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The haunting of the South: American national identity and the unique burden of Southern history
Pennsylvania State University.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-5123-1357
2002 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

It is virtually a truism in American public discourse that the South is haunted by its past.  Embedded in representations of the South in film, popular magazines, academic scholarship, and other forms of public commentary on the region, is the assumption and active construction of the idea that the South’s racist, violent, xenophobic, and economically depressed past continues to bedevil its halting steps toward joining American modernity.  I argue in this paper that such representations assist in removing the burden of the American national history from the country’s shoulders as it marches onward in its self-appointed role as the world’s moral leader.  The dynamic of internal Orientalism in the U.S. results in the othering of the South, such that the South is represented as the exclusive location of a set of negative characteristics (including poverty, intolerance, bigotry, violence, etc.), and as these undesirable traits are safely contained in the South, America can stand for prosperity, enlightenment, tolerance, peace, and so on.  One of the techniques through which the othering of the South is achieved is through representations of the South as a region unable to shake its uniquely problematic past.  Through an analysis of portrayals of the South in National Geographic, in films such as “Mississippi Burning”, in the writings of observers such as W.J. Cash, author of the seminal The Mind of the South, and in other popular and scholarly works, I show how in each of these works reproduces and relies on the notion of the South as the American region still haunted by its past.  The application of the framework of internal Orientalism leads us to see that this portrayal of the South is inextricably linked to the production of the American present as unburdened by past crimes and failures.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2002.
National Category
Human Geography
Research subject
Geography
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-287558OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-287558DiVA: diva2:922916
Conference
Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers
Available from: 2016-04-25 Created: 2016-04-25 Last updated: 2016-04-25

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Jansson, David
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