"The tourist archipelagoes of my South / are prisons, too, corruptible" writes the poet Derek Walcott. While Walcott refers to the islands of the Caribbean, the analogous idea of a land made into solitary islands by an imprisoned and inherited corruption is historian J. Mills Thornton III's American South. The captivating essays in Archipelagoes of My South: Episodes in the Shaping of a Region, 1830-1965 address this overarching and underlying narrative of Alabama politics and the history of the South. Highlighting events as significant as the role of social and economic conflict in the Southern secession movement, various aspects of Reconstruction, and the role of the Ku Klux Klan in the politics of the 1920s, Thornton draws from various points in the southern past in an effort to identify and understand the sources of the region's power. Moreover, each essay investigates its subject matter and peels back layers with an aim to clarify why the enormous diversity of the southern experience makes that power so great, all the while allowing the reader to see connections that would not otherwise be apparent. Archipelagoes of My South gathers together for the first time in one volume previously uncollected essays that cover the entire length and breadth of Thornton's career, ranging from one essay written while he was still in graduate school to one written only last year. The author's principal concerns have always been the arc of regional evolution and the significance of the local. Thus, the mechanisms of political and social change and the interrelationships across eras and generations are recurring themes in many of these essays. Even those who have spent their entire lives in the South may be unaware of the fractured layers of history that lie beneath the landscape they inhabit. For those southern residents who seek to comprehend more of their own past, this landmark compilation of essays on Alabama and southern history endeavors to provide illumination and enlightenment.
J. Mills Thornton III is the author of Dividing Lines: Municipal Politics and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma and Politics and Power in a Slave Society: Alabama, 1800-1860, which was awarded the John H. Dunning Prize by the American Historical Association in 1978. He is also a professor emeritus of history at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.