James Cobb

James C. Cobb’s distinguished reputation as a Georgia writer rests upon an impressive career investigating the distinctive world of the American South. Cobb’s scholarly work has attracted the praise of academics and laymen both for his superb research, his provocative insight, and his characteristic wit and clarity.

The son of Joel Edward Cobb and Modena Alvina Vickery, James Charles Cobb grew up on “a one-tractor dirt farm” in Hart County, Georgia.[1] He attended public schools and majored in history at the University of Georgia at Athens (A.B., 1969). He briefly taught high school social studies in Loganville, Georgia, before returning to the state university to earn an M.A. (1972) and a Ph.D. in history (1975). His earliest professional publications grew out of his graduate scholarship under the direction of Numan V. Bartley, an eminent historian of post-World War II southern politics. Cobb’s analyses of Georgia’s 1938 U.S. Senate race and the civic and political dynamics preceding 1970 race riots in Augusta, Georgia, were Cobb’s first steps on track to a career that has included a dozen well-regarded books and more than fifty articles of historical research.

Cobb joined the University of Missisippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture in 1981 after teaching at the universities of Maryland (1975-77) and Northern Iowa (1977-80). At “Ole Miss” he published his first two books -- The Selling of the South: the Southern Crusade for Industrial Development, 1936-1980, and Industrialization and Southern Society, 1877-1984. Both were roundly praised as groundbreaking, compelling texts about Southern life in the 20th century.  

Respect for Cobb’s writing led to his being sought out as an editor as well, and in 1984 be was named co-editor of the annual review Perspectives on the American South. Cobb left Mississippi in 1987 for professorships at the universities of Alabama and Tennessee, where he also served on editorial boards of university presses. In 1989 and in 1991, he won the Southern Historical Association’s biennial Green-Ramsdell award for best Journal of Southern History article. In 1993, a year after he published his acclaimed history of the Mississippi Delta region, The Most Southern Place on Earth, and won the Mississippi Historical Society’s coveted McClemore Prize, Cobb was invited onto the editorial board of the Journal of Southern History.

In 1995 Cobb arranged and published The Mississippi Delta and The World, a previously “lost” narrative by 20th-century Missisippi writer David Cohn, and he was asked to join the editorial boards of Southern Cultures quarterly and Louisiana State University’s venerable “Southern Biography” series.  His native state asked Cobb to deliver the annual Georgia Humanities Council's keynote lecture in 1994, and when an updated version of the New Deal-era “American Guide” to Georgia appeared in 1996, Cobb’s contribution -- an overview of the state’s first 250 years told in Cobb’s own lively, personal voice -- was so well-received that publishers convinced him to expand his piece into a scholarly primer, which became Georgia Odyssey (1997). As popular among laymen as it was respected by academics, Georgia Odyssey quickly became the text from which Georgia history requirements would be generally taught at the state’s colleges and universities. An updated and expanded second edition was issued in 2008, and Georgia Odyssey was named as one of the Top 25 Books by Living Georgians by the Georgia Center for the Book.   

Elected president of the Southern Historical Association in 1997, in 1999 Cobb returned to the University of Georgia as the Spalding Distinguished Professor in the History of the American South. Accolades for Cobb's teaching and research continued, and he joined the editorial boards of The Georgia Review and Atlanta History. He also compiled a collection of recent essays, Redefining Southern Culture: Mind and Identity in the Modern South. In 2005 Cobb published two books: a compilation of lectures marking the fiftieth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision, and Away Down South: a History of Southern Identity. He won the Georgia Writers Association’s “Georgia Author of the Year” prize for history For The Brown Decision, Jim Crow, and Southern Identity, while Away Down South was named a History Book Club Selection and awarded the University of South Carolina’s Mary Lawton Hodges Prize for the year’s most distinguished book in southern studies. Meanwhile Cobb co-edited Globalization and the American South (2005), a book of essays from a conference that he had helped to organize in 2002. Named editor of the “Industry” section of the New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture in 2008, in 2010 Cobb published The South and America since World War II, a comprehensive history of the region’s politics, society, culture, religion, and economics since 1945.

In 2014 the Fellowship of Southern Writers honored Cobb’s writing career with its Franklin-Woodward prize for Distinguished Historical Writing. Cobb was awarded a Georgia Humanities Award in 2015, and the same year received an honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Washington and Lee University.

In 2016 Cobb retired from the University of Georgia and was elevated to emeritus professor. Cobb lives with his wife in Hartwell, Georgia. Currently completing a biography of historian C. Vann Woodward, he continues to lecture and write for academic and popular media, including a regular blog, Cobbloviate.

 [1] "Flagpole Favorites & Jim Cobb, Too." Flagpole. Retrieved March 24, 2020. https://flagpole.com/news/pub-notes/2013/01/23/flagpole-favorites-jim-cobb-too.


The following works written or edited by James Cobb are held by the UGA Special Collections Libraries:

The Selling of the South: The Southern Crusade for Industrial Development, 1936-1980. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982.

----- 2nd edition, Urbana : University of Illinois Press, 1993.

The New Deal and the South: Essays. (Co-editor) Jackson: University Press of Mississippi , 1984.

Industrialization and Southern Society, 1877-1984. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1984.

The Most Southern Place on Earth: The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity. NY: Oxford University Press 1992.

The Mississippi Delta and the World: The Memoirs of David L. Cohn. (Compiler/Editor) Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1995.

Georgia Odyssey. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997.

----- 2nd edition, 2008. Published as: Georgia Odyssey: A Short History of the State.

Redefining Southern Culture: Mind and Identity in the Modern South. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999.

Away Down South: A History of Southern Identity. NY: Oxford University Press, 2005.

The Brown Decision, Jim Crow, and Southern Identity. Athens:  University of Georgia Press, 2005.

Globalization and the American South. (Co-editor) Athens: University of Georgia Press 2005.

The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Volume 11: Agriculture and Industry. (Co-editor) Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.

The South and America since World War II.  NY: Oxford University Press, 2011.