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James C. Cobb, Historian of the American South, to Speak at W&L Founders Day/ODK Convocation

James C. Cobb, award-winning author, historian of the American South and University of Georgia professor, will be the featured speaker at Washington and Lee University’s Founders Day-Omicron Delta Kappa Convocation on Jan. 19, 5 p.m., at Wilson Concert Hall in the Lenfest Center for the Arts.

Cobb will speak on the topic, “Would the Past Be Better Off Dead?” It is a reference to a famous line from the works of William Faulkner, suggesting how bruised and battered the South’s troublesome past has become from constant skirmishing about its content, meaning and how it should be represented today.

The address will precede the induction of 23 undergraduates, nine law students and four honorary initiates into membership in Omicron Delta Kappa, the national leadership honor society for college students, faculty, staff and administrators founded in 1914 at Washington and Lee. The University Singers will perform.

Admission is free and the public is invited. The program also will be streamed live online at http://new.livestream.com/wlu/founders-odk-2015.

Cobb plans to address recent debates at W&L and elsewhere about Confederate iconography, revised historical markers, schools named for slaveholders, and others related to Southern history. He will incorporate what he calls “the turf war in Southern historical memory between adherents to the Old South, Lost Cause and African Americans seeking appropriate representation of their struggle with slavery and Jim Crow, culminating in the Civil Rights Movement.”

“The talk will conclude with an emphasis on the importance of learning to see these differing historical perspectives not as competitive, but as mutually integral to a more comprehensive — and ultimately more helpful — understanding of both the South’s and nation’s past,” Cobb said.

Cobb holds the B. Phinizy Spalding Professorship in History at Georgia and has written widely on the interac¬tion between economy, society and culture in the American South. A former president of the Southern Historical Association, he is the author of several books, including “The Selling of The South: The Southern Crusade for Industrial Development, 1936–1990” (1993); “The Most Southern Place on Earth: The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity” (1992); “Away Down South: A History of Southern Identity” (2005); and “The South and America Since World War II” (2010).

A native Georgian, Cobb received his A.B., M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Georgia. He previously taught at the University of Tennessee and University of Mississippi. Among his many honors are a stint as Senior Visiting Mellon Scholar at Cambridge University; the McClemore Prize, awarded by the Mississippi Historical Society for the outstanding book in Mississippi history; two Green-Ramsdell Awards by the Journal of Southern History; the Georgia Historical Quarterly’s E. Merton Coulter Award; and an Andrew Mellon Foundation Fellowship.

The four ODK Alpha Chapter honorary initiates will include Marilyn Evans Alexander, property manager of Rockbridge Area Housing Corporation, and three members of the W&L university community: Dennis W. Cross, vice president for university advancement; Mark E. Rush, the Stanley D. and Nikki Waxberg Professor of Politics and Law, who was recently named the next director of the Center for Global Learning; and Julie A. Woodzicka, a professor of psychology.

There are 290 active circles, or chapters, of ODK at colleges and universities across the country. Headquartered in Lexington, Virginia, ODK nationally awards annual scholarships and leadership development initiative grants and holds a national day of service each April. Individual circles conduct additional leadership development activities.