A Literate South


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Reading before Emancipation

Beth Barton Schweiger

View Inside Format: Hardcover
Price: $35.00
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A provocative examination of literacy in the American South before emancipation, countering the long-standing stereotype of the South’s oral tradition

Schweiger complicates our understanding of literacy in the American South in the decades just prior to the Civil War by showing that rural people had access to a remarkable variety of things to read. Drawing on the writings of four young women who lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Schweiger shows how free and enslaved people learned to read, and that they wrote and spoke poems, songs, stories, and religious doctrines that were circulated by speech and in print. The assumption that slavery and reading are incompatible—which has its origins in the eighteenth century—has obscured the rich literate tradition at the heart of Southern and American culture.

Beth Barton Schweiger taught for fifteen years at the University of Arkansas. She is the author of The Gospel Working Up and editor of Religion in the American South.

"A striking new interpretation of the antebellum American South. This book is a major contribution to the literary and cultural history of the American South, the history of the book and print culture, women’s history, nineteenth-century American history, and African American history."—Lloyd Pratt, University of Oxford

"Beth Barton Schweiger's highly imaginative survey of antebellum print culture in the Virginia and North Carolina backcountry uncovers a rich world of avid readers who helped define themselves and their own version of modernity at a time when literacy served as a potent weapon in the slavery/antislavery debate."—Susan V. Donaldson, College of William and Mary

"Schweiger makes a persuasive case for the circulation and consumption of print in the rural antebellum South. In doing so, she offers an innovative take on what people do with print.”—Sarah Gardner, Mercer University

 “Exhaustively researched and beautifully presented, A Literate South reveals a rural South populated by avid and enterprising consumers—both free and enslaved—and a world awash in cheap print. . . . A Literate South will be invaluable to historians of the book, but scholars of southern studies, education, and religion will also find much here that is provocative and even revelatory.”—C. Hutchison, University of Texas at Austin

“At its most fundamental level, Sweiger’s work presents Appalachian scholars with the evidence needed to rebut the pernicious myth of Appalachian illiteracy in the antebellum era. The book, however does much more—it presents us with a masterfully interwoven account of the many ways that reading and writing defined Appalachian women of the era.”—Samantha NeCamp, Journal of Appalachian Studies

“Schweiger has done important work in the fields of the history of reading, Southern studies, and American studies: she has brought actual readers and writers, and deft reconstructions of their actual reading and writing, to bear on the stories we thought we knew about pre–Civil War southern literacy.”—Christopher N. Phillips, Early American Literature
ISBN: 9780300112535
Publication Date: June 25, 2019
288 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
30 b/w illus.