Ownby, who earned his B.A. from Vanderbilt, and M.A. and doctorate from Johns Hopkins University, is a co-editor of the forthcoming Mississippi Encyclopedia and co-editor of the volume on gender in The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. He is the author of two books, “Subduing Satan: Religion, Recreation, and Manhood in the Rural South, 1865-1920,” (University of North Carolina Press, 1990) and “American Dreams in Mississippi: Consumers, Poverty, and Culture, 1830-1998,” (University of North Carolina Press, 1999) and has edited collections of essays on the slavery, the role of ideas in the civil rights movement and manners in Southern history.
Ownby said he enjoys working with the wide range of people and activities at the center.
“I realized a long time ago that part of what attracts people to Southern studies is the freedom to be creative, through interdisciplinary scholarship or through connections between scholarship and the rest of the world,” Ownby said. “That freedom has brought the center people who have unique abilities. The center encourages new ideas, and our academic program draws majors and graduate students who are willing to have a unique degree. The students tend to be open-minded and have their own ideas about what an education should be, and our faculty and staff both respond to and help shape a lot of those ideas.”
Ownby said it is crucial that Southern studies keeps changing because it is not just about race or literature or music.
“Part of the excitement of this program is that the students change, academia certainly changes and the South itself keeps changing,” Ownby said. “Part of our job is to take the topics that bring people to Southern studies, study those topics well, and also to expand the range of things to study.”
Glenn Hopkins, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said Ownby is a perfect fit for the center.
“Ted Ownby has been a member of the faculty of the center for 20 years and is intimately familiar with all aspects of the center’s work,” Hopkins said. “This knowledge, along with his leadership and deep belief in the mission of the center, made him an obvious choice for director.”
To Ownby, being director means trying to be a partner with numerous ongoing projects, including Living Blues magazine, the Oxford Conference for the Book, the Southern Foodways Alliance, two encyclopedias and various documentary projects.
“I think that everything starts with teaching and academics,” Ownby said. “I want to keep building new partnerships inside and outside the university, and encourage center faculty, staff and friends to think of big, new ideas. The center has done some extraordinary and far-sighted things, and we need to keep looking ahead. I look forward to seeing what happens next.”
Beyond that, there is another reason Ownby continues after two decades at the university.
“Being at the center has been a way for me to be part of a pretty exciting set of projects and questions and possibilities. We study serious things, but it’s usually fun here,” he said.
For more information, visit the Center for the Study of Southern Culture .