The Charlotte News

SUNDAY, MARCH 15, 1938


Another Scientific Look at Sociology's Historic Frog

--A Review, by W. J. Cash

Site ed. note: Ever impatient with fact-filled tomes, Cash had first written up his manuscript for The Mind of the South with footnotes aplenty to please scholars. Then, he laughed at it, threw it in the wastebasket, and started again "on authority of my imagination". It is this quality which both provokes its harshest criticism and provides its most honored uniqueness to this day. And here Cash gives a quick argument as to why his approach had greater power to enlighten.

I have on my table, as I write, another one of those books about the South which set up to present their material "scientifically and without bias." It is called "The South--Its Economic-Geographic Development," and was written by Dr. A. E. Parkins, Professor of Geography at George Peabody College for Teachers, and published by John Wiley & Sons at New York to sell for $5.

It is, of course, a heavy book, full of charts and tables and tables and maps. But of its kind it is an excellent book in many regards. It is a good deal better written than such books have a habit of being. It is an interesting book, even, at times. It is certainly interesting for the numerous photographs it contains in addition to its forbidding tables and charts--photographs illustrating the economic history of the South from the earliest times down--and together constituting one of the best exhibits of the kind I have ever seen. The subject matter, too, is sometimes interesting merely as reading matter--would be interesting, I imagine, for any intelligent man even though he had only the most casual interest in the history of the South. As for instance in the description of plantations in Eastern North Carolina and Georgia on pages 214-224. And it is an immensely useful book, abounding in facts, many of which are here set forth for the first time.


Nevertheless, the book leaves me a little impatient, not so much with itself as an isolated volume but with the whole class of books setting up to be "scientific and without bias." Is it possible to have any such things as a pure science of fact-recording in the realm of history and the so-called social "sciences?" I often doubt it. The trouble is that facts presented in this flat fashion which allows no comment often give a totally misleading impression.

Consider, for instance, the question of education in the Old South. Mr. Parkins does the usual thing of recording that in 1860 the South had fewer public schools than any other section of the country, and then proceeds to do the usual thing of recording, too, that, in proportion to population, the South had more active academies and colleges than the whole North, and more students in those colleges. But to state the matter so, and though he makes no comment, is inevitably to leave the impression that higher education was in a more flourishing condition under the Potomac than above it. And that, I believe, is very considerably to distort the true picture. If the South had more academies than the North, yet the overwhelming great part of those academies were unkempt backwoods institutions taught largely by starveling half-literates. That was true of the North to a great extent, too, of course. But I doubt that it was so often true. For the condition was itself only a natural reflection of frontier and semi-frontier conditions. Or to state it otherwise, the failure of urban conditions to develop. And in the Eastern states of the North, urban conditions had very definitely developed.


When we turn to the colleges, the matter is even plainer. The South had, in fact, only two colleges which were of any considerable rank--the University of Virginia and the College of South Carolina. The rest were mainly only such super-academies as were to be found on the other semi-frontier--the Middle West, and were not often to be compared with the run of second-rank schools in the Eastern states. And as for Virginia and South Carolina--they got larger appropriations from the public funds than any northern schools got. But they did not get the private appropriations that Harvard and Yale and Princeton got. And certainly, they did not rank with these three as educational institutions. Virginia, then as now, was beautiful, and both places were swell places for young gentlemen with a little money. Virginia had its distinguished professors, and South Carolina had its old Dr. Thomas Cooper who had been eventually turned out to grass as an infidel. But by and large what they mainly taught was manners--together with a notable capacity at drinking and cards. I am not, surely, setting up to despise good manners and their inculcation. Nor, for that matter, the other accomplishments of a gentleman that I record. All the same, the fact is, I think, that neither of these great Southern schools was really of much account for the primary purposes of schools. The pupils of the Professor Dews and Chancellor Harpers were adepts at twisting economics, sociology, and theology to the defense of slavery, and the graduates of the schools were sometimes well grounded in the Greek and--more often--Roman classic authors. But for general educational purposes there were, besides the big three, probably all of a dozen colleges in the East, which were their superiors.

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