Newsletter of the University South Caroliniana Society
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What do a B-movie "scream queen," a Yankee general with horns and cloven hooves, a politician holding two stringers of panfish, and a turn-of-the-century bicyclist have in common?
Quite a bit more than one might imagine. All of these characters lurk in the South Caroliniana Library's photograph collection; all of their unique images are undergoing conservation and preservation treatment; and all will soon be accessible to researchers through print and electronic databases.
"The hero of New Orleans, and spoiler of silver spoons": General Benjamin ("Beast") Butler sports horns and cloven hooves on goat-like legs below his Federal uniform coat in a landscape of forks and other tableware, on this undated carte de visite which one of his many "admirers" in Dixie apparently touched up a bit.
In 1999 the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded the Library a substantial grant to support the preservation of and access to the photograph collection. Currently at work on the grant are project archivist Joe Long and student assistants Jeanne Bischoff, Jayne Griffin, and Lin Zhang. The group is working to ensure preservation of the Library's images (more than 20,000 prints and 5,000 negatives) by rehousing them in archivally sound storage materials. Additionally, they are working to improve access to the collection by loading electronic bibliographic records to the University's on-line catalog (U-SCAN) and the OCLC national database.
Although much-used, access to the collection has been hampered by the relatively primitive state of descriptive finding aids and a Works Progress Administration (WPA)-derived indexing system which had broken up accession groups into somewhat generic subject files.
Queen "B": The collection's "scream queen," Lois Collier of Salley, South Carolina, appeared in Weird Woman (1944), Flying Disc Man from Mars (1951), Missile Monsters (1958), and a host of other low budget films of the forties and fifties.
The physical organization of the photographs presents a particular challenge. During the 1930s, the WPA established a system of assigning photographs into the broad categories of "People," "Places," or "Things." Once established, this system stayed in place well past the WPA era. Photographs and other visual images that came to the Library as separate, intact collections were often distributed among these categories, which both unnecessarily dispersed the photographs and made it difficult to differentiate the original collections.
The arbitrary decisions required to place the images in their categories also made them more difficult to find in some cases. For instance, a photograph of workers harvesting cotton might be filed under "People" by the surname of one of the workers or of the field's owner, "Blacks" or "Catawba Indians" depending on the workers' ethnicity, or under "Places" by the county in which the harvest took place. Finally, the photo might be filed under "Things: Agriculture: Cotton" or "Things: Agriculture: Farm Scenes." Cross-indexing was, unfortunately, nonexistent.
That is no less a statesman than James F. Byrnes, himself, standing on a street in Conway, South Carolina, posing with two full strings of fish borrowed from some passing children for the photo-op.
The lady bicyclist, one Miss Waring, won a race associated with Charleston's "Blockade Week" festival in 1900.
Currently, Long and his assistants are working to restore a sense of original order to the collections and to describe photographs in greater detail. As the grant progresses, both the preservation of the collection and ease of access to it will continue to improve. Ultimately, the creation of on-line catalog records will allow access to the images from a wide variety of subject search terms. A database already provides improved indexing to the WPA photos. While the grant continues, the collection remains accessible as the old catalog cards can still be employed by staff members to locate images.
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