Capturing the South

Imagining America's Most Documented Region

By Scott L. Matthews

328 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 37 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-4645-9
    Published: November 2018
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-4644-2
    Published: November 2018
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-4646-6
    Published: October 2018
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4244-2
    Published: October 2018

Documentary Arts and Culture

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In his expansive history of documentary work in the South during the twentieth century, Scott L. Matthews examines the motivations and methodologies of several pivotal documentarians, including sociologist Howard Odum, photographers Jack Delano and Danny Lyon, and music ethnographer John Cohen. Their work salvaged and celebrated folk cultures threatened by modernization or strived to reveal and reform problems linked to the region’s racial caste system and exploitative agricultural economy.

Images of alluring primitivism and troubling pathology often blurred together, neutralizing the aims of documentary work carried out in the name of reform during the Progressive era, New Deal, and civil rights movement. Black and white southerners in turn often resisted documentarians’ attempts to turn their private lives into public symbols. The accumulation of these influential and, occasionally, controversial documentary images created an enduring, complex, and sometimes self-defeating mythology about the South that persists into the twenty-first century.

About the Author

Scott L. Matthews is assistant professor of history at Florida State College at Jacksonville.

For more information about Scott L. Matthews, visit the Author Page.


“At its core, Matthews’ Capturing the South speaks to the asymmetries of documentary power around histories of well-meaning (often self-serving) intentions, cultural exploitation, and subject resistance. . . . Meticulously researched and thoughtfully considered. . . . The energy of Matthews’ argument establishes the ethical ambitions of his study in ways that persuasively invite the reader into a consideration about the historical arc and the fieldwork ethics that arguably render the South the most documented American region.”--Journal of Interdisciplinary History

Capturing the South brilliantly frames how white scholars, writers, photographers, and filmmakers have defined the region. Scott L. Matthews reveals how those who documented the American South transformed its people into works of art, forever changing how we view the region and her people.”—William Ferris, author of The South in Color: A Visual Journal

“An original and comprehensive look at the American South in the twentieth century, Capturing the South explores, to great effect, the vexed relationship between documentarians and those whose lives they documented. A compelling and well-wrought history.” —Daphne Lamothe, Smith College