Natural History Investigations in South Carolina from Colonial Times to Present

By Kohl, Michael | The Journal of Southern History, August 2001 | Go to article overview
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Natural History Investigations in South Carolina from Colonial Times to Present


Kohl, Michael, The Journal of Southern History


Natural History Investigations in South Carolina from Colonial Times to Present. By Albert E. Sanders and William D. Anderson Jr. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, c. 1999. Pp. xl, 333. $45.00, ISBN 1-57003-278-5.)

The authors of this book have succeeded in producing a work that draws upon their long experience and collection knowledge of South Carolina natural history. They tell us that it began as a chapter of Collection Building in Ichthyology and Herpetology (Theodore Pietsch and William Anderson, eds., American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, Special Publication No. 3; Lawrence, Kans., 1997). They determined to widen their focus, however, because "limiting it solely to a recitation of the activities of the naturalists who studied our state would have led to an inadequate appreciation of their accomplishments" (p. xviii). The significant accomplishments of antebellum naturalists in South Carolina, including Andre and Francois Michaux, Stephen Elliott, Joel Poinsett, Edmund Ravenel, John Bachman, John Audubon, John Holbrook, and Lewis Gibbes, among others, are recounted in the resulting volume.

The authors describe the activities of Lowcountry naturalists in particular, "because the early workers who laid the foundation for natural history studies in South Carolina worked mostly in Charleston and its environs and were usually associated in some capacity with the Charleston Museum" (p. xxiii). The importance of the Elliott Society and the Charleston Museum are discussed in terms of how they incubated and promoted natural science through informal contacts as well as by establishing research collections. South Carolina was in the forefront of the nation's advances in natural science during the antebellum period. The impact of the Civil War on that preeminence is recounted in detail by the authors, who title the chapter on the subject "Sherman Proves That `War is Hell'" (p. 83). They not only regret the losses of natural history collections but also the destruction of a economic base that promoted scientific endeavor. Even so, the lengthy description of damage done during the war is out of place (as is the long description of the Scopes Trial, pp.

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