Southern studies major gains national recognition, program continues to grow

The southern studies program at Mercer University is less than 10 years old, but it has established itself in the local community as well as having gained national recognition. This year, Mercer faculty and staff have planned new ways to continue to expand the program.

The southern studies program at Mercer is an intricate curriculum that examines the complex history of the U.S. South.

The concentration also offers interdisciplinary undergraduate courses that study the region of multiple perspectives, including courses in African-American studies, English, history, literature and culture.

The program has gained respect in the community due to interactive programs such as the film and lecture series the faculty holds annually. The program was developed and built around the Lamar Lectures, a lecture series held at the university each year.

After hosting the Lamar Lectures, one of the most prestigious lecture series on Southern history and culture, faculty and staff decided to put together the program due to the overwhelming interest shown by students and the local community.

Mercer was granted $216,000 from the federal government to hold an NEH institute that invited teachers from all over the United States to come to Mercer to study the history of cotton, one of Macon’s most notable products during the Civil War era.

The concentration has attracted students for multiple reasons. Senior Carl Lewis discussed how the program helped him understand and come to terms with the place in which he grew up.

“On one hand I want to be able to be proud to call the South home, and I’ve been conditioned for most of my life to glorify my mythical Southern ideals of hospitality, kinship and magnolia-scented charm,” Lewis said. “On the other hand, however, I can’t help but recognize the many problems with the place I call home, and I’ve often sought to downplay it as part of my identity out of fear of appearing responsible for its flaws.”

Students who have pursued the concentration have gone on to continue their studies at graduate levels. Mercer alumni who studied the program during their time at Mercer have practiced  graduate degrees in history, English, law school, medical school and journalism.

Southern studies graduate Eva Walton, who is now pursuing a Ph. D.  in history, described why she chose to study Southern history at Mercer.

“I began the Southern studies program looking for a suitable major,” Walton said. “What I found were classes that rocked my understandings of race relations, religious experience, southern history and professors whose affirmation and guidance ultimately directed me to my future career.”

Dr. David Davis, assistant professor of English, spoke about why students could benefit from taking courses offered in the concentration.

“Studying the South makes students realize the hidden pieces of their own ideology and identity, what makes them Southerners and what makes this the South,” Davis said.

Faculty are already planning new class topics for the curriculum, including courses on Civil Rights memory, with focuses on history, film and literature during the Civil War era.