Dixie: What's in a Name?

Atlanta, GA

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Hutchison is currently at work on a biography of the song "Dixie." This work tells the story of how a song gave a region a nickname, and how that nickname helped to shape the region’s cultural identity. Within weeks of its first performance on Broadway in 1859, “Dixie’s” problematic image of African American longing for the plantation south—“I wish I was in de land ob cotton”—became a metonymy for the region as a whole.

One hundred and fifty years later, the song and its sobriquet continue to shape how people think about the U.S. South, functioning variously as a shorthand for regional pride, racism, folk tradition, and backwardness. In the twenty-first century the word “Dixie” helps to sell everything from beer to medical supplies, from baby strollers to mortuary services. In limning the complex interplay among song, word, and place, Hutchison combines onomastics, philology, performance studies, and cultural biography to make an argument about the cultural power of this five-letter word. He also puts in conversation important interpretations of the song (e.g., those by Langston Hughes, anti-Civil Rights protestors, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and Réne Marie) and significant appropriations of the word (e.g., those of early New Orleans jazz musicians and the States’ Rights Democratic Party, or “Dixiecrats”).

Hutchison is an associate professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin, where he teaches courses in nineteenth-century U.S. literature and culture, bibliography and textual studies, and poetry and poetics. He is the author of Apples and Ashes: Literature, Nationalism, and the Confederate States of America (Georgia, 2012), which offers the first literary history of the Civil War South. His essays have appeared in American Literary History, Comparative American Studies, The Emily Dickinson Journal, and PMLA, among other venues. He is also editing the Cambridge History of American Civil War Literature.