SYLACAUGA -- Dr. Mark Hersey, the 2017 Breeden Eminent Scholar at Auburn University, will share his ideas about the American South, which he refers to as “an idea and a place” in the adult lecture series at B.B. Comer Memorial Library on Wednesday at noon.
Most Southerners are aware that their “southern place” is known around the world -- favorably and unfavorably. Many are fiercely defensive of the idea of the South as an “ideal place” rather than an idea and a place, seeing their world as natural -- a beloved place to live, said library Director Dr. Shirley Spears.
The wider dialogue among American, southern, environmental and agricultural historians sees the degree to which humans have altered the patterns of land use and the economic and social aspects of the culture as carrying profound consequences for the region’s future, Hersey explains
Hersey, the director of the Center for the History of Agriculture, Science and the Environment of the South at Mississippi State University, has spent years examining the various ways in which Southern identity has intersected with the natural world in the South.
“The region’s landscapes, of course, are diverse -- from the Appalachians to white sand beaches, from swamps to pine barrens, from cotton fields to suburban subdivisions and urban parks -- and they have not always looked the same,” he said.
“As the landscapes have developed, they have invariably reflected the values of the culture that produced them. They came to be, in short, distinctively Southern, reflecting political struggles, shifting economic arrangements and disparities in social power even as those same landscapes helped to make certain facets of Southern society appear to be natural.”
Hersey’s knowledge of how environmental historians have studied the landscape of the South will challenge brown bag participants to re-think familiar places and to evaluate their impact on Southern culture. They will be challenged to take a look at conventionally Southern topics through the lens of history.
Hersey’s studies indicate there is a connection between the changing land use and the realities of the distinctive Southern landscape, portending social consequences for its inhabitants, black and white alike.
Hersey’s research on George Washington Carver -- an important part of the conservation movement and the environmental history of the Alabama Black Belt -- broadened his knowledge of the cultural practices and ethnic makeup of the Alabama Black Belt, helping to familiarize him from Indian land to plantation South to today’s very “southern” place in the makeup of the country.
Spears indicated Hersey is a welcome presenter for the “Moments to Remember” SouthFirst Bank Adult Lecture Series, saying, “I’ve heard wonderful comments from some of our best presenters about the newest Breeden Scholar in residence at Auburn University All agree that he is a wonderful scholar/speaker.”
Hersey, she said, was chosen with care to come to the campus to teach classes, do research and provide expertise on his specialty—rural, agricultural and environmental history, with emphasis on the American South, particularly Alabama and Mississippi.
“Hersey’s knowledge of landscape and identity in the American South, and his proposal that the area has long existed as an idea and a place will be a new topic for our audience. What a great opportunity to hear a new topic from a renowned historian and presenter,” Spears said.
The “Moments to Remember” programs are sponsored by the SouthFirst Bank. The Hightower Refreshment Room opens at 11 a.m. Adult participants are invited to bring a sandwich and enjoy drinks and desserts provided by the library.
Working people are invited to come by on their lunch break to enjoy the programs, which will begin promptly at noon in the Harry I. Brown Auditorium.
Due to limited seating, groups must have approved reservations. Contact Spears at 256-249-0961 or firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire.