Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Problem of Yankeeland: White Southern Stories about the North, 1865-1915
by Bowman, Sarah Katherine, Ph.D., Yale University, 2015, 399; 10012441
Abstract (Summary)

To explain the reconciliation of the United States in the half-century after the Civil War, scholars have asked how Northerners thought about the South and how Southerners mythologized their own civilization. This dissertation argues that white Southerners' ideas about the North proved just as crucial to the cultural reconstruction of the nation. The project traces the utility of these narratives in delegitimizing Reconstruction, in validating the New South, and in erecting Jim Crow. It argues for the continued centrality of notions of regional competition and Southern superiority within the national reconciliation of the turn of the twentieth century.

As Northerners after the Civil War attempted to reconstruct the South, white Southerners developed a counter-narrative that framed the North as the national problem. Chapter 1 argues that white Southerners wielded images of a North more racially intolerant than the South and plagued by disordered domesticity in order to elevate the South by the contrast. And they made Southern society itself a sectional battlefield.

Chapter 2 examines the years after the Reconstruction Acts, when Southern states were forced to draft new state constitutions enfranchising African Americans. White Southerners' imagery of Northern-born officeholders, the so-called "carpet-baggers," was only one of a broader set of narratives they deployed to delegitimize Reconstruction. Fantasies of Southern cultural or economic triumph over the North provided a continuing sense of Southern superiority, while portrayals of the North as the malignant partner in the sectional relationship countered Northern rhetoric about Southern rebelliousness.

Chapter 3 finds that New Southerners wove an extended criticism of the sectional relationship into their narratives of the reconciled New South. Many New Southerners waged a battle with the North: a battle for ownership of the New South and a battle for economic dominance and independence. They also engaged in a struggle with other white Southerners—a struggle to assure them of the Southern-ness of the New South, a struggle not to be seen as servile, and a struggle to make change acceptable by calling for Northern reform as well.

Chapter 4 addresses the South's turn-of-the-century "race problem." Amid national debate over Southern lynchings, voting restrictions, and the status of Southern African Americans, many white Southerners defended their emerging racial order by challenging the North's own racial mindset. They highlighted Northern racial prejudice and Northern lynchings, critiqued the North's philanthropic efforts, and blamed the North for causing the racial problems besetting the South. Faced with national condemnation of the South as a racially barbaric region, white Southerners turned the tables to paint the North as the racially problematic part of the nation.

Chapter 5 argues for the continued importance of white Southern narratives of regional difference in the early years of the twentieth century. White Southerners espoused reconciliation while often proclaiming that the burden of it rested on the shoulders of the North. They memorialized Reconstruction as part and parcel of a reconciliation story in which the North, rather than the South, had changed its hateful and destructive ways. By framing themselves as longstanding victims in the sectional relationship, white Southerners narrated reconciliation as their victory.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Blight, David William
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 77/06(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, History
Keywords: Cultural History, Jim Crow, New South, Reconstruction, Regional Identity, U.S. South
Publication Number: 10012441
ISBN: 9781339475240
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