Industry is pivotal in any society; it is defined by society but also serves to define the society itself. In the South, industry has always revolved in large part around agriculture, including its production, processing, and distribution. The ongoing success of Southern agriculture has served as a constant binding force amidst the always-changing Southern culture. The agriculture industry defined eighteenth and nineteenth century Southern culture, which was characterized by white-owned and slave-operated, cotton, tobacco, and sugar plantations, and continued as a strong Southern identifier even after the shift from this agrarian “Old South” to the industrialized “New South.” That is not to say that Southern agriculture has not seen much change itself; the industrialization of the South brought with it much improvement and mechanization of the agricultural industry. We invite you to examine the evolution of Southern agriculture sonically. Developments in technology and society are marked by audible shifts in the entire process of agricultural production. The sounds reveal a transformation that defines the Southern industrial story.
In the agrarian South, water-powered grist mills were an essential part of life. Most local communities had at least one mill where nearby farmers could bring their own grain and receive back ground cornmeal, a staple of the Southern diet. These localized mills reflected a time period in which independent and self-sustaining attitudes characterized the Southern United States. The sloshing of water, and the hissing of grain characterize the hardworking nature of Southern agriculture.
Though pine trees are not exclusive to Southern America, they have been a persistent sound in much of the literature we have read in this class. In many cases, the simple rain-like sound of pine straw flowing in the wind or falling from the trees serves as both a relaxing and recurring sonic experience. For example, Jean Toomer’s Cane poetically weaves the sound of falling pine needles into his work and establishes the sound as a sonic icon of the Southern culture depicted in his novel. The simplicity of this sound is further purified by its static nature over time; the sound has not changed over the course of Southern history and thus serves as a grounding sonic experience in the overall story of the South.
Sugarcane was brought to American by Christopher Columbus during his second voyage to the new world, after which sugarcane plantations motivated large-scale migration to the Americas. In the agrarian “Old South,” many plantations harvested sugarcane using slave labor, further weaving the importance of sugarcane harvesting into the complex history of the South. What originated as a manual process done by slaves has evolved into an electronic procedure that exponentially increases the amount of sugarcane that can be harvested. The shift to industrial methods in sugarcane harvesting is marked by a similar sonic shift from the steady manual chopping of sugarcane to the mechanical buzzing of industrial machines.
Though the concept of a lumber-cutting mechanism is attributed to 3rd century Roman invention, saw mills have migrated and evolved over the years since then and have found a true home in the South. The technology of saw mills has been pivotal since the first colonies relied on their production to fuel pioneer life. At this time, saw mills were not industrialized and far from efficient, yet they still made lumber production a thriving industry, primarily in the North. When natural resources began to deplete in the North in the early 1900s, lumber production shifted to the South and saw much improvement in both technology and efficiency. This development continued as the industry gained ground in the South. What originated as manual ax-cutting has since been transformed into the work of industrial mechanical machines that cover a vaster landscape while requiring less physical labor. Just as the dynamic of the saw mill has changed over time, so too have the sounds associated with the machine. The repetitious sound of manual lumber cutting has been replaced by the high powered shrill of today’s saw mills, providing a sonic lens with which to experience the evolution of lumber agriculture in the history of the South.
The South has always been a region dominated by agriculture. Long ago, farmers relied upon mule-pulled plows to turn acres of soil, so that crops like tobacco, cotton, and corn could be grown. Farming was a way of life, supporting families with both food and money. Many years later, the invention of a combustible engine gave farmers a new and more efficient way to seed their crops. The iconic sputter and rattle of a diesel tractor is unmistakably associated with farming and while the methods changed over the years, the underlying principles remain constant. We still depend on farmers to grow our food.
Agriculture has always been closely linked to Southern culture. Traveling through southern states, one becomes immersed in the sounds of animals and harvest. This recording captures the bizarrely cacophonous squawking of chickens in the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. About six or seven chickens living in a small enclosed pen contributed to a litany of sharp squawks. Chickens were a particularly valuable resource to Southern landowners as they offered an inexpensive and easily cultivated source of protein and animal products. Over time these became virtually ubiquitous and would be a part of almost any southern territory. Such a sound has changed little over the course of Southern history, as keeping chickens has remained an important stream of income for families and businesses alike.
Street vendors constituted a significant part of Southern culture. A city soundscape would typically include a variety of highly audible cries to alert passerbys of a vendor’s products. Simple tunes and shouts served as a quite primitive form of advertising. In this item, HW Stuckey, a blind Reverend and WPA instructor to the blind performs a fish vendor’s tune from his home in South Carolina. The lyrics include references to the St. John’s River to imply freshness and high quality. Songs such as these are a typical sliver of Southern urban soundscapes. With developments in urban landscapes and digital media, merchants have employed dramatically new methods of advertising. Automobiles and construction sites have raised the general sound level of cities to make it quite implausible to vocally advertise. Together with new possibilities offered by TV and Internet advertising, it is now quite rare to hear a vendor verbally marketing a product in the streets. The cries of this salesman offer a unique glimpse into the past of Southern agriculture.
