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Massive Simms digital project completes first phase

Jul 2, 2013 5:19 AM

A USC Libraries digital project that provides worldwide access to the work of 19th-century author William Gilmore Simms (1806-1870) has completed phase one of its two-phase plan. The Library of Congress photograph at left shows Simms circa 1863.

“We have finished the digitization of all of Simms’s separately published titles, for a total of 126 volumes and 95 separate titles,” said Todd Hagstette, Director of The Simms Initiatives. “This is where he lives in his posthumous existence, and now his work is accessible to everyone around the world."

The goal of the four-year project is to produce a comprehensive bibliographic database that will be a resource for student and scholars studying Simms and his work. The site is growing into one of the world’s largest single-author digital repositories.

Jointly funded by the Watson-Brown Foundation of Thomson, Georgia, and the USC Libraries, the project and the digitized materials draw heavily from the University’s South Caroliniana Library, home of the largest holdings of Simms manuscripts and publications.

Born in Charleston, Simms was a short-story writer, novelist, essayist, speaker, and leading literary figure of his day. His contemporaries and colleagues included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Washington Irving, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne and James Fenimore Cooper. He was admired by William Cullen Bryant and Edgar Allan Poe. In the decades surrounding the 1840s, Simms also was the South's most influential editor of cultural journals and the region’s most prolific critic and poet, publishing an average of one book review and poem each week for 45 years.

“Simms was definitely one of the most significant figures in antebellum southern literature, and he was very well known during his time,” Hagstette said. “He was heavily plugged into the literary culture of the South, as well as the New York and Philadelphia literary circles. He had vast correspondence with many major writers and intellectuals of his day.”

Simms may be one of the most overlooked significant literary figures to date, thanks in part to the fact that many of his views were unpopular in 20th-century terms. His pro-slavery stance, for example, garnered him no fans after the Civil War was over. He died shortly after, out of favor and largely out of print.

Phase two of the project is to visually mount Simms’s scrapbooks, which include early poem manuscripts, his published newspaper clippings, notes, and writings that were never published. The entire four-year project is scheduled to be completed by June 2014.

In addition to full text online versions of Simms’s books and other works, the site will include biographical material and a bibliography of all Simms’s published writings, education-directed materials for teachers, visual and cartographic resources. It also has the potential for crowdsourcing, which would give students and scholars the opportunity to add material to the site. In conjunction with USC Press, the Simms Initiatives also are making most of Simms’s books available through print-on-demand classroom editions, which include new critical introductions and a new author’s biography.