Recognized since its publication in 1926 as a watershed in American historiography, Craven's study of soil depletion in Virginia and Maryland links elements of Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier thesis, causal aspects of the expansion of slavery, and the economics of staple-crop production into a unified view of southern history from the colonial era to the onset of the Civil War. Using Maryland and Virginia as a case study, Craven assesses the abusive relationship between southern planters and their most valuable and abundant resource - the land - to posit that soil depletion and other ruinous agricultural practices contributed to the economic crisis faced by mid-nineteenth-century America. In his introduction to this edition, Ferleger sets Craven's first publication in its historical context and offers an appreciation of the historian's life and contributions to the field of southern history.
Avery Odelle Craven (1885-1980) was a Harvard-trained historian of the American South most noted for his revisionist views that the Civil War was an avoidable conflict. Louis A. Ferleger is a professor of history at Boston University and executive director of the Historical Society. He is coeditor of Slavery, Secession, and Southern History.