On Southern Things

Edgefield District, South Carolina Face Jug, ca. 1862, alkaline glazed stoneware with kaolin inserts, 6⅝ × 5⅛ in. (16.83 × 13.02 cm.). Photograph by Jim Wildeman, courtesy of the Chipstone Foundation 2012.4.

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On Southern Things

by Bernard L. Herman
Southern Cultures, Vol. 23, No. 3: Things

"Material culture is best understood as the history and philosophy of objects. It proceeds from the idea that objects, tangible and imagined, locate the entirety of human experience and understanding.”

Material culture is best understood as the history and philosophy of objects. It proceeds from the idea that objects, tangible and imagined, locate the entirety of human experience and understanding. We are simply creatures that know and make sense of the world and our places within it through things. Southern things superintend the vast and diffuse array of objects that ground the many, often conflicted, sometimes nostalgic ideologies of a regional identity that is at once singular and plural. The question that emerges at the heart of this collection of essays, images, and poems is not what are southern things, but rather how are things southern. Each of the contributions that follow provides a fragment of an answer. Southern things are not necessarily objects with regional pedigrees discovered through metrics of makers, locales, collections, and consumers. Southern things are those objects that are shaped, molded, and presented to the world as an amalgam of many deeply conflicted identities forged in a crucible of race and class and connected to a region and its diaspora. How else can you reconcile the nascar circuit in California or the blues in Chicago or red velvet cupcakes served with claret at Selfridges in London or the unending reinvention of poverty foods (for example, shrimp and grits) as haute cuisine? To grasp how southern things do this work invites some thoughts on how we might go about the critical practices of engaging things through interpretive acts.