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The Simms Initiatives lets visitors 'inhabit the writer's world'


A silver tea set, a porcelain serving set, and a pocket watch are the latest additions to the third and just-completed phase of the comprehensive Simms Initiatives. Also new are striking photographs and introductory essays for the items that illustrate the day-to-day life of one of the South’s most prolific and prominent 19th-century writers.

The Simms Initiatives, a University of South Carolina Libraries’ digital project, provides access to the work of William Gilmore Simms (1806-1870), the South’s leading antebellum poet, novelist and historian. Now possibly the world’s largest single-author depository, the Simms Initiatives draws heavily from South Caroliniana Library, home of the largest holdings of Simms manuscripts and publications located anywhere.

The latest additions to the project come from the Charles Carroll Simms collection, long held by South Caroliniana Library, and through a bequest from Simms's great-granddaughter Mary Simms Oliphant Furman, who passed away in 2013. Also included are several items acquired at auction.

“When you study a writer, you can study his books, of course, but personal items can let you inhabit the writer’s world,” said Matthew Simmons, Assistant Director of the Simms Initiatives. “You can see the handkerchief he wiped his brow with, the desk where he composed, the brush he used to straighten his hair.

“Adding personal, three-dimensional items to the Simms Initiatives is a natural progression for the project,” Simmons said. “Phase I was the digitization of Simms’s published works. Phase II was the visual mounting of Simms’s scrapbooks, including early poem manuscripts, his published newspaper clippings, notes and writings that were never published. Phase III is the addition of items from Simms’s personal life, including a table and two chairs that were a gift from his affluent father-in-law, and the lap desk Simms used when he wrote The History of South Carolina in Charleston in 1839. He married into an aristocratic family in Charleston, and items such as these illustrate his place in society.”

In addition to full text online versions of Simms’s books and other works, the Simms Initiatives 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.

The entire Simms Initiatives project has been jointly funded by the Watson-Brown Foundation of Thomson, Georgia, and the University Libraries.

For more on the history of the Simms Initiatives, click here.

Photographs: Top left, William Gilmore Simms, courtesy of the Library of Congress, ca. 1863. Above right, the Simms family silver tea set. Left, the Simms family crest, created by Simms himself, includes the Latin phrase "Video volans."

"Literally, the Latin means 'I see soaring'," explained Simms Scholar Matthew Simmons. "To my knowledge it's not a phrase found in any of the Classical Latin authors, and is thus something Simms himself likely decided on as his motto, implying he was looking for and concentrating on great things."