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Bad handwriting enriches classroom experience with SC Political Collections

By Ann Abney, University Libraries


Does that say Heber? Helen? Haber?

Learning to read handwriting from the past, which can be much more ornate and difficult than modern writing, is a crucial skill for future historians and archivists who work with older documents. 

This is a challenge that students in James Risk's Introduction to Public History course were able to experiment with for an assignment I created using materials from South Carolina Political Collections, a special collections area within University Libraries.

As the Special Projects Archivist at SCPC, I selected the digitized World War I-era letters from the collection of journalist and author William D. Workman, Jr. to curate our digital exhibit, In Camp and at the Front: World War I Selections from South Carolina Political Collections.

I assigned each student three or four letters or cards to examine and asked them to review the documents, give each a title, a description and a geographic subject term. All the information the students provided, called "metadata" in the archival world, will be added to the digital versions of the documents to provide context and make them easier to search.

Designing such assignments and giving “introduction to archives” instruction sessions are just two of the many ways I help professors and students alike.

SCPC’s collections primarily document politics in post-World War II South Carolina. They touch on subjects including history, political science, journalism, environmental science and more.

Here are a few ways we can help faculty with teaching and research:

  • Work with you to create assignments using primary sources
  • Introduce your students to archives and archival research
  • Create digital collections for research use in student papers and projects (check out our newest digital collection of presidential campaign buttons and materials!)
  • Working in conjunction with Amie Freeman, Libraries’ scholarly communication librarian, create open educational resources for your classes to help you save your students the cost of textbooks

For more information, contact me at

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.