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A New History of the American South

Relive the unforgettable drama of the American South with an award-winning professor.
A New History of the American South is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 96.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course! This is an excellent course about US south from early days to modern times. Professor covered topics of slavery, religion, pop culture indepth in this full series and students should have got good understanding and appreciation for history of Old South. Thanks Great Courses to put this together!
Date published: 2024-06-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course An excellent well presented course. Very fair presentation of a contentious history. Would love to see more.
Date published: 2024-05-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from EXCELLENT This course was excellent. Learned many facts that are never taught in school. I recommend it highly.
Date published: 2023-12-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Ok but could be better As a resident of Georgia who is originally from the Midwest, I was intrigued by the concept of this course, and decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, after having finished the series, I can't say it was the best history of the South. To begin, in the very first lecture I assumed that some definitions would be provided, and even a map of what we were exploring. What *is* the American South? Which states or regions make up the South, and what are the subregions? Can the South even be confined to geography, or is it more of a cultural designation? It would have been quite helpful to start framing the subject matter by addressing some of these basic issues up front. But the larger issue I had with this series was that it was a scripted, general history of the South. Although it was paced and covered a large amount of material, for some reason it was not very engaging. I realize now that some of the better GC series are those in which the professors take some time to ad lib a bit to underscore key concepts, or put emphasis on certain ideas that are vitally important. Here, it seemed like all the information was just give on a plate to get through it all. With that said, it did provide me with some interesting insights. I think my favorite episodes were the last two which discussed the music, literature, and legacy of the South. I can tell that the professor was trying to tiptoe through the highly-charged topics that affect us today regarding race relations. I can see where he's coming from by trying to remain above the fray, but at the same time it came off as a bit awkward at times. Overall, I would probably give this 3.5 stars. It was engaging enough to watch the whole way through, but it just was not as enjoyable as several other history series I have seen produced by The Great Courses.
Date published: 2023-07-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Broad Survey of the History of the Old South A good survey of some of the history of the Old South. Not sure what's "new" about the history--it seemed a pretty conventional presentation. The course stops before the Civil Rights Movement, the World Wars, the invention of the computer, or Jimmy Carter's presidency. The focus is often on slavery, though at a very broad level. In the early lectures, I was amused at how often the lecturer implied that most of what happened in the South either occurred or at least began in Virginia. :-) It did seem, in the brief mention of African on African slavery, that he came close to saying that the "custom" was almost of benefit to the enslaved. The "big man" provided "protection," etc., to those he enslaved. These things said, though, the course was interesting, and I learned some things I did not know.
Date published: 2023-05-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Very Selective History This is not really a history of the American South, but instead is a history of Blacks in the American South. While that is an important topic and would consumer a significant portion of any full history of the South, it isn't all there is. Professor Ayers makes it almost an obsession, at the expense of other significant elements of Southern history, especially in the 20th century--economic development, political evolution, social relationships between and among Whites, urbanization, migration, and so on.
Date published: 2023-01-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A Tired Historical Perspective at Best We are already aware of the general view of the South in terms of its role in the Civil War. This is not new. How about a fresh retelling of the North's role in slavery? Such as how the sailing vessels and men hired to buy slaves were Northerners. Or how the "cruelty" to slaves so often portrayed was not the norm. It is the human nature to remember what we want to remember and to fail to remember what we ought. No, the entire United States were guilty, and though that guilt is past, we still fail to overlook that slavery is still going strong in other nations, especially Africa.
Date published: 2022-12-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from New perspective I bought this program for my brother who is fighting cancer and cannot read anymore. the great courses programs are a life line to him. . He had very high praise for this particular course and mentioned that he has new perspectives and the professor is “top notch“
Date published: 2022-10-30
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To know the history of the American South is to come to terms with a historical drama of global consequence. In this course, you'll relive the story of the South through essential episodes such as: the forging of the slave South, Southern prosperity and the cotton economy, the lives of the enslaved, the breakdown of the Union and the wartime South, emancipation and Reconstruction, and the making of the New South.


Edward L. Ayers

We cannot understand the United States if we do not understand the South, which has played such an outsized role in the history of our country.


University of Richmond

Edward L. Ayers is the Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities at the University of Richmond. He received his undergraduate degree at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, summa cum laude, and his PhD in American Studies from Yale University. Professor Ayers has written or edited 12 books on the history of 19th-century America. He is the author of The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America, which won the Lincoln Prize. A predecessor to that book, In the Presence of Mine Enemies: Civil War in the Heart of America, 1859–1864, won the Bancroft Prize for distinguished writing in American history. Professor Ayers’s book The Promise of the New South was a finalist for both a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize. Since 2008, Professor Ayers has served as one of the cohosts for BackStory, a podcast that explores a different facet of American history each week. Professor Ayers is also the founder of Bunk (, a website that weaves together articles, blogs, videos, podcasts, and digital projects about the American past. Professor Ayers has won many awards for his teaching and service. Most prominently, he was named National Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Institute for the Advancement of Teaching and received the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama.

