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FB-56666-12

Beth Barton Schweiger
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (Fayetteville, AR 72701-1201)

The Literate South: Reading and Freedom in the Early U.S.

Like nineteenth-century Northerners who derided the absence of public schools in the South, scholars assume that the slave South had little, if any, use for reading. Yet the 1850 census recorded that more than 80 percent of white adults and 70 percent of free black adults in the South could read. The Literate South: Reading and Freedom in the Early United States recovers what free and enslaved Southerners read and how they used their books in the decades before the Civil War. The tradition of reading in the South challenges the ideology that literacy fosters individualism, freedom, and social progress. Scholars have furiously debated whether the slave economy was capitalist or not, but the proliferation of books in the region signaled that the market economy had arrived. People in both regions read for the same reasons, and in similar numbers. As they did so, readers made the South central, not peripheral, to the emergence of a market economy in the antebellum period.

Project fields:
U.S. History

Program:
Fellowships for College Teachers and Independent Scholars

Division:
Research Programs

Total amounts:
$50,400 (approved)
$50,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
9/1/2012 – 8/31/2013