Title Reviewed:
Region, Race, and Reconstruction: Essays in Honor of C. Vann Woodward

Author Reviewed:
J. Morgan Kousser; James M. McPherson

William L. Van Deburg


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 79, Issue 4, pp 373-375

Article Type:
Book Review

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Region, Race, and Reconstruction: Essays in Honor of C. Vann Woodward. Edited by J. Morgan Kousser and James M. McPherson. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. Pp. xxxvii, 463. Notes, tables, figures. $25.00.)

On occasion, editors and publishers of festschriften fail to allocate adequate resources or devote requisite care to volumes honoring distinguished senior scholars. No such complaint can be made about this substantial collection of essays paying tribute to the author of The Strange Career of Jim Crow, Reunion and Reaction, and Origins of the New South.

Recognizing that the chief pitfall of many festschriften has been the disparate nature of the contributions, the editors of Region, Race, and Reconstruction have organized their material in a manner that provides a necessary focal cohesion and, in addition, serves to highlight the three major thematic concerns of C. Vann Woodward's work. Since, as Kousser and McPherson note, it is hard to think of an important book or article written on the post-Reconstruction South or on modern American race relations "which does not repeat, take issue with, flesh out, test on other data, or carry out the implications of some idea… first fully enunciated by Woodward" (p. xvi), it is apparent that the mentor's unseen hand also has played a role in ordering and unifying his students' collective endeavor.

Woodward's influence is evident in all fifteen essays. Historiographical surveys by Robert Dean Pope and Vincent P. DeSantis reveal his formative role in the writing of southern political biography and in shaping current understandings of the Compromise of 1877. Charles B. Dew's painstaking reconstruction of the life of slave forgeman Sam Williams and William S. McFeely's study of maverick Reconstruction-era Attorney General Amos T. Akerman not only reflect Woodward's interest in biography but also speak of a shared concern for rescuing the experiences of the obscure and inarticulate from historical oblivion.

Woodward's mastery of the ironic technique has been conveyed to former students Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Steven Hahn, and Thomas C. Holt and is evidenced in their accounts of Mississippi lawyer Henry Hughes's attempt to "modernize" proslavery thought; of upcountry Georgians' hostility to the elimination of common grazing rights during the 1880s; and of "the problem of freedom" in former slave societies. In like manner, Lawrence N. Powell's fresh look at the carpetbaggers, J. Mills Thornton's reconsideration of Radical Republican tax policy as a source of agrarian discontent, and Barbara J. Fields's critique of the concept of race as a "central theme" for interpreting southern history partake of Woodward's healthy respect for well-considered revisionism. Still other essays mirror the Yale historian's interest in tracing changes in ideology and belief over time. Daniel T. Rodgers's study of Howard W. Odum's conceptions of regionalism and folk sociology; Tilden G. Edelstein's review of the ever-shifting portrayal of Shakespeare's Othello; Louis R. Harlan's description of the developing relationship between Booker T. Washington and Jewish Americans; and Robert Engs's evaluation of the institutional and ideological forces shaping Native American education at Hampton Institute show that Woodward's students have become capable practitioners of this aspect of the historian's craft.

Valuable studies in themselves, these essays, along with Louis P. Masur's thirteen-page bibliography of Woodward's published writings, highlight the significant influence that a skillful interpreter can have on the conceptualization and understanding of American history. Even Willie Lee Rose's popular culture study, "Race and Region in American Historical Fiction," forges a connecting link between Woodward's characterization of Tom Watson and similar tendencies in the life of Watson's Georgian contemporary, novelist Thomas Dixon. Region, Race, and Reconstruction is a well-executed tribute to a major figure in modern southern historiography.

University of Wisconsin, Madison William L. Van Deburg

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.