a major social force within the New South. And, within the landscape of the New South, you’ll follow the process by which Southern musical culture, encompassing genres such as blues, jazz, gospel, and country music, became a globally impactful form of expression.

In A New History of the American South, you’ll take a richly detailed excursion into the story and the enduring legacy of the South, in a historical inquiry unique in its scope. No book and no other course brings together the development of the slave South, the wartime South, the reconstructed South, and the New South as Professor Ayers does in these enthralling and incisive lectures. In Professor Ayers’s words, “We cannot understand the United States if we do not understand the South, which has played such an outsized role in the history of our country.”

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24 lectures
 |  Average 27 minutes each
  • 1
    The Geography of the American South
    Begin by previewing the four parts of the course that will recount the dramatic saga of the American South. Then, learn about the prehistory of the region, from its geographical features to the ancient peoples that settled it. Delve into the history of the chiefdoms that dominated the region before the arrival of Europeans, and trace the decimation of native populations that followed. x
  • 2
    The World of Slavery
    Investigate the complex origins of slavery in Africa, in social systems where human beings became commodities of exchange. Learn how the Atlantic slave trade was initiated by the Portuguese, and how it evolved into a system of vast economic gain, supplying labor for New World plantations. Note how Britain's American colonies were originally intended to function by means of English labor. x
  • 3
    Slavery Becomes American
    Examine economic conditions within Virginia before slavery, and growing discontent among English indentured laborers. Trace the rise of slavery in the British Caribbean, the factors that made it a practical business model in Virginia, and how colonists rationalized slaveholding. Observe how Virginia set the blueprint for slave society in what would become the American South. x
  • 4
    The Southern Colonies Take Root
    Learn about the apogee of the Atlantic slave trade, and how enslaved people adapted to their plight. Witness how Barbados planters spurred the colonization of the Carolinas as a thriving, slave-based rice economy, and follow the founding of Georgia and how it became a slave society. Take account of the society of the flourishing planter elite, and the factors that led to the American Revolution. x
  • 5
    Southern States in the New Nation
    Grasp how the events of the American Revolution affected the Southern colonies and their population of the enslaved. Learn about the implications of the new federal government and Constitution for the Southern states and slaveholders, and how Congress both granted concessions to the slave system and sought to restrict it. Follow the gradual emancipation of slaves in the Northern states. x
  • 6
    War, Uprising, and Southern Solidarity
    In the early 19th century, massive changes took place in the territories that became the South. Study the series of wars the new nation fought with the British, Native American factions, and escaped slaves in areas of what became Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. Note how the advent of these multiple conflicts involving both Native Americans and enslaved blacks ultimately forged a new unity among white Southerners. x
  • 7
    The Birth of the Cotton South
    Witness the dislocations, rebellion, and surging population of the enslaved in the South following the American Revolution. Learn how Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi were settled, and how both cotton and sugar became defining commodities of the Southern economy. Then, delve into the mechanics of the slave trade, in the large-scale importation of slaves into the lower South. x
  • 8
    Evangelical Faith in the South
    Here, assess the role of religion in the culture of Southern society and in the culture of slavery. Learn how British Anglicanism came to be replaced in the South by evangelical Christianity. Observe how this faith included blacks, and became a source of strength and survival for the enslaved, yet also reinforced, for whites, the social status quo and the conceptual justifications for slavery. x
  • 9
    Rebellion, Renewal: Tightening of Slavery
    Follow two significant slave rebellions in the early 19th century: the aborted South Carolina revolt led by the freed slave Denmark Vesey, and the famous Nat Turner rebellion in Virginia. Take account of the ensuing Virginia debates on slavery, culminating in harsher laws restricting blacks. Also, study the brutal, forced removal of Native Americans in the Southern states from their traditional lands. x
  • 10
    Arguments for and against Slavery
    Learn about the heated controversy over the admission of Missouri to the union as a slave state, and how this crisis polarized the country as never before. Trace the rise of abolitionism and antislavery societies, and the violent backlash of anti-abolitionists. Then, examine pro-slavery thought in the South, both secular and religious, within the context of pre-Civil War Southern intellectual life. x
  • 11
    A Restless South: Expansion and Conflict
    Relive the highly charged events surrounding the settlement of Texas by Americans and the Mexican-American War. Witness how the debate over slavery in former Mexican lands became a blistering national drama. Also, grasp the impact of the railroad and telegraph on the South, and the ways in which these technological innovations accelerated the divisions between North and South. x
