Last night I came upon a unique TV documentary called “Southern Belle“. It is about an unusual summer camp for young women where they recreate life in the Antebellum South.
In the words of the filmmakers:
“Every summer, young women from around the world eagerly sign up to become that iconic and romantic image of southern identity: the Southern Belle, replete with hoop skirt, hat, and gloves, singing the region’s anthem, Dixie. The camp is held at a historic headmaster’s home in what was originally a four-year college for young women from 1850-1920. Never before have cameras been allowed to closely shadow the students and teachers during this intensive week of historical reenactment.”
The documentary was shown on the eve of the 150th year anniversary of the Civil War. In June of 1961, Tennessee seceded from the Union (but not on the first vote).
At first, it seemed like it would be a light-hearted documentary where girls would dress-up and learn manners, but it turned out to be so much more.
I continued to watch it because I was raised in the North (Ohio) and I wanted to know more about the South – my new home. I was surprised to find that I was hearing things I was surprised to hear – things I did not remember learning in school in Ohio.
It was fascinating because it gave me the chance to learn more about “southern” thinking and ways – both historically in the past and today in how “history” is being taught. It made me want to research it further.
If you go to the documentary’s website, there are additional videos that try to explain many of the questions I had. The filmmakers perhaps sum it up best when they say:
“Southern Belle is a story about how people use history to create their personal identity and to shape their values and guiding ideology. On the eve of the 150th year anniversary of the Civil War, Southern Belle documents the divisive historical memory of an American subculture and challenges viewers to consider how a romantic portrayal of the past affects current attitudes on the race, gender, and class issues that continue to define and divide America today.”
I highly recommend that you watch it.