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A Letter from the Directors


Dear Colleague:

We invite you to apply for a weeklong workshop entitled Building the New South: The Social and Economic Transformation of the Piedmont after the Civil War. The workshop is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks in American History and Culture Program and will be hosted by Elon University. This workshop will bring community college professors together with some of the most eminent scholars in the history of the American South to study and discuss the dramatic economic and social transformation of the South in the decades after the Civil War. The focus of the workshop will be the Piedmont, the portion of the South where the most dramatic change—industrialization—took place. Landmarks will be an integral part of the workshop and participants will visit a 19th century farm site, textile mills, a mill village, the home of a leading industrialist, and a railroad shop complete with an exhibit of 40 locomotives. Two sessions will be available: the first is from July 11-17, 2010; the second is from July 25-31, 2010. 

Full-time and adjunct community college faculty in any humanities or humanities-related discipline are encouraged to apply, but other community college staff, including librarians and administrators, are eligible to compete, provided they can advance the teaching and/or research goals of the workshop.  An applicant need not have an advanced degree in order to qualify. Each workshop will be limited to twenty-five participants. Participants will receive a $1200 stipend to help pay for travel expenses, books, a small meal fee which pays for a banquet dinner and two box lunches, other food costs, and accommodations. The stipend will be paid at the end of the workshop. Stipends are taxable.

Workshop Purpose

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 this story by reading some of the best work, working with some of the top scholars in the field of southern history, and viewing the physical remains of the 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.

Workshop Format and Content

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; James Leloudis's Like a Family: The Making of a Cotton Mill World, and Tom Hanchett’s work on the development of Charlotte during the New South era. 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. Time will be set aside on several days to work on projects and Peter Felten, director of Elon University’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CATL) and a professor of history will serve as a resource for participants who choose to work on course units. Dr. Felten’s specialty is the use of digital technology and media to enhance instruction. The workshop will conclude with short presentations by participants about their projects.

Workshop Faculty

A stellar cast of faculty will lead the workshop. Pulitzer prize-winning historian Steven Hahn will begin the workshop with a discussion of how the southern agrarian economy was changing before and after the Civil War. Project co-director John Beck will lead participants in a discussion of changing farming practices on the Garrett farm and a discussion of the Glencoe mill village. Bess Beatty will lead a discussion of her book on the Holt family and will explore how a family of successful planters became major force in the development of the southern textile industry. Levine Museum historian, Tom Hanchett, will discuss how Charlotte became a regional rail and trading center and then an industrial center. He will also explore how this transformation was accompanied by the development of a full-fledged system of racial segregation in the town. Jim Leloudis will lead a discussion of his acclaimed study of textile workers, Like a Family. Peter Felten will give a presentation on designing modules that engage students in historical inquiry during an afternoon devoted to work on individual projects. Project co-director Jim Bissett will join with historian Janet Irons in the final session of the workshop to discuss two social movements that rose in response to economic changes of the late 19th century—Populism and unionism.


Elon University is a liberal arts institution with a student population of approximately 5600 located in the small town of Elon, North Carolina. Visitors to the university often comment on the beauty of its tree-shaded, meticulously landscaped campus, and the campus has been recognized by the Princeton Review as one of the nation’s most beautiful.  The town of Elon is located on the outskirts of Burlington, a much larger town with a full complement of restaurants, a shopping mall, and so forth. Elon is approximately 25 miles from Greensboro and 35 miles from the Triangle (Chapel Hill/Raleigh/Durham). Major airports are located in both Raleigh and Greensboro.

To foster collegiality, we encourage participants to stay on campus and are reserving a block of rooms in the Colonnades, Elon’s newest residence hall. The Colonnades is a well-appointed, air-conditioned facility and is conveniently located near the workshop meeting room, library, university dining facilities, and several local restaurants. Rooms are available for less than $200 for the week. The university also operates an inn near the campus (the Acorn Inn) and a variety of  other motels are available nearby for those who plan to bring family members or who wish to stay in other accommodations.The meeting facilities of the university are excellent. The campus has wireless, classrooms are equipped with projectors, and fully equipped computer labs are available in the library and other locations.

Participants will have a banquet dinner the first evening of the workshop (Sunday). Lunch and dinner will be eaten at popular restaurants in Chapel Hill and Charlotte on the two “road trips” participants will take. On two other days, picnic lunches will be served when the group visits local historic sites and museums. For the other meals, participants may dine in the campus facilities which are quite good or in local restaurants in Elon or Burlington. For evening meals, Chapel Hill and Durham are a relatively short drive away on the interstate and are two of the best “restaurant towns” in the United States. They're especially noted for restaurants featuring the "new" southern cuisine. Barbecue lovers should note that Elon is located at the epicenter of a major concentration of barbecue restaurants featured in national food magazines. 


Prospective applicants must carefully read NEH application information and instructions (Click here) and should review material on the project website. An individual may apply to a maximum of three (3) NEH summer programs (seminars, Landmark programs, or institutes), but may participate in only one. Applicants must be United States citizens, residents of U.S. jurisdictions, or foreign nationals who have been residing in the United States or its territories for at least the three years immediately preceding the application deadline.  Foreign nationals teaching outside the U.S. are not eligible to apply.  Applicants must complete the NEH application cover sheet and provide all of the information requested below to be considered eligible.  

There are four components to the application:

1.  The application cover sheet.
(Go to: One copy of the cover sheet will be submitted electronically to NEH. Make a hard copy of the cover sheet. Three hard copies will be submitted to the project co-director as part of the application package. 

2.  Perhaps the most important part of the completed application is an essay of one to two double-spaced pages. This essay should include information about your professional background and interest in the subject of the workshop; your special perspectives, skills, or experiences that would contribute to the workshop; and how the experience would enhance your teaching or school service.

3.  Please include a resume or CV detailing your educational qualifications and professional experience.

4.  Additionally, you will need to submit a letter of recommendation from your department chair or your division head or a reference from another professional familiar with your work.  Please enclose your letter of recommendation, with the author’s name signed across the back of the sealed envelope, with your application package.  Do not send the letter of reference separately to the project co-director.


Your completed application must be postmarked no later than March 2, 2010. Only applications mailed to the co-director can be considered.  Submitting the application cover sheet to the NEH site does not constitute a complete application. Successful candidates will be notified by April 1, 2010, and will have until April 5, 2010, to accept of decline the offer.  Those not accepted initially will be put on a waiting list and will be offered acceptance as space becomes available.  There is room for 25 participants in each of the two sessions.

 Endowment programs do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age.  For further information, write to NEH Equal Opportunity Officer, 1100 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20506.  TDD: 202/606-8282 (this is a special telephone device for the deaf).


John Beck and Jim Bissett, Project Co-Directors
Department of History and Geography
Elon University
Elon, NC  27244