  • 12
    Life in the Slave South
    Discover how American slavery became more diverse as it expanded over a huge area. Consider the wide variety of trades engaged in by the enslaved, and the complex mix of white and black cultures in the South. Learn more about the mechanics of slave trading, the terrible treatment of those sold, and how slaves lived and worked both on plantations and farms and within Southern cities. x
  • 13
    Sovereignty and Slavery in the American West
    With the slave economy booming in the 1850s, chart the escalation of antagonism between North and South. Observe the struggle within Kansas between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces, and its eruption into violence, including the actions of abolitionist John Brown. Also, follow the Supreme Court case involving the slave Dred Scott, as it exacerbated the breakdown of North/South relations. x
  • 14
    The Complex Road to Secession
    Begin by exploring the presidential election of 1860, as it comprised the estrangement of North and South. Then, follow the Southern actions of secession, which many in the South resisted, the events surrounding Lincoln taking office, and the crisis at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Conclude by considering two key ways of thinking about the Civil War and what precipitated it. x
  • 15
    Elemental Loyalties and Descent into War
    Trace the events that led to the opening shots of the Civil War. Learn about both sides' initial strategy for the conflict, the mobilization of armies, and the role of women in the war effort. Take account of the crippling impact of the war on the Southern economy, and grasp the inconsistencies, justifications, and misconceptions on both sides that fueled the unfolding of the war. x
  • 16
    End of War and of Slavery
    Learn about how slaves fared and adapted as the war progressed, and how Union forces made use of the enslaved to further their aims. At the war's conclusion, examine the actions of freed blacks, and their efforts to secure basic rights. Contemplate the divisive national climate during the initial phase of Reconstruction, as many Southerners appeared to deny the matters that the war had decided. x
  • 17
    Reconstruction and the Freedmen's Bureau
    Study the work of the Freedmen’s Bureau, as it oversaw the transition from slavery to a wage economy, amid fervent resistance to attempts to remake the South. With the passage of the 14th Amendment and the Reconstruction Act, trace the era of “Radical Reconstruction,” as enmity, violence, and electioneering gradually returned the Southern states to Southern Democratic control. x
  • 18
    The Landscape of the New South
    Far-reaching structural changes transformed the South following Reconstruction. Follow the huge expansion of railroads, which connected Southern towns and cities, as well as North with South. See also how the rise of country stores changed the economic and cultural landscape. Observe the remarkable proliferation of new villages and towns across the South, and the rise of Southern industries. x
  • 19
    Farmers and the Rise of Populism
    Witness the advent of modern agriculture in the South, and how enterprising rural workers could achieve land ownership. Grasp how overcrowding, falling prices for crops, and competition led to terrible hardships for farmers. Then, delve into the highly charged era of Populism, as farmers organized to redress their problems in a bitter struggle against monopoly capitalism. x
  • 20
    The Invention of Segregation
    Trace the origins of legal separation between the races, a defining trait of the South through much of the 20th century. First, examine the issue of segregation regarding railroad travel, and the first wave of segregation laws. See how segregation then spread to include numerous social gathering points, and how sexual contact between the races became a contested issue on both sides. x
  • 21
    Lynching and Disfranchisement
    Study the climate of violence in the New South, amid widespread economic and political turmoil. Observe how lynching became, for whites, a means of countering weak governments and terrorizing blacks into submission. Then, learn how the South embarked on a constitutional disfranchisement of black voters, constructing legal means to limit suffrage and ensure white supremacy. x
  • 22
    Religious Faith in the New South
    Delve into the remarkable growth of religion in the late 19th-century South, and how the region came to be known as the “Bible Belt.” Learn about the proliferation of religious revivals, and the rise of the “holiness” movement, Pentecostalism, and the Church of God, religious factions that sought a more-vital faith, challenged tradition, and ultimately spread across the world. x
  • 23
    Literature and Music of the New South
    The making of the New South unleashed extraordinary creative and artistic energies. Investigate the vibrant musical culture of the postbellum South, and the African musical elements that converged in the birth of ragtime and jazz, as well as the evolution of blues, country music, and gospel. Also, see why writings ranging from The Tales of Uncle Remus to W.E.B. DuBois's Souls of Black Folk achieved global popularity. x
  • 24
    The Legacies of the Southern Saga
    Finally, explore the fabric of life in the South as the 19th century ended and the 20th began. Investigate the work of educator Booker T. Washington; the impact on race relations of the Spanish-American War; the Plessy decision, giving government sanction to segregation; and the emerging Cult of the Confederacy. Contemplate the South as a place of ongoing movement, struggle, and renewal. x

