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About the Workshop


The economic and social transformation of the South after the Civil War is one of the grand topics in Southern history rivaled only by the Civil War itself and the Civil Rights era. The broad outlines of the story are well known if only because they are embedded in the films and books of popular culture, most notably in Gone with the Wind, but there is a rich and fascinating scholarship—much of it written over the last thirty years—that analyzes  this transformation. Excellent studies have explored how the old plantation system was replaced by tenant farming. Many former slaves became sharecroppers, although a surprising number were able to become landowners. In the Piedmont, freedmen were often more likely to work as laborers; there, sharecropping was more a white institution. Small land-owning farmers across the Piedmont shifted from the more subsistence oriented farming of the pre-war era to cash crop farming and shifted their focus to growing tobacco or cotton. For many, the new rural economy was a cruel trap: small farmers struggled to make a go of it, and sharecroppers found themselves mired in debt to landlords and merchants with little hope of ever owning land or escaping poverty. Struggling farmers, white and black, formed a movement of protest—the Populist movement—in the 1880s and fought bitter political battles with those who opposed reform until the death of the movement around the turn of the century. Much of the wealth of the region was now in the towns, and the rise of the merchant and the town, examined so brilliantly in fictional form by William Faulkner, has also been the focus of a number of fine studies.

 It would be the dramatic rise of industry in the Piedmont that would truly transform this region, and the textile industry was far and away the most important of these new industries. Hundreds of mills were built, and hundreds of mill towns were constructed by the mill owners to house the workers who streamed into these towns from the failing farms of the countryside; by the 1920s, the Piedmont of the South was the major textile region in the world and was described by one journalist as “one long mill town.” But opportunities in the textile industry and most others—tobacco was the major exception—were for whites only; in the closing years of the 19th century, Jim Crow segregation extended its reign over industrial employment just as it would come to reign over every other facet of life.

The purpose of this workshop is to help participants develop a deeper understanding of the economic and social transformation of the piedmont South after the Civil War by reading important studies and primary sources, working with some of the top scholars in the field of southern history, and viewing the physical remains of this story at landmarks and museums. The location of the workshop is ideal: Elon University is in the heart of the North Carolina Piedmont and is located a few miles from Burlington which was once one of the major textile mill centers in the South.

Format and Content

Two sessions of the workshop will be conducted in the summer of 2010--July 11-17 and July 25-31. Each workshop will have no more than 25 participants. The workshop will consist of lecture and discussion sessions led by project scholars, visits to landmarks and museums, archival research, and work on individual projects. Before the workshop begins, participants will read selections from the works by four of the project’s scholars—Steven Hahn’s  The Roots of Southern Populism; Bess Beatty’s  Alamance: The Holt Family and Industrialization in a North Carolina County, 1837–1900, Jim Leloudis's Like a Family: The Making of a Cotton Mill World, and Tom Hanchett’s work on urban development in Charlotte. While in residence, participants will read selections from works by other scholars and primary sources—interviews, census materials, newspaper accounts, and manuscript documents—that are linked to the landmarks that workshop members will visit.

Workshop participants will tour an historic site that interprets the 19th century farmstead of John and Polly Garrett and will examine primary source documents that reveal how farming changed for the Garretts. They’ll visit Spencer Shops, once a major repair facility of the Southern Railroad. The site has a number of locomotives and train cars, an intact roundhouse, and a museum which interprets the role of the railroad in North Carolina’s economic and social history. They’ll visit the plantation home of the Holts, a family prominent in the textile industry for over one hundred years, and they’ll take a bus tour of some of the more important mills and mill villages in Burlington. The tour will end at Glencoe, an intact and partially restored mill village. There is a small museum on the Glencoe site in the old company store which has a display of textile mill machinery and other artifacts. Glencoe staff will take participants on a tour of the company business office, the village, and of one of the village houses.  Participants will also visit the Levine Museum of the New South and will spend time working with documents in the major repository of primary sources for the South, the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, home of the Southern Historical Collection. 

Participants will begin to develop a project during the workshop—either a research project or a course unit related to the theme of the course. Dr. Peter Felten, director of Elon University’s Center for Teaching and Learning and a professor of history, will give a presentation on designing modules that engage students in historical inquiry. Dr. Felten’s specialty is the use of digital technology and media to enhance instruction, and he will serve as a resource for participants who choose to work on course units. The workshop will conclude with short presentations by participants about their projects.

The Stipend and Conditions of Award

Participants will receive a $1200 stipend to help pay for travel expenses, books, food, and accommodations. Stipends are taxable. The stipend will be paid at the end of the workshop. Workshop participants are required to attend all scheduled meetings and to engage fully in all project activities.  Participants who do not complete the full tenure of the project will receive a reduced stipend.

Participants will provide NEH with an assessment of their workshop experience, especially in terms of its value to their personal and professional development.  They will be asked to provide a confidential online evaluation at the close of the workshop.

Workshop Costs

Books participants will need to buy should cost around $75 or participants may borrow the books from their home campus libraries (other materials will be provided).  A small workshop fee of around $50 will be charged to pay for a banquet meal and three box lunches. A room on campus in the Colonnades will cost less than $200 for the week. (This rate also covers linens, towels, etc.)  Other expenses—travel to the conference, accommodations other than those provided on campus, and other meal costs—will naturally vary for each participant.


Contact project co-director John Beck at or 919-602-1460.

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