By This Professor

A New History of the American South
A New History of the American South


The Geography of the American South

01: The Geography of the American South

Begin by previewing the four parts of the course that will recount the dramatic saga of the American South. Then, learn about the prehistory of the region, from its geographical features to the ancient peoples that settled it. Delve into the history of the chiefdoms that dominated the region before the arrival of Europeans, and trace the decimation of native populations that followed.

28 min
The World of Slavery

02: The World of Slavery

Investigate the complex origins of slavery in Africa, in social systems where human beings became commodities of exchange. Learn how the Atlantic slave trade was initiated by the Portuguese, and how it evolved into a system of vast economic gain, supplying labor for New World plantations. Note how Britain’s American colonies were originally intended to function by means of English labor.

26 min
Slavery Becomes American

03: Slavery Becomes American

Examine economic conditions within Virginia before slavery, and growing discontent among English indentured laborers. Trace the rise of slavery in the British Caribbean, the factors that made it a practical business model in Virginia, and how colonists rationalized slaveholding. Observe how Virginia set the blueprint for slave society in what would become the American South.

26 min
The Southern Colonies Take Root

04: The Southern Colonies Take Root

Learn about the apogee of the Atlantic slave trade, and how enslaved people adapted to their plight. Witness how Barbados planters spurred the colonization of the Carolinas as a thriving, slave-based rice economy, and follow the founding of Georgia and how it became a slave society. Take account of the society of the flourishing planter elite, and the factors that led to the American Revolution.

27 min
Southern States in the New Nation

05: Southern States in the New Nation

Grasp how the events of the American Revolution affected the Southern colonies and their population of the enslaved. Learn about the implications of the new federal government and Constitution for the Southern states and slaveholders, and how Congress both granted concessions to the slave system and sought to restrict it. Follow the gradual emancipation of slaves in the Northern states.

27 min
War, Uprising, and Southern Solidarity

06: War, Uprising, and Southern Solidarity

In the early 19th century, massive changes took place in the territories that became the South. Study the series of wars the new nation fought with the British, Native American factions, and escaped slaves in areas of what became Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. Note how the advent of these multiple conflicts involving both Native Americans and enslaved blacks ultimately forged a new unity among white Southerners.

26 min
The Birth of the Cotton South

07: The Birth of the Cotton South

Witness the dislocations, rebellion, and surging population of the enslaved in the South following the American Revolution. Learn how Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi were settled, and how both cotton and sugar became defining commodities of the Southern economy. Then, delve into the mechanics of the slave trade, in the large-scale importation of slaves into the lower South.

27 min
Evangelical Faith in the South

08: Evangelical Faith in the South

Here, assess the role of religion in the culture of Southern society and in the culture of slavery. Learn how British Anglicanism came to be replaced in the South by evangelical Christianity. Observe how this faith included blacks, and became a source of strength and survival for the enslaved, yet also reinforced, for whites, the social status quo and the conceptual justifications for slavery.

27 min
Rebellion, Renewal: Tightening of Slavery

09: Rebellion, Renewal: Tightening of Slavery

Follow two significant slave rebellions in the early 19th century: the aborted South Carolina revolt led by the freed slave Denmark Vesey, and the famous Nat Turner rebellion in Virginia. Take account of the ensuing Virginia debates on slavery, culminating in harsher laws restricting blacks. Also, study the brutal, forced removal of Native Americans in the Southern states from their traditional lands.

26 min
Arguments for and against Slavery

10: Arguments for and against Slavery

Learn about the heated controversy over the admission of Missouri to the union as a slave state, and how this crisis polarized the country as never before. Trace the rise of abolitionism and antislavery societies, and the violent backlash of anti-abolitionists. Then, examine pro-slavery thought in the South, both secular and religious, within the context of pre-Civil War Southern intellectual life.

26 min
A Restless South: Expansion and Conflict

11: A Restless South: Expansion and Conflict

Relive the highly charged events surrounding the settlement of Texas by Americans and the Mexican-American War. Witness how the debate over slavery in former Mexican lands became a blistering national drama. Also, grasp the impact of the railroad and telegraph on the South, and the ways in which these technological innovations accelerated the divisions between North and South.

28 min
Life in the Slave South

12: Life in the Slave South

Discover how American slavery became more diverse as it expanded over a huge area. Consider the wide variety of trades engaged in by the enslaved, and the complex mix of white and black cultures in the South. Learn more about the mechanics of slave trading, the terrible treatment of those sold, and how slaves lived and worked both on plantations and farms and within Southern cities.

