Retrospect: One Hundred Years of Preserving and Publishing the History of South Carolina

Article excerpt

I

DURING THE LAST QUARTER OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, many state historical societies along the eastern seaboard intensified their efforts to preserve early records and promote knowledge of the past. On the whole, this work proceeded under the guidance of patrician conservatives who were proud of their descent from stalwart forebears and determined to keep alive the memory of their accomplishments. History, they believed, had a crucial significance for a society that was confronted with profound social and economic dislocations. Resentful that their traditional leadership in politics had been challenged, and fearful of being swamped by the masses from below patrician conservatives often found satisfaction in the past-- particularly the more distant past of the colonial and Revolutionary periods. This veneration of earlier times and men found expression in many ways: honoring the beloved war dead; teaching American history in the schools; erecting monuments, statues and historical markers; producing commemorative public pageants; and preserving those remaining sites and buildings that were associated with what they must have considered a more heroic age.1

Important vehicles for the spread of historical knowledge were the quarterly journals launched by these societies: the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (1877), the William and Mary College Quarterly (lst ser., 1892), the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (1893), the South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine (1900), and the Maryland Historical Magazine (1906). Even before the advent of the journals, several of these societies had already compiled volumes of source materials under the serial title of "Collections," while later historical writings were usually published under the banner of "Proceedings" or "Transactions." Promptly after its founding in 1855, the South Carolina Historical Society published the first three volumes of its Collections (1857-1859); then postwar distractions and impediments delayed volume four until 1887 and volume five until 1897.

Meanwhile, the founding in 1884 of the American Historical Association foreshadowed the ascendancy of professional historical scholarship in the United States. As teaching opportunities in the rising number of private colleges and state universities expanded, the demand for professional historians kept pace. Having been trained in the methodology of the German seminar, these newly-minted doctors of philosophy commonly believed that it was possible to write history virtually free of the distortions caused by those who were either pietistic or ideologically biased. In 1895, these self-conscious professionals began publishing their own quarterly, the American Historical Review, to be followed by a number of regional journals such as the Mississippi Valley Historical Review (1914) and the Journal of Southern History (1935).2

Until the eve of World War 11, historical research and writing, especially in the South, was carried on by two groups that sometimes cooperated but more often went their separate ways. These were (1) the "amateurs" (in the sense of not having been formally trained to make a living from the practice in a university setting) whose focus was usually-though not exclusivelyon local or county history and the families that had made it; and (2) the "professionals" (scholars rigorously trained in the new graduate schools) who engaged broader topics, frequently of regional or national significance, and who attributed change and human conduct to the influence of impersonal forces. Charles Austin Beard was probably the best known exponent of this view during the 1920s and 1930s, but he was motivated far more by progressive social agendas than by scientific detachment.

II

A panorama of the South Carolina Historical Magazine over its first century makes an indelible impression. Alexander S. Salley, Jr. and Mabel Louise Webber, the first editors, adopted a format that scarcely changed for fifty years. …