The Price of Permanence:
Nature and Business in the New South
University of Georgia Press, forthcoming spring 2018!
My first book, The Price of Permanence (forthcoming spring 2018, Environmental History and the American South series, University of Georgia Press), explores how nature conservation shaped the South in the decades after the Civil War. Using the lens of environmental history, this book provides a 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 natural resources. Yet I have found that business and municipal leaders did not see profit and environmental quality as mutually exclusive goals, and desperately looked for efficient ways of using resources that would ensure long-term economic growth. Southerners called this idea “permanence.” Rather than taking a get-rich-quick approach and exploiting natural resources to depletion, businesspeople and public officials clashed with other stakeholders as they struggled to develop “permanent” ways of using the region’s resources, and these struggles indelibly shaped the modern South.
Viewing the New South as a contest over environmental “permanence” writes the region into the national conservation movement for the first time and shows that business leaders played an important role shaping the ideals of the American conservation movement. This book also moves beyond one of the most persistent caricatures of Southerners: that they had little interest in environmental quality. Conservation provided Southern leaders with a powerful tool for social control, and this is the first work to show how struggles over natural resources fueled racial conflict and affirmed Jim Crow. The ideology of “permanence” shares a great deal with sustainable development, and The Price of Permanence ultimately uses lessons from the South’s search for environmental permanence to reflect on sustainability today.
This book is based on my 2013 dissertation, which received Penn State's highest dissertation award and was selected as one of only three national finalists for all arts and humanities disciplines in the Council of Graduate Schools/ProQuest Dissertation Competition.
I have received generous support for this project from the Bill and Carol Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry at Emory University, the Forest History Society, the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Penn State, the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center, the Penn State Alumni Association, and the Department of History at Penn State.
"From Darkness to Light": An 1895 print by artist Grant E. Hamilton to celebrate the famed Atlanta Exposition, showing a "New South" rising from the ashes of the Civil War, with help from a cornucopia of abundant Southern natural resources
Cottonseed being unloaded at a Mississippi Rail Station, 1880s. Photographer: William Henry Jackson, published by the Detroit Publishing Co