Reconstructing Dixie

Race, Gender, and Nostalgia in the Imagined South

Reconstructing Dixie

Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 33 illus. Published: March 2003

Author: Tara McPherson

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Media Studies > TV

The South has long played a central role in America’s national imagination—the site of the trauma of slavery and of a vast nostalgia industry, alternatively the nation’s moral other and its moral center. Reconstructing Dixie explores how ideas about the South function within American culture. Narratives of the region often cohere around such tropes as southern hospitality and the southern (white) lady. Tara McPherson argues that these discursive constructions tend to conceal and disavow hard historical truths, particularly regarding race relations and the ways racial inequities underwrite southern femininity. Advocating conceptions of the South less mythologized and more tethered to complex realities, McPherson seeks to bring into view that which is repeatedly obscured—the South’s history of both racial injustice and cross-racial alliance.

Illuminating crucial connections between understandings of race, gender, and place on the one hand and narrative and images on the other, McPherson reads a number of representations of the South produced from the 1930s to the present. These are drawn from fiction, film, television, southern studies scholarship, popular journalism, music, tourist sites, the internet, and autobiography. She examines modes of affect or ways of "feeling southern" to reveal how these feelings, along with the narratives and images she discusses, sanction particular racial logics. A wide-ranging cultural studies critique, Reconstructing Dixie calls for vibrant new ways of thinking about the South and for a revamped and reinvigorated southern studies.

Reconstructing Dixie will appeal to scholars in American, southern, and cultural studies, and to those in African American, media, and women’s studies.


“In insisting that any understanding of the South must address how the real—rather than nostalgically idealized—conditions of the antebellum South bear on the present-day South, McPherson insightfully shows that we cannot effect present-day racial and gender reconciliation without understanding, as William Faulkner notes, that ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’” — Laura Veltman , Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

“It is with a sense of windows opening wide that one turns to Tara McPherson’s Reconstructing Dixie: Race, a wonderful polemic against orthodox southern studies that refuse to incorporate cultural studies, debates about whiteness, and globalization.” — Helen Taylor , American Literary History

"Reconstructing Dixie is an important, broad-ranging, and provocative book, and a fascinating pivoting of the narrative of the South." — Joy Sperling , Journal of American Culture

"Reconstructing Dixie is unique within Southern studies in its ability to move effortlessly between verbal and visual narratives and without exception to craft compelling arguments about both." — Jon Smith , Mississippi Quarterly

"Reconstructing Dixie is an inspiring attempt toward a more inclusive and progressive 'southernness.'" — Janann Sherman , North Carolina Historical Review

"Reconstructing Dixie will be an important addition to academic discourse for furthering a line of inquiry into what it means to 'be southern' and how 'southernness' has been constructed in popular culture thus far." — Hollis Griffin , Velvet Light Trap

"[A] fascinating read. McPherson raises provocative questions and poses irresistible challenges. The book also provides a wealth of wonderful examples and anecdotes that would stimulate class discussion on the role of popular culture and the creation of historical memory." — Jacqueline Glass Campbell , Journal of American History

"[A] lively and thought-provoking investigation of the role of the South in the modern 'national imaginary.' . . . [E]ngaging. . . ." — W. Fitzhugh Brundage , American Historical Review

"[McPherson] has rigorously channeled [her] complex, messy, and sometimes ambivalent feelings [about the South] into a provocative work that challenges the reader to rethink the true meaning of many images of the South that dominate American culture. . . . [H]er book is worth reading by southerners and non-southerners alike." — Jennifer Dickey , Atlanta History

"[T]hought-provoking. . . .Re constructing Dixie is persuasively argued and should find an audience among historians of the South as well as historians of the modern United States." — Jennifer L. Gross , H-Net Reviews

"[W]ide-ranging, original, incisive. . . . [T]here is humor, originality, and a genuinely profound understanding of the South both as fantasy and reality." — Thomas Howell , Louisiana History

"I found Tara McPherson's engaging discussion of Southern cultural critique quite discerning. . . . McPherson analyzes tour brochures, popular magazines, comic books, and advertisements-all with an eye for nuance and irony and sometimes with dazzling effect." — Jeffrey W. Miller, American Literature

"In the troubled water of American racial history, McPherson's book makes us wonder about relationships between narrative change and cultural change. Which comes first? What is the relationship between our stories and our lives? Do narratives have to picture change precisely to bring improvement? Does exposure to revised imagery create social movement? Is the literature that displays the apartheid quality of America obsolete and nostalgic, or still educational and accurate? Are we, as a culture, ready to imagine integration, even while so many of our public schools seem barely closer to integration in 2005 than in 1955? McPherson's book opens our way to provocative realizations and consequential questions." — Harriet Pollack , South Central Review

Reconstructing Dixie is a wonderful book—feisty, original, filled with insights into the circulation of the South in contemporary consumerist and feminist space. With real aplomb Tara McPherson leaps into the fracas surrounding globalization, the new geography, the racialization of ’whiteness,’ and the controversies about the uses of gender analysis. The result is a book that could release ‘southern' studies from its limited academic terrain.” — Patricia Yaeger, author of Dirt and Desire: Reconstructing Southern Women's Writing

Reconstructing Dixie is theoretically sophisticated in its view of southernness as a discursive construct and a cultural fantasy and in its analysis of the work regional nostalgia performs.” — Laura Kipnis, author of Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America

“I was absolutely blown away by this book. Tara McPherson's readings of individual texts, ranging from Gone With the Wind to the Captain Confederacy comicbook series and Octavia Butler’s Kindred, are original, precise, and utterly convincing. She pulls to the surface the radically different ways each work deals with the critical nexus of regional, racial, class, and gender identities.” — Henry Jenkins, director of Comparative Media Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


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Price: $27.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Tara McPherson is Associate Professor in the School of Cinema-Television at the University of Southern California. She is a coeditor of Hop on Pop: The Politics and Pleasures of Popular Culture, published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Index 311

Acknowledgments ix

Dixie Then and Now: An Introduction 1

1. Romancing the South: A Tour of Lady’s Legacies, Academic and Otherwise 39

2. “Both Kinds of Arms”: The Civil War in the Present 95

3. Steel Magnolias, Fatal Flowers, and Designing Women: On the Limits of a Politics of Femininity in the Sun Belt South 149

4. Feeling Southern: Home, Guilt, and the Transformation of White Identity 205

Notes 257

Bibliography 293
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, John B.Cawelti Prize, American Culture Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3040-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3029-5
Publicity material