Over 20 years ago, I heard distinguished historian Robert Caro, the biographer of President Lyndon B. Johnson, talking about a key moment in his research. Caro was baffled by how Johnson, an awkward and not particularly well-liked junior member of Congress, achieved a wide popularity, seemingly overnight.
Caro was working through financial records from Johnson’s early House years when he had his epiphany. He was studying a rather obscure ledger containing only names and numbers when it dawned on Caro that the ledger documented contributions to congressional candidates. Johnson was distributing money coming from newly rich Texas oil barons to Democratic candidates across the country. This was occurring during the Depression when a few hundred dollars could turn the tide of an election. In telling his story, Caro praised the archivists who processed Johnson’s papers for preserving these obscure financial records whose significance surely was not apparent at that time.
Today, the 2013 William Jennings Bryan Dorn Undergraduate Prize of $350 was awarded to Bonnie Jeanne Werlinich of USC Upstate for her paper, Building Relationships and Institutions: The Founding of a University Center at Spartanburg.
In tracing the details of the founding of the branch USC campus, Werlinich studied Governor Robert McNair’s appointment books to determine when he met with the “boosters” encouraging the creation of the new campus. Like Caro, Werlinich found gold in the mundane. We applaud Bonnie for her scholarship and clever use of SCPC’s holdings in her study for Andrew Myers of USC Upstate’s American Studies 500 course.Contributed by Herb Hartsook