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A Cultural Approach to the Study of the History of Alabama

One of the ways a study of history can make sense to young people is through using a cultural approach. This method was pioneered by the late Auburn University history professor O.T. Ivey. Professor Ivey’s cultural approach centers on the six divisions of man’s activities:

Economic: The Market. To provide physical sustenance for the individual and the group.
Social: The Home. To support the family and provide continuity of the race.
Political: The State. To provide security for the individual and the group.
Intellectual: The School. To discover and disseminate truth.
Religious: The Church. To know God.
Aesthetic: Art Museums, Opera, etc. To create and appreciate beauty.*
*[Drawn from Oliver Turner Ivey, A Cultural Approach to the Study of History (Auburn, Alabama: Auburn University Duplicating, 1963), p. 19.]

The following is an example of a cultural approach to 19th-century pre-Civil War Alabama using Professor Ivey’s Six Faces of History.

Economic: Man must provide physical sustenance for himself and for his family. In the 19th century in Alabama agriculture was the main economic activity for the state’s people. There were two main kinds of agriculture: commercial (growing cotton for market) and subsistence (providing food for the family and cotton for home-spun clothing). Agriculture also included cattle and hog production for commercial and family use. In addition there was river commerce and town merchants. Although men were the ones primarily engaged in agriculture, women helped, and there were many examples of widows and single women who operated farms and plantations with the help of sons and/or slaves.

Social: The family structure in 19th-century Alabama was patriarchal. Men controlled their wives and children. The property of married women was controlled by their husbands. The existence of a system of slave labor, which weakened the market for hired labor (although slaves were often hired out by their owners), and the biracial society it produced had an impact on all social structures and influenced social patterns. Children of mixed blood followed the status of their mother. The state made manumission of slaves difficult.

Political: State government is composed of a governor (elected for a term of two years until the Constitution of 1901), a two-house legislature, and a court system. Women were not allowed to vote in 19th-century Alabama nor could they serve on juries until the middle of the 20th century. Slave codes were necessary to protect the institution of slavery and secure slave property.

Intellectual: Congress granted (in the enabling act that created Alabama) to the people of the state land to support schools. The 16th section in every township was donated to support schools and two townships were granted to support a “seminary of learning” (what became the University of Alabama). Grammar schools in Alabama were mostly small private academies that operated with some local support. In 1854 the state created a public school system but failed to provide adequate funding for it.

Religious: The first church in Alabama was a Catholic church in Mobile. Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal churches were founded in the early years of statehood. On the frontier of Alabama, camp meetings and revivals were important religious as well as social events. Baptists used bi-vocational ministers called to preach. Methodist ministers were often those called and were circuit-riding preachers who served several churches. Presbyterian and Episcopal ministers had to be ordained and educated at seminary.

Aesthetics: There were no museums on the frontier of early Alabama, but Alabamians found ways to express their creativity. The way they constructed their homes, sewed their clothes, pieced their quilts, entertained themselves with music, and transplanted wild flowers to their gardens reflected an aesthetic value.

All of these activities of people interact with and influence each other. Professor Ivey was often asked which of the activities of mankind was the most significant. He answered this way:

"When considering the culture of man and his diversified activities, the question is frequently raised as to which of these activities is most important. There probably is not a good answer to this question, but for purposes of further analysis let us concede that the basic requirements for man’s existence consist of food, clothing and shelter. All of these are contained in the economic area, but since man had to be born in order to be able to eat, the social area must be included. It must be admitted that man could survive at this level but for a more satisfactory civilization other activities are necessary. We then add the political, the intellectual and the religious. Why stop here? No music? No pictures? No poetry? No sculpture? No striving for perfection? Man does not eat these things but it has been wisely said: 'Man does not live by bread alone.' Hence the study of the esthetic, in order that our study may be complete.” (Ivey, A Cultural Approach, p. 37.)