NEH Institute

Educating teachers about the South

In 2010 and 2012, Mercer University’s Southern Studies faculty hosted the National Endowment for the Humanities Institute for School Teachers on Cotton Culture in the U.S. South, 1865-1965.

The institute allowed 25 teachers of English, history, economics, government, geography, art, and music to learn about the complex social structures of the U.S. South in the crucial, yet frequently misunderstood, 100 years between the end of the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. This period included both major social problems and amazing cultural development. An interdisciplinary panel of experts on the South used the cultivation of cotton —t he South’s most significant economic product during this time — as a means to analyze and understand the region’s complex culture, economics, geography, history, literature, and politics.

Macon, Georgia, is about an hour drive south of Atlanta and is an ideal location to study the history and culture of cotton. Nicknamed “The Market City,” it was once a center of cotton commerce and textile production. Workshops met on the campus of Mercer University in downtown Macon, and participants also visited a 19th-century plantation, a working cotton farm, the Civil Rights historic district of Atlanta, and the cotton seaport in Savannah.

For more information about the institute, contact Dr. Sarah Gardner at gardner_se@mercer.edu.

Participant testimonials

  • I have taught U.S. History, a New York State Regents course, for over 15 years. Before the cotton culture seminar, I would cover southern history and culture and cotton in a fairly cursory fashion. It never dawned on me how central cotton is to the understanding of the southern narrative. When I returned to New York, I figured I would add a few choice morsels of information to make my teaching a little more interesting and give my students a broader view of the South. Boy, was I wrong. I found myself incorporating many of the ideas, writings, and discussions we had at the seminar into my lessons, even those that did not directly involve the South. Many of my students wrote about cotton for the Regents exam, something I don’t think they could have done without the institute’s impact on my teaching.

– Jeff Kaufman, Brooklyn, New York

  • The Cotton Culture in the South Institute was a complete immersion in soul of the Black Belt.  This NEH program provided an interesting, challenging, and, often times, unexpected glimpse into the past and present of the American South, all through the gauzy lens of cotton.  The time spent with the Mercer faculty, the visiting professors, and the institute participants enriched my understanding of the South and those who have called that region home, and has had a profound impact on my classroom instruction.

– Bob Corrigan, Cleveland, Ohio

  • I am a music and drama teacher, and the Cotton Culture Institute forced me to look at who I am as a person who grew up in the South and as well as a teacher who teaches in the South.  I was amazed at how much King Cotton has influenced my life and the lives of my students. The added bonus was being instructed by specialists in every area of southern culture, from film to food. It was an amazing experience that guides and informs my instruction with my students even today.

– Latrecia Lewis, Conyers, Georgia

  • Expect to learn a great deal at the Cotton Culture Institute.  A variety of scholars share a wealth of information on diverse topics relating to the overall theme of the five-week program.  The field trips are enlightening and rewarding.  I constantly find myself sharing with my classes ideas and experiences from the seminar.  I benefited so much personally and educationally from the wonderful time together.  The hosts have expended a tremendous amount of energy in preparing this program.  The summer Institute will be five weeks well spent.

– Dr. David M. Ramsey, Jacksonville, Florida

  • Cotton Culture in the South has been invaluable to me the past year and a half as an AP U.S. history teacher. I use excerpts from many of the readings with my class and quite often find myself discussing the information I learned at the institute. The interdisciplinary approach and extensive time span covered will take you through over 100 years of southern agriculture, history, economics, politics, religion, art, music, literature, and social issues. Interacting with other teachers from diverse backgrounds and from many different regions of the country will also contribute to some intense, thought-provoking discussions.

– Elizabeth J. Runnels, Newport, Kentucky

  • The NEH Summer Institute on Cotton Culture in the South, 1865-1965, at Mercer University is five intense weeks of academic study that will benefit each participant.  The Southern Studies faculty at Mercer in historic Macon is a dynamic team that will invest time, energy, and exceptional knowledge into the institute to make this experience both informing and rewarding.  A blend of lectures, workshops, and trips creates the ideal learning environment.  No matter what academic discipline you teach, this study will enhance your subject content knowledge and grow your academic passions.  I highly recommend attending during the summer of 2012.  Your students will definitely benefit from what you will take back to the classroom!

– J. Allen Smith, Forsyth, Georgia