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The University of North Carolina Press
Constructing Townscapes: Space and Society in Antebellum Tennessee / Edition 1

Constructing Townscapes: Space and Society in Antebellum Tennessee / Edition 1

by Lisa C. Tolbert


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The antebellum South has been drawn largely as a map of contrasting extremes—a vast agrarian landscape punctuated by a few major cities. Small towns have either been viewed as sleepy villages that reflected the countryside or dismissed as urban microcosms. In Constructing Townscapes, however, the small town emerges from obscurity to reveal its distinctive and influential role in the southern landscape.
Using existing architectural evidence as well as photographs, maps, diaries, letters, and newspapers, Lisa Tolbert shows how residents of four county seats in antebellum Middle Tennessee rebuilt and reorganized their towns in response to changing social and economic circumstances. She also illuminates the ways in which three seemingly powerless groups—women, young men, and slaves—influenced the arrangement of town space, vividly retracing the footsteps of members of these groups as they traveled town streets to perform their daily routines.
Through careful analysis of the relationships between the material and social contexts of town life, Tolbert shows that small towns, whose stories have usually been considered incidental to the course of southern history, should actually be understood as important components of antebellum southern culture.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807847688
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 03/15/1999
Edition description: 1
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 510,963
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Lisa C. Tolbert, who grew up in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, teaches American cultural history at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Tolbert offers a perspective on an altogether new element in southern history, the life of the town. The arguments she makes regarding the importance of space, sense of place, landscape ideals, and their relevance to daily life in the towns of Middle Tennessee are persuasive and deftly presented.—John Michael Vlach, author of Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery

Tolbert explores issues of work, family, and disorder . . . presenting a facet of antebellum slavery rarely seen in the historical literature.—Journal of the Early Republic

Addressing a topic which has so frequently sifted into the interstices of antebellum American history and landscape studies, Tolbert has crafted in Constructing Townscapes a work of remarkable originality and importance. From her skillful and copious use of sources as varied as diaries, maps, buildings, and court records, Tolbert has recovered in three complex dimensions the particular functions and meanings of the small southern town. In adept ways she draws her readers through a thoughtfully researched and convincingly argued set of points. Beginning with the assertion that a small town is neither a knotted bit of rural life nor a stultified city, Tolbert advances her analysis through discussions of physical place-making toward subtle and compassionate attempts to account for the small-town experience of residents empowered or confined by their different races, ages, and genders. Constructing Townscapes represents the best in interdisciplinary scholarship; Tolbert has shared with us an appealing and accessibly written study of real significance and lasting value.—Camille Wells, University of Virginia

Constructing Townscapes is an eminently readable volume that should be required for any history, architecture, landscape, cultural geography and archaeology class.—Vernacular Architecture Newsletter

A thoughtful and interesting book that enhances our understanding of the antebellum era in the South and of the dynamics of small town life.—Journal of Southern History

Represents a vigorous challenge to the somewhat more rigid parameters of quantitative history that is sometimes employed in urban studies. The fact that antebellum towns possessed fluid borders has been acknowledged by many. However, Lisa Tolbert's interdisciplinary approach demonstrates the potential of looking beyond the census returns and examining spatial and architectural change as a creative means to uncover the mysteries of small towns in the Old South.—Southern Historian

Fascinating. . . . Constructing Townscapes will surely become a model for future students of the American cultural landscape.—Journal of American History

This book not only broadens our understanding of the history of the antebellum townscape but also erects a guidepost on our path to a more integrative study of the built environment."-Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians

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