cover of book

Distracted by Alabama: Tangled Threads of Natural History, Local History, and Folklore
by James Seay Brown, Jr.
University of Alabama Press, 2022
Cloth: 978-0-8173-2117-8 | eISBN: 978-0-8173-9393-9
Library of Congress Classification F326
Dewey Decimal Classification 976.1

Reflections on fifty years of interaction with the people, places, wildlife, and folkways of Alabama
In 1971 James Seay Brown Jr. moved to Birmingham with his young family to start his first full-time teaching job at Samford University specializing in modern European history. Within days he discovered the Cahaba River, and soon was regularly exploring many of Alabama’s rivers and much of its countryside—from the Paint Rock River on the Tennessee line to Wolf Bay on the Intracoastal Waterway. He was enchanted both by the myriad animals and plants he discovered and by the surviving old-time settler and Native American folkways so closely tied to their seasonal migrations and development.
About the same time, Brown became particularly interested in the folkways that arose from European cultural nationalism in the Romantic age. As he delved deeper into folklore studies for their insights into history, local examples presented themselves in abundance—Sacred Harp singers and African American railroad callers, the use of handmade snares and stationary fishtraps to catch river redhorse and freshwater drum during their spawning cycles, white oak basketmaking and herbal medicine traditions, the evolution of the single-pen log cabin into the impressive two-story I-house, and many more.
Together with colleagues in Samford’s biology and geography departments, Brown adapted a “geology to future planning” model for introducing students to land use patterns over time in various parts of the world. Although he took students to 22 countries on five continents, he kept returning to Alabama examples. When he integrated experiential education teaching techniques including crafts apprenticing, cultural journalism, and adventure-based education into his classes, many of them used examples and materials from Alabama.
Interspersed throughout with insights drawn from Brown’s academic career and his work with a variety of Birmingham-area community organizations, Distracted by Alabama traces a very personal, historically informed, and idiosyncratic profile of a region in transition in the mid to late twentieth century, and is a testament to the ideals and value of liberal arts education in a society.

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