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Global Perspectives on Industrial Transformation in the American South

Author(s):Delfino, Susanna
Gillespie, Michele
Reviewer(s):Carlson, Leonard A.

Published by EH.Net (March 2012)

Susanna Delfino and Michele Gillespie, editors, Global Perspectives on Industrial Transformation in the American South. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2005.? x + 240 pp.? $30 (paperback), ISBN: 978-0-8262-1583-3.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Leonard A. Carlson, Department of Economics, Emory University.

This volume is a part of the Southern Industrialization Project (SIP), an effort among historians to promote research on the relatively neglected topic of industrial development in the southeastern U.S.? The goal is to counter the view that the South was exclusively agrarian and backwards relative to contemporary nations.? The global perspective in the title reflects in part the research interests of one of editors, Susanna Delfino, who is an historian of Italy and an Italian national.? She compares the U.S. and Italy in ?The Idea of Southern Economic Backwardness: A Comparative View of the United States and Italy.?? Looking at Italy as similar to the U.S. allows one to separate the issues of underdevelopment from race to a degree that is hard in the U.S. case alone.? She emphasizes role of the northern political elites in overstating the relative backwardness in both ?Souths,? as part of an attempt to affirm the importance of a liberal state in economic development.

Some authors work within the framework put forward by Fogel and Engerman in Time on the Cross and later works that the slave system in the antebellum South was a prosperous, flexible form of capitalism.? Engerman himself, in his essay ?Southern Industrialization: Myths and Realities,? argues that the problems of the South after emancipation and war cannot be used as evidence about the performance of the antebellum economic system.? Others, notably Gavin Wright in Old South, New South, have reached a somewhat different conclusion.? Wright argues that while the antebellum South was indeed prosperous, slavery retarded development of industry and cities and that poor performance of the postwar southern economy is a direct consequence of the negative effects of the legacy of slavery.? Some of the essays in this volume examine the performance of the post-Civil War southern economy and discuss structural factors that slowed the development of manufacturing in the South.

As is inevitable in such a collection, the articles vary in methodology and topics.? Emma Hart in ?Charleston and the British Industrial Revolution, 1750-1790,? looks at Charleston as a typical eighteenth-century British city with a thriving community of small artisans within a larger Atlantic economy.? By the 1750s Charleston had evolved to serve the prosperous low country rice plantations.??

Brian Schoen, ?Alternatives to Dependence: The Lower South?s Antebellum Pursuit of Sectional Development through Global Interdependence,? looks at the views on political economy expressed by the planter elites.? The arguments centered on how to protect their regional interests.? Free trade fit the interests of the South and by supporting free trade planters also hoped to gain support from the fact that free trade fit the ideology and interests of British manufacturers.? Opinion leaders also advocated developing domestic industry and the railroad system as a way to protect the southern economy from excessive dependence on the North.?

Shearer Bowman, ?Industrialization and Economic Development in the Nineteenth-Century U.S. South: Some Global and Intercontinental Comparative Perspectives,? looks at the South as compared both with the North and with the six eastern-most provinces in Prussia, the most agricultural region in rapidly industrializing Germany in the nineteenth century.? He finds that a common theme that explains industrial underdevelopment is the lack of integration of markets and regional divisions.? Schoen sees these as stemming from geographical and environmental features in both regions.?

John Majewski and Viken Tchakerian, in ?Markets and Manufacturing: Industry and Agriculture in the Antebellum South and Midwest,? focus on comparing two agricultural areas, the Midwest and the South.? They emphasize the role of lower population densities in the South as discouraging the growth of industry relative to the Midwest.? They see this as a function of both geography and rational profit-oriented decisions made by southern planters.?

David Carlton and Peter Coclanis, ?Southern Textiles in Global Context,? emphasize that the southern textile industry was part of a world market competing with stable producers in England and New England as well as newly developing regions in Brazil and India, often using the same British-built machinery.? The shift of the industry from the North in the 1920?s also meant that the products were competing in new markets with other global producers.

Beth English, ?Beginnings of the Global Economy: Capital Mobility and the 1890s U.S. Textile Industry,? looks at the move of the Dwight Manufacturing Company from New England to the South.? The shift began in the 1890s and was not complete until 1927.? This adds an interesting dimension to understanding the gradual collapse of the New England textile industry.

Erin Clune, ?Black Workers, White Immigrants, and the Postemancipation Problem of Labor: The New South in Transnational Perspective? discusses the Southern response to labor shortages in the textile industry in the 1890s.? She sees racism and ideology as blocking the use of black workers in the textile industry.? One alternative was to look to southern and eastern European immigration.? This was resisted on racist grounds and led to an unsuccessful attempt to encourage immigration from the British Isles as a way of protecting racial homogeneity in the white population.

This collection is too broad in its topics and methodology to use in most undergraduate courses.? It offers a good introduction to a wide range of research by a number of researchers and will be helpful to scholars interested in these topics.

Leonard A. Carlson?s recent publications include ?Similar Societies, Different Solutions: U.S. Indian Policy in Light of Australian Policy toward Aboriginal Peoples,? in Economic Evolution and Revolution in Historical Time, edited by Paul W. Rhode, Joshua L. Rosenbloom, and David F. Weiman (Stanford University Press, 2011).

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Subject(s):Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Servitude and Slavery
Industry: Manufacturing and Construction
Markets and Institutions
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
North America
Time Period(s):18th Century
19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII