We probably don’t give much thought to the cotton that makes up our t-shirts and blue jeans. But the threads of the fabric are also woven with history, culture and the economy of the Southern states.
The University of South Carolina will launch a year-long series Thursday that will explore the story of cotton. The series kicks off with a 6 p.m. lecture by Harvard University scholar Sven Beckert, author of the book “Empire of Cotton: The Global Origins of Modern Capitalism.”
Cotton is central to shaping the position of the United States as a leader in the global economy and was key to the development of modern capitalism in the South. Of course, the history of the cotton crop runs parallel to American slavery, the Civil War and the subsequent expansion of the South.
Beckert’s lecture will be the first of a monthly “Year of Cotton” series. Subsequent lectures, films and exhibits will focus on cotton’s place in history, photography, literature, film, sociology and economics.
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Each talk will explore how cotton has shaped and continues to shape the lives of Southerners and the history of Southern culture.
Organizers hope the the “Year of Cotton” series will evolve into an annual offering, with each year centered on a different topic central to Southern culture.
Robert Brinkmeyer, director of the Institute for Southern Studies, said he chose cotton as the inaugural theme for the series because of its rich and complicated history.
“We all love the threads of cotton that make our clothes comfortable, but there’s another way to think of the work done by cotton’s threads: as a complicated web stitching together the rich and diverse culture of the American South,” Brinkmeyer said in a statement.
Beckert’s talk is sponsored in part by the Department of History and History Center in the university’s College of Arts and Sciences.
The series, presented by the university’s Institute for Southern Studies, is free and open to the public, and will be held in the Booker T. Washington Auditorium, 1400 Wheat St. in downtown Columbia.
Upcoming segments in the cotton series include: ‘
“Burying King Cotton: Environment and Culture in the Post-Cotton South,” a talk by James Giesen, associate professor of history at Mississippi State University; 6 p.m. Oct. 15. Location to be announced.
“‘Nothin’ but de Cotton:’ Enslaved Life and Labor in the Deep South,” a lecture by Daina Ramey Berry, associate professor of history at the University of Texas-Austin; 6 p.m. Nov. 5. Location to be announced.
Cotton Road: A Supply Chain Journey: A documentary byLaura Kissel, associate professor of media arts at USC; 6 p.m. Dec. 1. Location to be announced.
Bridget Winston, Special to The State