What Is Southern Studies

The Spencer B. King, Jr. Center for Southern Studies offers an interdisciplinary undergraduate major leading to a bachelor’s degree. Students who choose the major take courses in southern history, literature, religion, politics, and African American studies to develop a nuanced and comprehensive understanding of the region’s complex and problematic culture.

Students choose the Southern Studies major for a number of reasons. Carl Lewis, a Southern Studies major from Waycross, Georgia, explains, “I've always felt a deep desire to understand and come to terms with the place where I grew up, and southern studies is one way to satiate that longing. On one hand, I want to be able to be proud to call the South home, and I've been conditioned for most of my life to glorify the mythical southern ideals of hospitality, kinship, and magnolia-scented charm. On the other hand, however, I can't help but recognize the many problems with the place I call home, and I've often sought to downplay it as part of my identity out of fear of appearing responsible for its flaws.” The major allows students to explore complicated issues of southern identity, and it teaches students to use research and interpretation methods drawn from multiple disciplines.

Southern Studies students take courses on the Old South, the Civil War, the New South, African American History, southern literature, and African American literature. They may also take unique topical courses such as Southern Jesus, Black Film History, Southern Foodways, or William Faulkner. Southern Studies majors complete a senior thesis that culminates their investigation into the region and demonstrates their mastery of research methods. The program’s faculty members are experts in southern history and culture and some of the most highly-regarded professors at Mercer. 

Southern Studies majors also benefit from major events on campus. The program hosts the annual Lamar Lectures, the most prestigious lecture series on southern history and culture and presents the Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature. It also presents a film series and lectures by high-profile scholars, including recent Pulitzer Prize winners Douglas Blackmon and Hank Klibanoff. 

Students who have completed the major have gone on to graduate school in history and in English, to law school, to medical school, and to careers in historic preservation, journalism, education, and business. Eva Walton, a southern studies graduate now pursuing a Ph. D. in history, says, “I began the Southern Studies program looking for a suitable major, what I found were classes that rocked my understandings of race relations, religious experience, and southern history, and professors whose affirmation and guidance ultimately directed me to my future career.”

The program invites you to consider the southern studies major at Mercer University. If you have questions, please contact Dr. Sarah Gardner at gardner_se@mercer.edu.