25 min
Sovereignty and Slavery in the American West

13: Sovereignty and Slavery in the American West

With the slave economy booming in the 1850s, chart the escalation of antagonism between North and South. Observe the struggle within Kansas between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces, and its eruption into violence, including the actions of abolitionist John Brown. Also, follow the Supreme Court case involving the slave Dred Scott, as it exacerbated the breakdown of North/South relations.

28 min
The Complex Road to Secession

14: The Complex Road to Secession

Begin by exploring the presidential election of 1860, as it comprised the estrangement of North and South. Then, follow the Southern actions of secession, which many in the South resisted, the events surrounding Lincoln taking office, and the crisis at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Conclude by considering two key ways of thinking about the Civil War and what precipitated it.

28 min
Elemental Loyalties and Descent into War

15: Elemental Loyalties and Descent into War

Trace the events that led to the opening shots of the Civil War. Learn about both sides’ initial strategy for the conflict, the mobilization of armies, and the role of women in the war effort. Take account of the crippling impact of the war on the Southern economy, and grasp the inconsistencies, justifications, and misconceptions on both sides that fueled the unfolding of the war.

28 min
End of War and of Slavery

16: End of War and of Slavery

Learn about how slaves fared and adapted as the war progressed, and how Union forces made use of the enslaved to further their aims. At the war’s conclusion, examine the actions of freed blacks, and their efforts to secure basic rights. Contemplate the divisive national climate during the initial phase of Reconstruction, as many Southerners appeared to deny the matters that the war had decided.

27 min
Reconstruction and the Freedmen’s Bureau

17: Reconstruction and the Freedmen’s Bureau

Study the work of the Freedmen’s Bureau, as it oversaw the transition from slavery to a wage economy, amid fervent resistance to attempts to remake the South. With the passage of the 14th Amendment and the Reconstruction Act, trace the era of “Radical Reconstruction,” as enmity, violence, and electioneering gradually returned the Southern states to Southern Democratic control.

29 min
The Landscape of the New South

18: The Landscape of the New South

Far-reaching structural changes transformed the South following Reconstruction. Follow the huge expansion of railroads, which connected Southern towns and cities, as well as North with South. See also how the rise of country stores changed the economic and cultural landscape. Observe the remarkable proliferation of new villages and towns across the South, and the rise of Southern industries.

26 min
Farmers and the Rise of Populism

19: Farmers and the Rise of Populism

Witness the advent of modern agriculture in the South, and how enterprising rural workers could achieve land ownership. Grasp how overcrowding, falling prices for crops, and competition led to terrible hardships for farmers. Then, delve into the highly charged era of Populism, as farmers organized to redress their problems in a bitter struggle against monopoly capitalism.

28 min
The Invention of Segregation

20: The Invention of Segregation

Trace the origins of legal separation between the races, a defining trait of the South through much of the 20th century. First, examine the issue of segregation regarding railroad travel, and the first wave of segregation laws. See how segregation then spread to include numerous social gathering points, and how sexual contact between the races became a contested issue on both sides.

25 min
Lynching and Disfranchisement

21: Lynching and Disfranchisement

Study the climate of violence in the New South, amid widespread economic and political turmoil. Observe how lynching became, for whites, a means of countering weak governments and terrorizing blacks into submission. Then, learn how the South embarked on a constitutional disfranchisement of black voters, constructing legal means to limit suffrage and ensure white supremacy.

27 min
Religious Faith in the New South

22: Religious Faith in the New South

Delve into the remarkable growth of religion in the late 19th-century South, and how the region came to be known as the “Bible Belt.” Learn about the proliferation of religious revivals, and the rise of the “holiness” movement, Pentecostalism, and the Church of God, religious factions that sought a more-vital faith, challenged tradition, and ultimately spread across the world.

25 min
Literature and Music of the New South

23: Literature and Music of the New South

The making of the New South unleashed extraordinary creative and artistic energies. Investigate the vibrant musical culture of the postbellum South, and the African musical elements that converged in the birth of ragtime and jazz, as well as the evolution of blues, country music, and gospel. Also, see why writings ranging from The Tales of Uncle Remus to W.E.B. DuBois’s Souls of Black Folk achieved global popularity.

31 min
The Legacies of the Southern Saga

24: The Legacies of the Southern Saga

Finally, explore the fabric of life in the South as the 19th century ended and the 20th began. Investigate the work of educator Booker T. Washington; the impact on race relations of the Spanish-American War; the Plessy decision, giving government sanction to segregation; and the emerging Cult of the Confederacy. Contemplate the South as a place of ongoing movement, struggle, and renewal.

32 min