Rachel C Kirby

PhD Candidate in American Studies


Consuming the South: Representations of Taste, Place, and Agriculture

My dissertation, Consuming the South, emerges out of research on the ways that representations of agriculture have promoted produce and place in and beyond the American South since the late-nineteenth century. Examining advertisements, art, events, and objects surrounding North Carolina tobacco, Virginia peanuts, Florida oranges, and South Carolina rice, I explore how various stakeholders and communities constructed ideas of the region through its agricultural products. Within the project, I conceptualize "multisensory terroir" to examine the ways that representations encourage purchasers to both physically and culturally consume southern products. In so doing, I expand on the ways that terroir (a French term for taste of place, often used in relation to food and wine) offers a framework for understanding the experienced and imagined sensory qualities of representations of food as imagined proxies for place. By reconstructing how companies packaged their products for national buyers, my project strengthens the existing scholarship on foodways that focuses on visual and material culture. I also consider the localized lives of these products, examining how southerners creatively contributed to and contested the meanings associated with agricultural representations. Ultimately, I argue that southern agriculturally based promotional and commemorative processes revolved and, importantly, continue to revolve around the consumption of place itself.

The first chapter outlines the history of "Bull Durham" imagery between the 1870s and 1910s, tracing the ways co-developing notions of Durham tobacco and Durham, North Carolina as they created Durham's indirectly-agricultural identity as the "Bull City," which still persists today.

Chapter two focuses on the original sketches of Planters's Mr. Peanut logo, asserting that the well-known figure is a hybrid construction of agricultural pride, aristocratic aspiration, and minstrel imagery through which the company presented a romanticized vision of Virginia peanuts.

Chapter three centers around the animated character called the Orange Bird - created through a partnership between the Florida Citrus Commission and Walt Disney World (1969-1987) - to examine the orange as an icon for the interrelated citrus and tourist economics which co-imagined fantasies of Florida as a space where labor was transformed into leisure.

Finally, chapter four examines historic site interpretation, the late twentieth- and early twentieth-century "revival" of commodified Carolina Gold rice for consumer markets, and artist Jonathan Green's series titled Unenslaved: Rice Culture Paintings by Jonathan Green (2012-2013), ultimately exploring memories of romanticism and reclamation created and circulated alongside Carolina Gold rice in South Carolina. 
American Tobacco Campus apartments in Durham, NC, January 2020 (Rachel C. Kirby)
A costumed Mr. Peanut at the Virginia Annual Peanut Festival in Emporia, VA, September 2015 (Rachel C. Kirby)

The Sunshine Tree Terrace at Walt Disney World, 2019 (Rachel C. Kirby)
"Charleston Gold Rice" at the City Market in Charleston, SC, February 2019 (Rachel C. Kirby)