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A Sober Desire for History
William Gilmore Simms as Historian

Sean R. Busick

An in-depth look at the significant role Simms played in the development of American historical studies

Widely regarded as the antebellum South's foremost man of letters, William Gilmore Simms (1806–1870) wrote novels and poetry that recently have enjoyed a remarkable resurgence of interest. While scholars have previously considered Simms as primarily a poet, editor, and writer of fiction, Sean R. Busick contends that the author is more fully understood as a historian. In this fresh look at Simms and his contributions, Busick brings to light the lasting impact of the South Carolinian's efforts to comprehend American history and to preserve important pieces of the historical record.

In A Sober Desire for History, Busick argues that Simms made five significant contributions to American historiography. Simms's achievements include his work as an archivist, preserving a wealth of primary source materials that probably would not exist today if not for his efforts; as a champion of accessible and well-wrought historical writing; and as an advocate for what he considered democratic history—history that recognizes individuals rather than impersonal forces as the impetus for historical events. Busick also credits Simms for focusing attention on groups, including Loyalists and women, traditionally neglected in the telling of American history. Finally, although Busick shows that Simms published historical romances, biographies, and a state history, he also made an important, lasting contribution to the writing of American history through his support and encouragement of other historians.

Busick addresses, among other topics, Simms's ideas on the relationship between history and fiction, his work as a biographer, his writing of the text that would be used to teach history to generations of South Carolina schoolchildren, and his controversial 1856 Northern lecture series on South Carolina's role in the American Revolution.

Sean R. Busick is an assistant professor of history at Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro, Kentucky. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina and has published articles and reviews in such journals as Simms Review and Southern Historian. Busick lives in Owensboro.

"Despite the sharp increase in the study of Simms in recent years, Sean Busick is the first to focus on Simms as a writer of history, and as such, Busick's work fills a longstanding lacuna in Simms scholarship. Beyond that, A Sober Desire for History makes a compelling case that Simms's theory and practice in the writing foreshadows the reemergence of the humanistic perception of history as more art than science."—John Caldwell Guilds, University of Arkansas, and author of Simms: A Literary Life and series editor of the Selected Fiction of Wiliam Gilmore Simms

"The antebellum South did not play second fiddle to the antebellum North in the quality and versatility of its intelligentsia. In this penetrating and forcefully argued book, Busick explains why Simms must be considered not only as the antebellum South's foremost novelist, but as its preeminent historian as well."—Robert L. Paquette, Rogers Professor of American History, Hamilton College

"The valuable tome offers the definitive assessment of Simms as a social, historical, and political thinker, but the work also encourages a much needed reaffirmation of the vitality of antebellum intellectual life in the South. With great clarity and erudition, the reader is allowed to appreciate Simms as a defender of community and genuine diversity."—H. Lee Cheek, Jr., author of Calhoun and Popular Rule

"Busick's superb portrait of this facet of the multi-talented literary artist helps us understand how truly unique Simms is—like no other writer in the North America of his day. In Simms we witness genius full-blown. Busick's study will be another significant work in defining the nature of that genius. It is a welcome addition to the growing number of volumes on this engaging author."—James Everett Kibler, author of Our Fathers' Fields and founding editor of the Simms Review



book jacket for A Sober Desire for History


6 x 9
160 pages
ISBN 978-1-57003-565-4
hardcover, $34.95s

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