Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

The Library of Alexandria – Southern Agrarian Version

Some of the topics here are admittedly quite a stretch for Southern Agrarianism, and this is one example. Today’s post was prompted by an email discussion with a friend and fellow Southern Agrarian.

The Library of Alexandria, built in about 250 BC, was designed as a repository of all the important information of the day. It was the essential knowledge that Ptolemy, II of Egypt wanted to collect and preserve. It is an idea that has fascinated me for many years. What would we, today, consider to be the essential knowledge of our time? If we had to restart civilization with nothing but what was in a collection of books, what would it contain?

When I became aware of the fact that so much of our accumulated knowledge is in digital format only – and at the same time, realizing what an EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse) could do to what is nothing more than zeros and ones stored on magnetic media, I began collecting books. Not digital books, but real, paper and ink books – in hard cover if available. The pace really quickened when grandchildren came along. They would be home schooled, as were our two sons, and I wanted them to have a good library available.

The criteria I used for my library is simple: What can we not afford to lose? To that end, here is a list, in no particular order, of some of the book topics and types.

  • Farming and large scale gardening
  • Basic industrial processes (textiles, fuel alcohol, machining)
  • References (math and engineering formulas, conversion tables, logarithmic tables)
  • Classic literature
  • Classic works of art and architecture
  • History, without the PC nonsense.
  • Maps and Atlas
  • Encyclopedias
  • Culture (Etiquette, traditional living, raising a family)
  • Medicine, including veterinary
  • Bible study (Concordances, reference works, KJV Bibles)
  • Engineering design, drafting, land surveying
  • Leadership (public speaking, dealing with people, Roberts Rules of Order)
  • Military science
  • Gunsmithing
  • Basic science (biology, botany, physics, meteorology)
  • Communications (Radio)
  • Food preservation and preparation, nutrition
  • Home school materials to make sure that future generations will know how to make use of the library

If I were to sum up the thought behind my library, it would be contained in the title of a book on my shelf – The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch by Lewis Dartnell. I just take the premise of that book and go farther and deeper.

My most recent addition, picked up this evening at a Goodwill Store, is the 1943 edition of Fractures and Dislocations; it includes photos and description of using a large C-clamp and blocks of felt to set a fracture of the foot. Hopelessly outdated by today’s standards, it would be invaluable to those in a time when modern medicine becomes a distant memory. It is technology appropriate for the times.


  1. John Hauk

    A great idea! Hopefully you will expand on your book ideas.

  2. Fugitive Agrarian

    Just delightful. Never heard of the Dartnell book, but sound like another good purchase.

    Just finished a good practical book myself A GOOD WOODCUTTERS GUIDE by Johnson. I suppose some of those categories would overlap (maybe classic lit~non PC History) with the 1901 work of Thomas Dixon’s (RECONSTRUCTION TRILOGY). What a breath of fresh air!

    What political philosophy books have you explored?

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      I’m afraid that I have nothing to offer in the political philosophy category – at least none that I’ve had the time to do more than skim through. I suppose the closest I can come is “The Land We Love: The South and Its Heritage” by Dr. Boyd D. Cathey. I’ve just started on that one.

      • Fugitive Agrarian

        I believe we can say that the work I’LL TAKE MY STAND is riddled with implicit political philosophy. Cathey book seems to express the same spirit but more explicitly. The table of contents evades us on the web.

        Al Benson and Paul Gottfried both give good reviews. Gottfried’s provides more detail. The fact that Clyde Wilson (retired history prof from USC) wrote the forward says volumes. Including one of my heroes, R.L. Dabney, further compels my interest.

        I have purchased and read a couple of Clyde Wilson’s books over the years. One I recently purchased but have yet to spend time in is his THE ESSENTIAL CALHOUN. Wilson was an instrumental part in the republishing the papers of the Calhoun and has extracted what he estimates as some meaningful selections. Wilson’s disdain for rewritten history and the low estimates most of his students placed upon his lectures commends him on the whole to me.

        My other readings has produced a list of names I hope to consider for my library: Rudolph Rummel, Albert J Nock, Fredrick Bastiat, P J Orourke, Russell Kirk, Neil Postman.

        Another day, anther time. I will probably add some of the more contemporaneous Cathey to my library first.

        Thank you for the suggestion.

      • Jacob Pippin

        For political philosophy one can do no better than two Jeffersonians:
        – A Disquisition on Government by John C Calhoun
        – New Views of the Constitution of the United States by John Taylor of Caroline

        And of course:
        – Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke

  3. Judy Leroux

    Merks doctors manual from the 30s before pharmaceuticals.
    Info on local available herbs.
    Will and Areial Durant western history. So much info they change font sizes.
    Seed saving.
    Your library sounds well done. Home schooling is huge. We did our son makes 6 figures and can do anything.
    We are poor but literate which more then most people.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      I can check of most of that list except for the 1930’s Merck Manual. 1970’s vintage is the latest I’ve been able to find. I’ve got four of the various versions, but they are all fairly current.

      There aren’t a lot of medicinal herbs that grow well in this area, but Turmeric is an exception. It is grown commercially here, and I’ve got a 4′ x 20′ plot of it that will be doubled in size this Spring.

      Both of our sons were home schooled, and our grandchildren are being home schooled. That’s something that I very strongly support. Grandchild #6 just arrived 5 days ago. All of them live within a mile and a half of us, so this will be their home school library.

  4. Stephen Clay McGehee

    I don’t pretend to understand the reasons behind it, but I’m seeing a good bit more Unsubscribes than new subscribers. That’s OK though – this is not for everyone. I have no intention of changing the “flavor” of this site in order to attract more readers – I do this because I believe it is important. It is something that I NEED to do, even if no one ever reads it. You’ll notice that there are no ads or affiliate links or any other form of monetization; it does, in fact, cost me money to do this. Anything worthwhile is going to cost something. My incentive is moral – not financial.

    Clearly, it would be more rewarding to know that large numbers of people are interested in Southern Agrarianism, but my emphasis is on Quality rather than Quantity. I suppose that’s my way of saying “Thank You” to those who stop by for a visit, and especially to those who take the time to leave a comment. I deeply appreciate each of you. Thank you!

    • Alice Scott

      Thank you for what you do. I always enjoy reading The Southern Agrarian!

      • Stephen Clay McGehee

        Thank you, ma’am – I always enjoy hearing from my fellow Southern Agrarians!

    • Thomas H. Harbold

      Respectful salute, sir! I’m here for the duration.

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