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Your professor

Edward L. Ayers

About Your Professor

Edward L. Ayers, Ph.D.
University of Richmond
Edward L. Ayers is the Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities at the University of Richmond. He received his undergraduate degree at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, summa cum laude, and his PhD in American Studies from Yale University. Professor Ayers has written or edited 12 books on the history of 19th-century America. He is the author of The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the...
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Reviews

A New History of the American South is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 24.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and timely! Just finished this course and found it very well presented with interesting details.
Date published: 2018-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Really only a short way into it, but so far am quite impressed! The Professor is very engaging, very easy to follow. Definitely looking forward to future lessons!
Date published: 2018-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Examination of Slavery and its Aftermath Prof./Pres. Ayers is a celebrated scholar of high distinction and has drawn extensively on his highly acclaimed book, The Promise of the New South, in preparing and presenting this excellent course. While titled “A New History of the American South,” the course’s emphasis is Prof. Ayers’ focused examination of slavery and race relations in the American South from its colonization by white settlers until the early part of the 20th century. Prof. Ayers has a fast-paced yet pleasant lecture style, and while he offers strong criticism of Southern whites during this period, he relies on letters, newspaper articles, and other evidence-based materials to support and explain his conclusions and avoids broad characterizations and reflexive, ritualistic condemnation. As a Southerner himself, Prof. Ayers’ valuable and interesting insights are generated through the lens of one who has experienced the legacy of this past in a place, as Faulkner observed, where “the past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.” In sum, Prof. Ayers is a careful historian who works hard in this course to separate lost cause mythology from uncomfortable fact and who does justice to a challenging subject in an entertaining and informative way. I watched the video version of this course, but the audio version will be entirely satisfactory for most purchasers. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2018-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative, straightforward and gracious in the treatment of hard topics. I'm on my 2nd round.
Date published: 2018-09-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Understanding the American South & civil war The fascination of what & why the American Civil War & subsequent segregation occurred is explained by this insightful course.
Date published: 2018-09-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great History of South I have purchased many Great Courses, but this is my favorite. I love when the professor provides quotes from historical persons.
Date published: 2018-09-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have only finished the first nine lectures. I have found it to be informative regarding the genesis of slavery in this country and development of the South. I will be interested to see how the rest of the lectures fare. Ive been a member since as long as i can remember. I also belong to the Great Courses plus. Im an obvious devotee to these couses. I think this course is giving me a topic to think about that I've never really given a thought. The courses always open up my horizons
Date published: 2018-09-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent overview of a complex subject. Well organized objective presentation in a controversial area of history.Background sets are distracting and we think add nothing.
Date published: 2018-09-13
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