#TurnItUP: The New South and the Environment

Welcome to the fifth and final day of the University Press Week (#UPWeek) Blog Tour. Today’s theme is “Science,” and we’re looking at the history of—and tension between—conservation and industry in the South.

A piece of southern history that is often overlooked is the story of the South’s conservation efforts after the Civil War. William D. Bryan highlights these efforts in The Price of Permanence: Nature and Business in the New SouthHis book is part of the Environmental History and the American South series, a growing collection of works that broaden the study of environmental history to encompass a region that has largely been bypassed.

Price of Permanence_jacketThrough the lens of environmental history, Bryan provides a sweeping reinterpretation of the post-Civil War South by framing the New South as a struggle over environmental stewardship. For more than six decades, scholars have caricatured southerners as so desperate for economic growth that they rapaciously consumed the region’s abundant natural resources. Yet business leaders and public officials did not see profit and environmental quality as mutually exclusive goals, and they promoted methods of conserving resources that they thought would ensure long-term economic growth. Southerners called this idea “permanence.” But permanence was a contested concept, and these businesspeople clashed with other stakeholders as they struggled to find new ways of using valuable resources. The Price of Permanence shows how these struggles indelibly shaped the modern South.

Bryan writes the region into the national conservation movement for the first time and shows that business leaders played a key role shaping the ideals of American conservationists. His book also dismantles one of the most persistent caricatures of southerners: that they had little interest in environmental quality. Still, conservation provided white elites with yet another a tool for social control, and this is the first work to show how struggles over resource policy fueled Jim Crow. And while “permanence” may have protected some resources, it did not prevent degradation of the environment overall. The Price of Permanence ultimately uses lessons from the New South to reflect on sustainability today.

Bryan spoke about the topic of permanence this past September at the Decatur Book Festival, which you can listen to on our podcast, Annotations. He looks at both the history of conservation in the South and the unintended negative consequences of these efforts. Bryan is introduced by Laura McCarty, president of Georgia Humanities, who facilitates the audience Q&A after the lecture.

To listen to previous episodes of Annotations, click here.


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This post was a part of the #UPWeek Blog Tour by member presses of the AAUP. You can visit today’s posts by our colleagues from other presses at their websites here:

Johns Hopkins University PressPrinceton University PressRutgers University PressUniversity Press of ColoradoColumbia University Press, and University of Toronto Press.

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