Field hollers were a brand of African-American music closely linked to spirituals. They were a hybrid of spoken word and song, often performed by slaves across long distances to worship and pass the time. In this item, HW Stuckey performs a popular field holler called Have You Ever Seen a Monkey from his hometown in South Carolina. It is marked by a slow tempo and dragged-out enunciation. The lyrics come off as nonsensical, even childlike, recounting a monkey’s attempt to race a train. Hollers such as these are believed to be one of the precursors to Blue music, often sung with deeply emotional rhythm and lyrics. Listening to these hollers, one can palpably experience the suffering of subjugated African-Americans searching for emotional outlet in the amidst great hardship. With the end of slavery and the increasing mechanization of agricultural work, field hollers such as these have become something of a Southern artifact. However, its spirit is still present in genres of music such as Blues and Jazz.
Corn is a staple crop in Southern households, whether consumed in the form of ground grits, boiled ears, or even air-popped kernnels. The process of shucking ears of corn, in a familial setting, is often relaxed and welcoming with members sitting in a circle as they rip the husks and silks off of the vegetable. This sound is representative of the South as it encompasses the intimate moment of spending time with family while preparing a meal together.
The state of Georgia is known for the three P's: Peaches, pecans, and peanuts. Aside from being a major source of revenue for this southern state, peanuts have made their way into the hearts and homes of many. Whether they're boiled, roasted or in butter form, peanut products are a staple in Georgia homes. The sound heard in this audio clip not only captures the all-familiar crackle of roasted peanuts, but the intimacy surrounding the group task that is shelling these legumes.
America’s export economy during the pre-Civil War era was largely dominated by Southern staples -- cotton being the primary export. Southern capitalist, unlike the industrialist of the North, saw value in richly investing in cotton. Interest in cotton plantations created the need for field laborers -- slaves. Black people were forced to labor in fields and endure harsh living conditions in order to promote the prosperity of white individuals, whose desire for wealth distorted their ability to distinguish between right and wrong. The discussion of the relationship between the Southern Agriculture and enslaved people is thematic to our course where we have juxtaposed the lives of slaves to those of their owners. In modern times, although the methods of cotton harvesting have transformed (no longer handpicked by slaves but by machines operated by farmers), cotton remains an important agricultural staple to the Southern economy.
Historically tobacco has been one of the United States most valuable agricultural exports; before the 1960s the US was the largest producer and exporter of tobacco in the world. Traditionally tobacco harvesting was a laborious processes (took nearly four months to complete), where both the cutting and curing of the plant was performed by hand before being sent to a tobacco warehouse. The manual approach to tobacco harvesting results in a unique chopping sound distinct to the early years of the process.
The mechanization of tobacco harvesting became prominent in the South during the mid-twentieth century. The shift from manual to mechanical harvesting made the processes more efficient, as well as increased output. Mechanization transformed the sounds associated with agriculture; a rhythmic slashing of individual crops was replaced by a roar of engines grazing tobacco fields.
Although railroads are commonly associated with the North, 35% of the nation's train tracks were located in the South following the Civil War. In the nineteenth century trains were and to a lesser degree still exist as a vital source of transportation for industrial goods between the Northern and Southern regions of the country. Today the sound of trains passing is a common sonic experience for many people living the South. Like a church bell ringing at the hour, the sound of the local train whistling as it passes becomes a familiar and customary sound in the South. The particular sounds characteristic to industrial trains have remained relatively constant since the creation of locomotives in 1830.
While today's modern industry is centuries beyond the art of hand harvesting tobacco and chopping down trees, the older methods were essential to the beginnings of early indsutry. With expansive plantations and large plots of land, the south became known for agricultural industry. A specific aspect of southern culture that still exists today is the timber industry. Modern technology allows for better more efficient timber industries but in the times before the Industrial revolution, the simple act of chopping wood had to be sufficient. Most often back through these early years of industry, slaves were responsible for completing these agricultural tasks. In this audio clip, we hear an axe splitting logs of wood as they would do in the early times.
This recording captures the sound of one of the most popular and versatile power tools: the jig saw. This distinct sound represents, in many ways, the effect that industrialization and modernization have had on southern agriculture. The gentle rhythm of a traditional handsaw, replaced by the roaring vibrations of a motorized saw embody the transition to a more mechanized and fast-paced style of farming that was necessary to meet the growing needs of a larger population.