A major draw

South Caroliniana continues to attract researchers from around the world

As a Carnegie Foundation top-tier research institution, the University of South Carolina attracts talent from around the globe. But it’s not just our reputation that draws researchers to the Palmetto State. The university’s location provides unique opportunities for scholarship and collaboration. Our series of stories about research that can only be done here originally ran in USC Times this fall.

South Caroliniana Library is home to one of the country’s greatest collections of Southern history and manuscripts, a treasure trove for researchers that includes everything from Civil War diaries to textile-mill business records to historic South Carolina  books and newspapers, photographs and architectural drawings.

For researchers writing about American history, it is the place — often the only place — to find some of those documents. And while its home on the Horseshoe is currently closed for renovations, it continues to draw historians and writers from around the world to the Graniteville Room at the Thomas ­Cooper Library, which is serving as its temporary reading room.

Each year, USC sponsors a number of summer fellowships that allow scholars to come to Columbia to work with the collections. This summer, that included a researcher from the University of Idaho who was looking at how social behavior influenced the development of the public sphere in Charleston before the Civil War. He used records available in the Caroliniana on inns and taverns in business at the time, early newspapers that showed goods coming in aboard ships, architectural drawings and some early views of Charleston.

“Our manuscript holdings and our visual material holdings would not be available elsewhere,” says Edward Blessing, the interim head of user services and curator of published materials at South Caroliniana. “That’s specifically because the things we have are not replicated elsewhere. There are some digital collections online, but we don’t have everything digitized. So, people do still need to come here.”

Other 2018 summer scholars included a doctoral student from Italy and a faculty member from Cardiff University in Wales, along with a doctoral student from Claremont Graduate University in California who was researching federalism in the South in the early days of the republic. A professor from Wallace Community College in Alabama was looking at an agricultural papers collection from plantation owner David James McCord for connections between McCord and the author William Gilmore Simms. The professor is McCord’s fourth great granddaughter.

South Caroliniana Library is home to one of the country’s greatest collections of Southern history and manuscripts, a treasure trove for researchers.

“It became very personal for her,” Blessing says. “We have the McCords’ collection. They are falling-apart old documents and old books that her ancestor collected. She’s now re-interpreting what her ancestors collected.”

Blessing says the library staff members develop strong relationships with many of the patrons and researchers, using their expertise to direct them to additional resources and helping them follow more leads.

“The people of South Carolina are our stakeholders,” he says. “We’re really serving them by serving our patrons and by making things as accessible as possible.”

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