In July of 2010, I had the pleasure of attending the opening ceremonies of the Ernest Hollings Special Collections Library, which houses the South Carolina Political Collections. Never had I seen so many prominent leaders gathered in one place, and I never imagined having the opportunity to explore many of their letters and documents. My internship at the Collections has been very fulfilling, and I greatly appreciate the University of South Carolina Honors College for telling me about it.
My name is James Strickland, and I am a senior undergraduate of history and politics. For the past five months, I have worked with the papers of various political leaders and have compiled a research guide pertaining to state education.
When I began at the SCPC, the library had recently received several boxes of legislative material from Congressman Joe Wilson (SC-2). This material consisted of constituent correspondence, congressional memos, interoffice communications, and other interesting documents. The first task of Lauren Stefan and me was to sort through these papers and divide them. Sorting through the Wilson papers was fascinating and reading constituent correspondence was particularly interesting. Because I work as a page in the state senate, I occasionally have to record the comments of constituents. Our office, however, certainly does not receive as much mail as the U.S. Representative. Some letters to Wilson, frankly, were bizarre and entertaining. They most certainly reflect the political developments of the past few years.
The SCPC insures that researchers can quickly find the documents they need, and all documents are meticulously divided into thousands of labeled files within hundreds of boxes. These boxes are stored in “The Stacks,” a large room full of tall, automated shelves. For preservation purposes, both temperature and humidity are closely monitored and controlled. It is absolutely fascinating walking along the aisles of the Stacks, seeing hundreds of boxes filled with the personal and public papers of both elected and non-elected officials. There are literally years and years of history there. I personally know some of the figures whose collections are housed here (such as Prof. Donald Fowler, or Mr. Flynn Harrell). Elected leaders can rest assured that their historical documents are in good hands at the SCPC.
After sorting through the Wilson papers, my next task was to compile a research guide on a topic of my choosing. Considering teaching as a profession, I chose to examine the evolution of state education (you can find the research guide here). I began by listing the papers of former governors. Throughout the internship, I dealt with education-related documents that belong to Governors Timmerman, Hollings, Russell, McNair, West, Campbell, and Johnston. I admit, however, that because some of these governors have very large collections (for example, Fritz Hollings has over 800 boxes) I may have missed some documents. I focused on the gubernatorial tenure of each figure, which included developments such as desegregation, the establishment of a state-wide technical school system, lingering issues of teacher pay and certification, national education initiatives (particularly under Gov. Campbell), and communications between universities and various state agencies.
Because there are so many documents, it is very easy to lose track of time. There are many documents that pertain to existing agencies and organizations, or to persons still living. For example, I found documents that relate to a historic fraternity I am a member of. These papers illustrate the fraternity’s relationship with the university president. The office copier became a very useful tool. I also found reports written by undergraduate students who now serve in state-wide elected offices. It was very easy to lose track of one’s research and instead examine correspondence between Gov. John West (who served as Ambassador to Saudi Arabia under Pres. Carter) and the Office of Anwar Sadat, or invitations and programs to Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 inauguration ceremonies (found in Gov. Russell’s papers). I frequently told friends about the artifacts and how they reflect our state’s current political climate. It was also very interesting coming across Gov. Timmerman’s personal cartoon drawings and candid photos of him and James F. Byrnes.
I thank those who I have had the pleasure to work with. The staff of the Collections are always very helpful and pleasant. They are very knowledgeable about our state’s political history and care greatly about making it accessible for future generations. Lori and Dorothy were always able to answer my questions and provide historical context.
Working at the library has been a very unique experience and I highly recommend it for students who are interested in either history or politics. This internship has provided valuable experience in archiving and historical research. I thank those who have made this internship possible and even those who helped sponsor the construction of the Hollings Library. I wish that I had discovered the internship earlier and now encourage other students to consider it. It truly has been beneficial and I will certainly return to the Collections for research.
In my opinion, no article or book about South Carolina’s recent history can possibly be complete unless its author explored the South Carolina Political Collections. The Collections are that good!