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New podcast streams perspectives on the South

A new podcast from the University of the South Carolina wants to change how you think about the U.S. South. 

Take on the South begins and ends with catchy, fast-paced fiddles that eventually meld with a more modern score complete with a squealing electric guitar. Between the intro and outro music, listeners hear a conversation between scholars taking on subjects as diverse as wrestling, politics, dance, poetry, transgender activism and more, challenging stereotypes about what the South is like. 

“We’re trying to broaden what people think when they think of the South,” says Mark Smith, director of the Institute for Southern Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences. In other words, “Your take on the South might be complicated by having taken on the South.” 

Smith says the podcast grew out of his desire to more effectively share research from the Institute for Southern Studies with the public. 

“The Institute for Southern Studies has some pretty brilliant people coming through. We create a great deal of useful information,” he says. “All these wonderful ideas that we generate need to be populated in the public realm.” 

Public talks and publications didn’t always have enough reach to make a large impact. 

“I wanted something more systematic and more regular to reach a broader audience," Smith says. "It seemed to me that a podcast was the best way to take what happens internally, taking the best of that, and making it public.” 

Take on the South  launched in September. Hosts have included Smith as well as Matt Simmons, assistant director of the institute, and Jennifer Gunter, director of the Collaborative on Race and an instructor of several Southern Studies courses. Guests have included UofSC faculty and graduate students as well as faculty from other universities. 

Dave Garner, a professor in the School of Music, composed the theme music, and Kaye Hayes, the communications coordinator for the College of Arts and Sciences, created the podcast art. 

“My goal with and for the podcast is that it will help folks to grapple with the many layers of the ‘South’ and to question who and what can claim ‘southernness,’” Gunter says. “I also think it’s important to highlight the work — academic, activist, artistic — being done by southerners to interrogate the region and its continued reverberations across the world.” 

In December, the podcast featured four interviews Gunter conducted with UofSC graduate students who received the Institute’s Ellison fellowships. The fellowships support the students’ research on topics such as transgender linguistics and activism, interactions between African Americans and Seminoles in Florida, and Gullah/Geechee literature and linguistics. 

“The signature of all those projects is their imagination and determination to get the evidence,” Smith says. “The work that they’re doing is cutting edge and deeply researched. It’s going to resonate beyond its time.” 

Smith has a wide variety of episodes in the works. He plans to talk about the electrification of the South along with Lacy Ford, a history professor who recently wrote a book about South Carolina’s electric cooperatives. Then there’s a discussion of roads in the South, with a particular focus on “Malfunction Junction,” the convergence of three interstates near Columbia that is the subject of a $1.7 billion proposed fix. 

“One of our jobs is to help educate our state and the region at large,” Smith says. “That’s what I think Take on the South does. It does it in a way that I think is entertaining, informational and unabashedly broad.” 

So far, Smith has received positive feedback on the podcast from listeners at the university and beyond. He hopes it continues to reach more ears and help people rethink the South, and perhaps even influence the region’s future. 

“You can’t really answer what the South is going to look like unless you have a firm understanding of what it is now,” he says. “It’s a really rewarding experience because you find that the South is a much more interesting, varied place than some stereotypes want you to believe.” 

Take on the South is available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and Spotify. 

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.