Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in English

First Advisor

Jay D. Watson

Second Advisor

Annette Trefzer

Third Advisor

Jodi Skipper


University of Mississippi

Relational Format



This dissertation proposes a critical and material reappraisal of Southern land, by examining the relationship between soil and 20th century black modernity in the United States. Interacting with theories of black modernism laid out by scholars such as Houston A. Baker, as well as recent texts which examine the relationship between African Americans and the natural world, including Kimberly Smith's African American Environmental Thought: Foundations (2007) and Monica M. White’s Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement (2018), On Southern Soil considers the complex relationship between agriculture and the pursuit of African American citizenship in the first half of the twentieth century. This project explores how soil might function as a material medium for black social and political re-enfranchisement, through notions including democratic agrarianism and the creatively agentic powers of land possession and earthly stewardship. Analyzing works by Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, and William Faulkner, On Southern Soil revisits the history and literature surrounding regional topographies of African American experience, using soil as a central matrix through which to view the Southern landscape. Re-evaluating race relations from 1895-1950, and drawing attention to the transformative powers of capitalism as it is expressed through this organic matter, this project suggests that art and agriculture frequently comingle in the material transformations of soil, to enable a powerful united force in overcoming racial oppression, demonstrating the wide-ranging contributions that African Americans have made in the founding of America and the pursuit of their own modernity.

Available for download on Wednesday, August 31, 2022