Ted Ownby on the Resonance of the Charles Wilson Grad Student Support Fund
I encourage you to make a donation to the Charles Reagan Wilson Graduate Student Support Fund. The fund will support research projects for University of Mississippi students studying the American South. Charles Wilson taught History Department graduate students who teach all over the country. In fact, he taught several students who became professors and sent us their own students. He taught hundreds of undergraduates in classes on Southern Studies, Southern History, and Southern Religion. Charles Wilson taught so many Southern Studies graduate students that the Center for the Study of Southern Culture named Room 109, the room where we conduct thesis defenses, the Charles Reagan Wilson Room.
Scholarship. As coeditor (with William Ferris) of the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture and as general editor of the 24-volume New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Charles Reagan Wilson was involved in expanding the study of the American South to as many groups, as many experiences, and as many scholarly questions as possible, all the while setting high standards for scholarship and prose. His first book Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920 was the first scholarly study of its topic. The study of religion became central to Wilson’s research and teaching, and he worked to show connections between the history of religion and subjects ranging from monuments to politics to literature and music, to visual arts and kitschy souvenirs. Wilson’s essay collections, Judgment and Grace in Dixie and Flashes of a Southern Spirit, are insightful works on religion, creativity, and a range of crucial and often surprising topics, and they reveal a South of diverse opinions, experiences, and understandings about the past, present, and future.
Reading. Charles Wilson also set standards for reading and learning for scholarship in many disciplines. Part of his job as encyclopedia editor and editor of the University of North Carolina Press series on New Approaches in Southern Studies was to know who was working on new scholarship. So, he is always reading works not just in his field of history but in literary scholarship, in American Studies, in social science scholarship, and beyond. When some colleagues proposed that we teach a class for undergraduates on interdisciplinary methods, Charles was the first one to teach it. He shows how we can learn in multiple ways and how we can find inspiration inside and far outside academic disciplines.
Teaching. Just as Charles Wilson set high standards for imaginative scholarship and broad thinking, he set standards for good teaching. Charles taught me the significance of listening to students as they discuss their interests, helping them formulate plans about how to reach where they are wanting to go, and setting standards for good research. He has high expectations for careful thinking and clear writing all the while encouraging innovative approaches. It can be easy for faculty members to decide what defines good scholarship and to tell students to go do it. It is harder but far more rewarding to work together with students who want to figure it out themselves, who want high standards rather than rigid rules, and who may or may not want to fit within existing disciplines.
When Charles likes something—a book, an article, an idea, an anecdote—he often says it resonates. Thanks for helping students develop their own resonating ideas.
Professor, History and Southern Studies
Director, Center for the Study of Southern Culture