The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 84, July 1980 - April, 1981

Book Reviews

briefs, and secondary sources, having used neither manuscripts nor
interviews in collecting his information. Consequently he sometimes
speculates about matters which Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong,
with their broader research, manage to explain in The Brethren. From
Brown to Bakke is far from being the definitive history of the Supreme
Court and school integration, but whoever finally writes that book will
profit immensely from Wilkinson's perceptive analysis of the subject.
University of Georgia MICHAEL R. BELKNAP
The Idea of the American South: z920-z941. By Michael O'Brien.
(Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979. Pp. 273.
Introduction, bibliography, index. $16.)
Michael O'Brien's erudite study of the concept of the South during
the period between the two world wars is an important contribution
to southern intellectual history. The Idea of the American South:
1920-1941 focuses on Howard W. Odum and the regionalists at the
University of North Carolina and on the Agrarians who were oriented
toward Vanderbilt University. By the 192os, according to O'Brien,
the forces of modernism had disrupted the Whiggish New South con-
sensus in southern historiography. The result was "a weakening in the
enthusiasm for industry" (p. 14), a shift "in southern thought ... away
from cosmopolitanism towards provincialism" (p. 22), and "a signifi-
cant intensification in the debate about a region" (p. xiv). Odum and
the Agrarians stood at the center of this controversy.
Odum belonged in the tradition of the New South school of south-
ern historians. Although torn between positivist sociology and ro-
mantic notions about the southern folk, he had little difficulty recon-
ciling southern regionalism with American nationalism. The leading
Agrarians-John C. Ransom, John D. Wade, Allen Tate, Frank L.
Owsley, Donald Davidson-assumed the more difficult task of defend-
ing southern sectionalism. The Agrarians encompassed a varied group
of people who came to terms-or in some cases avoided coming to
terms-with "progress" in different ways. In historical scholarship,
Owsley "was self-consciously a part of the rebirth of Southern historical
studies . . . that supplanted the pro-Union studies of James Ford
Rhodes's generation with its own pro-Southern perspective" (p. 167).
Donald Davidson, the most conservative of all the Agrarians, became
a victim of the "Whiggery of conventional American historiography


Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 84, July 1980 - April, 1981. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. Accessed April 27, 2015.