Jeannie Whayne is a University Professor of history at the University of Arkansas and a past president of the Agricultural History Society. She is the author of two books including Delta Empire: Lee Wilson and the Transformation of Agriculture in the New South (2011), a social, economic, and environmental study of a plantation owned by a single family from 1846 to 2010 and the winner of the John G. Ragsdale Prize. She is the editor or a coauthor of nine other books, including The Ongoing Burden of Southern History: Politics and Identity in the Twenty-First-Century South (2012). Whayne has won numerous awards for her teaching and publications, including the Arkansas Historical Association's Lifetime Achievement Award. She is currently researching a book on Memphis, Tennessee, that examines the interaction between the city and its hinterlands in forging a regional cotton empire; she is also working on a National Endowment for the Humanities digitization proposal to map that connection. Her 2014 presidential address to the Agricultural History Society, "The Incidental Environmentalists: Dale Bumpers, George Templeton, and the Origins of the Rosen Alternative Pest Control Center at the University of Arkansas," examined a tradition of sustainable agriculture within the traditional agricultural bureaucracy of the late twentieth-century United States and the role of the center in promoting alternatives to agricultural chemicals. Also in 2014, she presented a paper at the World Congress on Environmental History that examined modern "portfolio plantations," or investor-owned agricultural land, placing this global development in the context of the new corporate colonialism and examining its environmental and cultural implications. She has also presented her work at the Southern Historical Association and the European Rural Studies Organization conferences.
Depictions of a desolate landscape abound in southern literature, particularly in William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (1930), Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road (1932), and, perhaps most famously, in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind (1936). Although the works by Faulkner and Caldwell have endured as classics in southern literature, Gone with the Wind has retained a greater public recognition even as its literary merit has been criticized and its historiography repudiated. Nevertheless, its place in the southern imaginary is secure, and scholars recognize its importance in sustaining the “lost cause” myth that continues to animate eager partisans of that point of view. One crucial bulwark of the myth is a rigid understanding of gender relations and, particularly, the purity and exalted status of southern white womanhood. Another is the image of slavery as a benign institution peopled by paternalistic masters and gently treated slaves. Gone with the Wind observes these conventions in parading across its pages southern belles and happy slaves. Slaves labored in the fields with little remonstrance and women like Scarlet O’Hara glided across broad green lawns unfettered by the worldly concerns of the men who adored her. Although neither the book nor the “acclaimed” movie that followed has a wide audience today, the movie, particularly, is revered by many and continues to promote a vision of a southern past that preserves arcane attitudes on race and gender.