Ethnicity [Vol. 6 of the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, ed. Charles Reagan Wilson]. Edited by Celeste Ray. (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2007. Pp. xviii, 276. $33.95.)
The original, one-volume Encyclopedia of Southern Culture  garnered much well-deserved praise. Celeste Ray's Ethnicity is the sixth volume of the second edition of what will eventually be a twenty-four volume work. Ray's book replaces the "Ethnic Life" section of the older work, and should go far to winning the New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture as many laurels as its predecessor.
Ray's work is a significant expansion and reworking of "Ethnic Life." The old version included a total of thirty brief entries on specific ethnic groups preceded by a bit under twenty pages of introductory material. Ethnicity covers eighty-eight ethnicities, placed in context by nearly one hundred pages of introduction. Moreover, as the editor notes, she has maintained few of the original entries, and even those that survived have been updated. Just as important, the contributors reflect current understandings of ethnicity as a construct.
Ray and her contributors have produced a work that is far more multicultural than its predecessor. The 1989 edition focused on Native Americans and "white" ethnicities. Only one entry addressed Asians. None examined African peoples. Ray has largely filled in these holes in coverage and improved what were already strong points, rendering the work more useful to scholars and more relevant to general audiences.
Of course, no work is without flaws. Ethnicity is lacking in a few areas. For example, its multicultural approach has led to some unintentional distortions of the Southern past. In the praiseworthy effort to be inclusive, the profound and foundational impact of early English settlers receives approximately the same attention as does the recent influx of Laotian Hmong. This might strike some readers as a bit odd.
At the other end of the spectrum, the treatment of some peoples remains surprisingly sparse. For example, though Gwendolyn Midlo Hall contributes a valuable section on African ethnicities to the introductory material, African peoples garner little attention in the body of the work. Only the Igbo and Yoruba have their own entries. Groups who arrived in larger numbers, such as inhabitants of the Kingdom of the Kongo, did not find a place in Ethnicity. The same was true of some people who were small in number but had a disproportionate cultural impact, as did the Fon-Ewe in the Mississippi Valley. Perhaps these apparent gaps in coverage will be remedied in a later volume, however.
Any serious student of Southern history will want access to the New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Ray's work promises to be among its most commonly referenced volumes. It may not be perfect, but it is certainly important.
Jeffrey E. Anderson
University of Louisiana, Monroe
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|Author:||Anderson, Jeffrey E.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2009|
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