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 4.3 out of 5 by 77.
  • y_2021, m_9, d_17, h_20
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.19
  • cp_1, bvpage1
  • co_hasreviews, tv_5, tr_72
  • loc_en_CA, sid_8388, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.1
  • CLOUD, getAggregateRating, 5.71ms
Rated 5 out of 5 by from "New" means concise and comprehensive. Haven't finished this yet [perhaps Great Courses could allow more time?] but so far my wife and I are enjoying it very much. The professor is quite engaging. I'm a civil war student and this ties in very well especially the pre-war lessons. They give a better understanding on how the south could make such a blunder.
Date published: 2021-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wide-ranging intro to a fascinating subject In 1995, I moved from Chicago to South Carolina, where I’ve lived ever since. Although I’ve read lots of books on the Civil War, and visited many important historical sites, I’ve never made a systematic study of Southern history and culture – that is, until taking Prof. Ayers’s course. This is a very useful course for someone wishing to explore not only historical names and dates, but also the development of religion, music, and philosophy. Of course, a central theme is slavery and its part in the economy and outlook of the South. But there’s a lot more to this course, and it will leave you with the desire to delve into specific areas that interest you. I used the “instant video” version, which looked great on my iPhone. I wish there was an app for TGC that would work on all smart TVs, so I could watch in a larger format. I also wish that closed captioning was an option (I searched for it in vain; if you know how it works, please leave a comment!). Be sure to follow this up with some of TGC’s fine offerings on the Civil War.
Date published: 2021-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Only 24 lectures An excellent series of lectures by a great historian. I like the way Ed Ayers makes history about people and their stories, not just events. The only problem was 24 lectures are not enough to cover fully the history of the South. I hope they have a part 2 at some point.
Date published: 2021-05-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Surprisingly good This course surprised and I enjoyed it. I never thought that it would be interesting but the professor captivated me
Date published: 2021-05-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Dixie: Bad Times There Are Not Forgotten The US South has been a land of violence, terror, and exploitation from the plundering expedition of Hernando de Soto in the early 16th century to the disenfranchisement and lynching of African Americans after the Civil War. Anglo-Americans obtained the land by conquering and expelling indigenous American peoples—and profited largely by importing others to do the drudgery of planting, tending, and harvesting cash crops, especially tobacco and cotton, together with rice in South Carolina. After relying for the better part of the 17th century on indentured English servants, Virginian and Maryland planters bought African slaves in growing numbers. White settlement spread African American slavery from the East Coast to and beyond the Mississippi River. Slaveowners’ decision to protect their wealth and political power by breaking up the Union blew up in their faces, but they and their postwar ideological allies and successors subverted Reconstruction and then kept down the menace of African American voting and officeholding mob violence, murder, intimidation, fraud, and legislation. Of course, the South was not all greed, harm, and misery; there was also time for culture. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it shared in the waves of evangelical Christianity that swept through colonial and postcolonial America, attracting slaves as well as whites. Southerners also developed regional forms of music—country for whites, blues and jazz for blacks. They also wrote books; as you would expect, the most popular ones by white authors (before World War I, at least) celebrated racial hierarchy and demeaned black people, especially Thomas Dixon’s The Clansman, which inspired the infamous 1915 film, “Birth of a Nation.” White activists also promoted the Confederate version of the Civil War by erecting monuments of their favorite battlefield heroes. Professor Ayers tells the story reasonably well but has left room for improvement. He stops mostly before World War I, so we miss out on the Great Migration, the long era of Jim Crow in full flower, the survival of black activism, the drama of Second Reconstruction, the revival of black officeholding, a lot more literature and music, and the rise of the Christian Right. This would have required twelve or twenty-four more lectures, and perhaps that was not possible for one reason or another. Discussion of some topics is uneven. Ayers skips over the end of Reconstruction in just a few minutes and covers Southern Populism too briefly without even a single mention of Tom Watson. The course would also have been stronger, ironically, if the professor had taken greater note of parallel developments in the North. There, not in the South, is where racial segregation of public accommodations was first invented. While the South practiced racism through exploitation, the North practiced it by exclusion. The campaign of southern politicians to extend slavery into the territories was not just bad for the slaves, it was also a threat to the North’s desire to make America (outside the South) lily white. In general Ayers should have used primary sources far more often, as he does in Lecture 20. Allowing historical characters to speak for themselves makes a story more exciting. Ayers rightly devotes several lectures to slavery, and his candor about it is a welcome contrast with old-style southern histories that emphasized how well masters treated their slaves, but I would add two important points. First, slaveowners’ violence promoted productivity. One of the historians in the guidebook’s very good bibliography has explained that during the harvest cotton planters and their overseers set quotas for each field hand to meet and then inflicted blows according to how far that man or woman fell short of the desired quantity. Over time the quotas increased, forcing slaves to figure out for themselves how to pick cotton as efficiently as possible; slavery was a “whipping machine.” Abolitionists who argued that slavery was inefficient and unprofitable were simply wrong. Second, a large majority of white men owned no slaves at all, yet many of them stepped up to fight for the Confederacy. They must have believed that slavery and its extension were good for them, possibly because they were related to slaveowners by blood or affinity, or because they did profitable business with slaveowners, or because they just liked the way slaves gave them a “middling” status by being beneath them in society. The latter factor helps explain the mass defense of Jim Crow and white supremacy up to the present. Finally, I object to Ayers’ cumbersome phrase “enslaved persons” as a substitute for “slaves.” I get that this is academia’s effort to remind us that slaves were people with inherent worth and dignity, and that what happened to them was not their fault. But it is a foolish redundancy; ALL slaves are human beings. No one ever uses the word to refer to horses, cows, or aardvarks. Those who judge slaves as inferior beings deserving of torture, humiliation, and endless work without pay will not be put off by adding more syllables. That said, the course is still very much worth buying as is and complements The Great Courses series on the American West and the Gilded Age.
Date published: 2021-04-13
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Very Misleading I actually forced myself to watch the entire program hoping for a larger, truer picture of the South and not just a treatise on slavery. Evidently this Professor believes every single detail and waking moment of southern history is based on, defined by, can be interpreted by and relies on nothing but slavery, what a waste of time. Retitle this program please, I’ll never get those hours of my life back, shame on him.
Date published: 2021-04-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved the course Definitely a must watch for those interested in American History. I felt that the content was far and above what was taught as "politically correct" in HS and College.
Date published: 2021-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Class Professor Ayers, PHD was a wonderful teacher and I am so grateful to have taken this class just before I entered into more recent US history (1877-present) at my university. I got a really good review on things that I am now actively using and they were explained articulately and with great interest. I can tell Ayers is passionate about history and it was a joy getting to learn under his wing. I would absolutely recommend to any history lover.
Date published: 2021-01-25
  • y_2021, m_9, d_17, h_20
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.19
  • cp_1, bvpage1
  • co_hasreviews, tv_5, tr_72
  • loc_en_CA, sid_8388, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.1
  • CLOUD, getReviews, 4.68ms


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
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 (www.bunkhistory.org), 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