Conjectures of Order: Intellectual Life and the American South, 1810-1860, Volume 1

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University of North Carolina Press, 2004 - 1354 pages
In this magisterial history of intellectual life, Michael O'Brien analyzes the lives and works of antebellum Southern thinkers and reintegrates the South into the larger tradition of American and European intellectual history.

O'Brien finds that the evolution of Southern intellectual life paralleled and modified developments across the Atlantic by moving from a late Enlightenment sensibility to Romanticism and, lastly, to an early form of realism. Volume 1 describes the social underpinnings of the Southern intellect by examining patterns of travel and migration; the formation of ideas on race, gender, ethnicity, locality, and class; and the structures of discourse, expressed in manuscripts and print culture. In Volume 2, O'Brien looks at the genres that became characteristic of Southern thought. Throughout, he pays careful attention to the many individuals who fashioned the Southern mind, including John C. Calhoun, Louisa McCord, James Henley Thornwell, and George Fitzhugh.

Placing the South in the larger tradition of American and European intellectual history while recovering the contributions of numerous influential thinkers and writers, O'Brien's masterwork demonstrates the sophistication and complexity of Southern intellectual life before 1860.

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The Position and Course of the South I

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About the author (2004)

Michael O'Brien (1948-2015) was professor of American intellectual history at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of the British Academy. He is author or editor of several books on Southern intellectual history, including Mrs. Adams in Winter: A Journey in the Last Days of Napoleon.

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