Brooks Blevins has been the Noel Boyd Professor of Ozark Studies in the Department of History at Missouri State University in Springfield since 2008. But his roots lie just across the border.
“I still maintain an official residence in Arkansas, in the house my grandparents built on the farm in the early 1950s,” he says. “I found it very instructive to keep one foot in Arkansas and one in Missouri, one foot in the rural Ozarks and one in the largest city in the region.
“Like most college professors, my typical day varies widely, depending on whether classes are in session and what season of the year it is,” Blevins says. “This winter, my typical day starts two hours before sunrise with a 30-minute workout. Weather permitting, I do a 10-mile mountain bike ride at dawn, then my dad and I I’m usually in my writing shed at 9 a.m., where I spend the day writing, researching, working with my online class, and preparing for my in-person class. my schedule, I spend a day or two a week on the Springfield campus.
The author or editor of nearly a dozen history books, Blevins’ latest release, “A History of the Ozarks: Volume 3,” was recently published by the University of Illinois Press. He is currently working on “a few short draft articles – one on the Civil War and the other on the 1920s – and I am preparing a collection of essays to be published by the University of Arkansas Press in a year. I am also looking forward to diving into a book project on the history of migrant workers (apple cutters, cotton pickers, etc.) of the Ozarks in the 20th century.
“I don’t remember not being interested in the story,” Blevins muses. “I grew up on my family’s small farm in rural Izard County, surrounded by the farms and homes of many extended relatives. Stories of olden times and long-departed elders seemed to surround our lives. story of my native hills and to try to go beyond the myths and superstitions that dominated the representations of Ozarkers.”
Blevins took a few minutes to answer these questions about his work.
Q. Talk about how the series was born? What inspired it, how long have you been working on it, were they all published by University of Illinois Press?
A. I first came up with the idea for a complete history of the Ozarks in graduate school in the 90s, but quickly realized it was way too heavy for a doctoral dissertation. After finishing my book, “Ghost of the Ozarks,” in 2012, I decided to tackle this full story. I had originally planned a one-volume work, but I think I overdid it with the research and ended up with the unusual three-volume story – all published by the University of Illinois Press.
Q. What do you think surprised and delighted “lay” readers in the first two books? And what do you think will surprise and delight readers of this book?
A. The part of Volume 1 that generated the most comment was the section on Native Americans in the Ozarks, specifically the “immigrant Indians” who were pushed into the area from east of the Mississippi River and attempted to convincing the U.S. government to turn the Ozarks into a self-governing Indian-controlled nation in the 1820s. Needless to say, this did not happen, although the failure of the effort inspired the government to create a territory Indian in modern Oklahoma. I don’t think I received many “thrilled” comments on volume 2. Slavery and the Civil War era aren’t exactly fun reads. Probably the most common comment I receive on Volume 2 is disbelief and despair at the brutality of the Civil War in the Ozarks – and amazement that the violence continued so long after the war officially ended. in 1865. Re: volume 3, I think the story of the Ozark Jubilee TV show in Springfield will surprise and delight many people. Another crucial story is the stories of the rise of tourism in the region – particularly Branson – and the blossoming of northwest Arkansas in the late 20th and early 21st centuries into a major American commercial center. .
Q. Generally talk about the myth of the Ozarks versus the reality of the Ozarks? How has this affected the growth and development of the region positively and negatively? How does it change now?
A. Since at least the early 1900s, the dominant image of the Ozarks was a land of late-living hillbillies. It can be a positive or negative image, depending on who is telling. Folklorists, travel writers and regional propellants – people like Vance Randolph, Otto Ernest Rayburn and Marge Lyon – were primarily responsible for creating and perpetuating these stereotypes, which then influenced tourism, especially in a place like Branson. The image of backwardness also fueled the region’s emergence as a major supplier of folk music and other folk products in the years following World War II. But the images, whether positive or negative, also obscured the real lives of most Ozarkers for generations, since the stereotypes were based on a relatively small subset of the population, the rural, secondary kind of people. which fascinated Vance Randolph and others looking for an alternative to standard American history.
Q. What would you say to someone in Mongolia or the wilderness of Africa — or the wilderness of NYC — to describe the Ozarks?
A. Essentially, the history of the Ozarks is only a regional variation of American history. Our past has more in common with the general history of the United States than it differs. That doesn’t mean the Ozarks lack color or character — or that life in vast swathes of the Ozarks hasn’t lagged a generation behind mainstream American history for much of the last century. It just means that the Ozarks and Ozarkers have never been as exotic as claimed.
Q. Over the past 130 years, what events have been instrumental in shaping the Ozarks into what the region is today?
The popular novel by A. Harold Bell Wright, The Shepherd of the Hills, in many ways first introduced the region to the nation and the world. He also provided the initial impetus for Branson’s tourism industry, which obviously was another of the great stories of the last century. Few Ozarks stories have been more pivotal than the transformation of northwest Arkansas over the past half-century. Walmart, Tyson, JB Hunt and other major corporations have partnered with the U of A to make the area the richest and most vibrant part of the region, as well as the most racially and ethnically diverse . Ozarkers from other parts of the region will likely be surprised to read about the changes that have taken place in the Fayetteville-Bella Vista Corridor over the past few decades.
“A History of the Ozarks, Volume 3”
e-book at $14.95; $34.95 fabric
328 pages; 24 black & white photographs; 18 cards
Posted on 14/12/21
University of Illinois Press
This project is supported in part by a grant from the Humanities Council of Arkansas and the National Endowment for the Humanities.