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Southern History across the Color Line

By Nell Irvin Painter

262 pp., 6 x 9, 2 illus., notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5360-3
    Published: April 2002

Gender and American Culture

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The color line, once all too solid in southern public life, still exists in the study of southern history. As distinguished historian Nell Irvin Painter notes, historians often still write about the South as though people of different races occupied entirely different spheres. In truth, although blacks and whites were expected to remain in their assigned places in the southern social hierarchy throughout the nineteenth and much of the twentieth century, their lives were thoroughly entangled.

In this powerful collection, Painter reaches across the color line to examine how race, gender, class, and individual subjectivity shaped the lives of black and white women and men in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century South. Through six essays, she explores such themes as interracial sex, white supremacy, and the physical and psychological violence of slavery, using insights gleaned from psychology and feminist social science as well as social, cultural, and intellectual history.

At once pioneering and reflective, the book illustrates both the breadth of Painter's interests and the originality of her intellectual contributions. It will inspire and guide a new generation of historians who take her goal of transcending the color bar as their own.

About the Author

Nell Irvin Painter is Edwards Professor of American History at Princeton University. She is author or editor of six previous books, including Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

For more information about Nell Irvin Painter, visit the Author Page.


"Demonstrate[s] excellence marked by the transgressive verve of [an] innovative and progressive scholar. . . . An extremely successful attempt to move with intellectual rigor and consistency toward a meaningful interpretation of a world mapped in blood by cruelty and violence."--Southern Literary Journal

"One cannot help but applaud the appearance of this collection, which provides a fine introduction to the ideas of an important scholar."--Journal of Southern History

"The theories, ideas, and analysis investigated in this text advance our understanding of nineteenth- and twentieth-century southern culture--both black and white--in unexpected, provocative, and compelling ways. . . . A highly original and radically ambitious book. This immensely important and insightful study underscores the need for new thinking about the scholarship of southern historiography that reaches beyond race. . . . A groundbreaking contribution and a rewarding addition to the field of American history, particularly southern historiography."--North Carolina Historical Review

"Painter wields both a scalpel and an ax as she dissects multiple generations of southern-focused literature. . . . Compelling. . . . [Southern History Across the Color Line] provides an insightful exploration into the historical factors that have led to an incomplete literature on the mutual impact of the color line in the American South. It deserves careful study by a wide-range of scholars and students of southern history and race relations."--Gulf South Historical Review

"Painter's thoughtful collection is the result of a career spent in close examination of Southern history. She demonstrates how that text can still reveal much but only if we sharpen and enlarge our intellectual armamentarium."--Florida Historical Quarterly

"Bold and innovative."--Canadian Journal of History