tags: Top Young Historians
Joseph Crespino, 35
Teaching Position: Assistant Professor, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia 2003-present
Area of Research: Political culture of twentieth century America, in particular, the American South in the second half of the century.
Education: Ph.D., Department of History, Stanford University, 2002
Major Publications: Crespino is the author of In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution, (Princeton University Press, 2007). He is currently working on The End of Southern History? (edited with Matthew Lassiter). An edited collection of essays by a range of modern American historians that seeks to integrate the histories of the modern South and the nation. He is also working on the manuscript American Kulturkampf: Private Schools and Modern ConservatismThis book will examine conflicts over private school education since the Brown decision as a way of framing a broad and diverse set of debates over race, religion and citizenship in modern America.
Crespino is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including among others: "Civil Rights Versus the Religious Right: Desegregation, Christians Schools, and Religious Freedom in the 1970s" in Julian Zelizer and Bruce Schulman, eds., Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s, (Harvard University Press, Spring 2008); "Civility and Civil Rights In Mississippi," in Ted Ownby, ed., Manners and Southern History, (University Press of Mississippi, 2007); "The Best Defense Is A Good Offense: The Stennis Amendment and the Fracturing of Liberal School Desegregation Policy, 1964-1972," The Journal of Policy History 18, no. 3 (2006): 304-25; "The Strange Career of Atticus Finch," Southern Cultures 6, no. 2 (Summer 2000): 9-29 "Ronald Reagan's South: The Tangled Roots of Modern Southern Conservatism," in Vincent Cannato and Gil Troy, eds., The 1980s: Gilded Age or Golden Age (forthcoming, Oxford University Press). He is also working on the book chapter "Mississippi as Metaphor: State, Region and Nation in the Historical Imagination," in Joseph Crespino and Matthew Lassiter, eds., The End of Southern History?.
Awards: Crespino is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
National Academy of Education/ Spencer Foundation 2006-2007;
Postdoctoral Fellowship J.N.G. Finley Postdoctoral Fellow in American History, 2002-2003 George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia;
Dissertation Award, Jepson School of Leadership Studies, 2003 Richmond University;
Dissertation Fellowship, Miller Center of Public Affairs, 2001-2002 University of Virginia;
Theodore C. Sorenson Research Fellowship, 2001 John F. Kennedy Library Foundation;
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Dissertation Fellowship, 2000-2001 Stanford University;
Research grant, Lyndon B. Johnson Foundation 2000;
Stanford University Department of History Full Fellowship 1996-2000;
S.T.A.R. Teacher Award, Mississippi Economic Council, 1996 Gentry High School;
Phi Beta Kappa, Northwestern University 1994.
Crespin's reviews or editorials have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post Book World, Commonweal, and also the Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Miss.).
He was formerly Social Studies Teacher, Gentry High School, Indianola 1994-1996, School District, Indianola, Mississippi.
It's a bit of a cliché I know, but my first book had a lot to do with where I grew up.
I'm from a tiny town in Mississippi, where my mother's side of the family has lived since the 1830s. It was a place where the vestiges of Jim Crow segregation were very real. Local politics were intensely divided along racial lines. All the white children in the area attended a white-flight private academy. In a town where over sixty percent of the population was African American, I had incredibly little contact with black folks-at least African American children my age. Pickup basketball games in my driveway that happened to include a few black kids who wandered by were enough for neighbors to complain to my mother.
I was lucky to be able to attend high school and college outside of Mississippi, where I gained perspective on the unique aspects of my hometown and my childhood. My undergraduate years were critical in leading me to study history. I had great teachers who inspired me, but the most important experience came outside of the classroom. I went to Northwestern, where I got involved in a community organizing project in the Henry Horner Homes in Chicago. There I met so many residents who were part of the historic migration of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North. Volunteering in the Henry Horner Homes and seeing the intense poverty of residents and the neighborhood segregation in Chicago cast my childhood experiences in a new light.
I had always thought that the isolation, distrust and misunderstanding between blacks and whites in my hometown was part of Mississippi's unique history. What I came to realize, of course, was that my own experience was just one part of a larger story.
That realization shaped the approach I took in my first book, which examines segregationist politics in Mississippi. Too often histories of civil rights struggles in the South treat white southerners as exceptional from other white Americans; their racism is seen as being different in both kind and degree from that of other white Americans. My personal experience and my research both confirmed and contradicted these accounts.
Certainly there were differences in the racism of whites in Mississippi and Chicago. Those Henry Horner residents who fled Jim Crow towns in Mississippi knew that better than anyone. And Mississippi really was the "belly of the beast" for civil rights activists who had the courage to confront the racial authoritarianism that existed in my home state.
Yet it is easy to overstate the differences between white Mississippians and other white Americans in a way that warps our understanding of racism in modern America. This is true in many different ways, but an important one is this: emphasizing the uniqueness of southern racism obscures how white southerners were able to reframe their opposition to the civil rights movement in ways that resonated with white Americans in other parts of the country.
That's the heart of my first book-how white Mississippians contributed to a modern conservative countermovement against the historic changes of the 1960s. It's a subject I learned a lot about in college and graduate school, but the most basic lesson I discovered in my own journey from Mississippi to Chicago.
By Joseph Crespino
About Joseph Crespino
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