History book review: The Making of the American South: A Short History, 1500-1877 Essay

Introduction – The history of the United States of America is perhaps one of the most colourful, controversial and politically charged histories in the world - History book review: The Making of the American South: A Short History, 1500-1877 Essay introduction. Historians place different particular focus and point of interest in the history of the US, since this particular history stretches for years, and that the general overview of it alone is enough to force a reader to oversee important critical analysis necessary to better understand the parts of the US history timeline, and why things happened as they did.

History books for elementary and high school students put American history in a perspective that somewhat remove the complexities of the political and social undercurrent that lies underneath the story of how the United States came to be. This is because at an early age, the human mind is not yet amenable to the level of critical analysis and political understanding which, when applied to the lessons of the US history, may become a source of confusion and misunderstanding, ergo the writing of a history book that is easy to read, easy to understand and easy to digest.

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But for those who are mature enough to explore the answers to questions that arise in a person’s mind when taking a good closer look at the history of the United States and the particular social timelines that contributed heavily in the shaping of the modern US, there are books that can provide important insight on events where a particular book is focused solely, so that every available detail can be presented to the reader and in the process allow the reader to reconstruct the US history via is own cognition based on what new information he or she came across with.

This is the role of the book “The Making of the American South: A short History, 1500-1877” written by J. William Harris. In the book, the author explained about how most of the people are hooked into a certain set of beliefs when the topic of the conversation involves the history of the United States, particularly the history of the US’ South and the story about how the white people enforced the rule of white supremacy and harshly maltreated the African American slaves even before the Civil War and after the Reconstruction era.

The book was an effort to break the stereotypical understanding of the American South when placed in the overall discussion of the US history, pointing to the fact that “the South remained a complex and diverse region, shaped not only by a distinctive social institution and political history, but also by many of the same forces of technological development and cultural changes that were transforming other regions of the United States (Harris, 2005, pg xii).”

The book provided an insightful new look at how the life at the South really was, the truth about the social status, about the fact that not all of the white people are racists and are guilty of terrorizing the African American population present there, how there is in truth just a select few white people who are owners of plantations and utilized the cheap or even free labor of the African American to tend to the farming chores, and how most of the white men and women down South was very much blue collar labourers like the African slaves in that part of the country.

The book sends the reader inside the American South from 1500 to 1877, a stretch of the American history that covered many important sections of the formation of the American past and present current way of life, tracing an important outline about the true image of several important US milestone from the time of the arrival of the European settlers that became the first group of colonial leaders in the previously Indian-inhabited regions of the what is now modern day US up until the Civil War, the Reconstruction and the impact of such events in the lives of the people found in the different echelons of the American South.

Through the insightful presentation of information detailing the life in the American South during the particular stretch of years, the book provides the reader a chance to deconstruct previously held beliefs, reconstruct new ideas, and pose new questions to the existing beliefs about the social life and politics of the American South as the general perception would have it. The book invites the readers to have a new perception of the history of the American South, to rethink how the American Sought up until 1877 really influenced the creation of the country through the politics, economics and social way of life present and existing during those times.

Harris’ style of presentation of the facts allowed for easy reading and compartmentalized understanding of the information being presented, which was made possible by the effective division of the book in chapters and sections that present one important piece of information after the other. Harris divides the narration in two parts, beginning with the discussion of the first part of the book entitled “Before Southern History.” Here, Harris explained how the American South was even before it was known as such. The first part was divided in three important sections, namely “Before the South,” “Colonials Become Americans” and “Southern Power in the New Nation.” It was followed by Part II which is the discussion of the “Making the Old South” – an important section since this reflects the condition of African slave in the American South during that time, the discussion on secession and the eventual reconstruction that happened in the American South.

Harris’ book provides an important insight in a particular section not just of the American history, but also an understanding of an important section of the early America, that will allow readers, especially those with non-American descent, to view a particular part of the American history with new eyes and new understanding, away from what popular knowledge and popular media led people to believe about the South. It provides a new way for the understanding of the lives of white population and African American population and how the book in some way destroys long held myths and believes about the attitude of the society that seemed to have risen to notoriety owing to the perceived social behavior and attitude of the South which was vanquished bitterly at the end of a devastating civil war.


Harris, J. William (September 2005). The Making of the American South: A short History,

            1500-1877. Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated.


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