Academic journal article The American Biology Teacher

South Carolina on My Mind

Academic journal article The American Biology Teacher

South Carolina on My Mind

Article excerpt

Despite being a stepmother-in-law--a combination of two very negative stereotypes--I have a wonderful son and daughter-in-law. Last July, my daughter-in-law, Laura, sent me an e-mail in which she outlined her plans for my Thanksgiving. She and Geoff invited me to their home in Summerville, South Carolina, to Thanksgiving dinner with Laura's parents, and following that, to three days at a condo on the shore in Litchfield, south of Myrtle Beach. Needless to say, I accepted their invitation, and I could easily fill this entire column with a discussion of the wonderful time we had and the great meals we ate. However, I am supposed to stick to biology, and I will. Fortunately this is easy to do because South Carolina is a very interesting place, biologically speaking.

As a northerner, I had very little experience of the South, that is, until a few years ago when Geoff moved to Charleston and met Laura. Now, I'm lucky enough to go there at least once a year. Laura has lived in Summerville most of her life and teaches biology in the local high school. Thus, I have a knowledgeable guide, especially because she is also interested in environmental issues as well as in the history of Charleston and has been a docent at several of its historical sites. Despite the horrors of the Civil War and the march of progress, Charleston has managed to hold on to more of its architectural and institutional history than most American cities. For example, the College of Charleston (founded in 1770) and the Charleston Museum (founded in 1773) remain in the heart of the city. The museum is not in its original home, but it contains a wonderful collection of artifacts related to South Carolina's history and biology. I particularly liked the galleries devoted to natural history and was struck by two displays there.

The first is an exhibit of eight herbarium sheets of plants collected at the Gettysburg battlefield from April to June 1894 by Charles K. Bell, a student at the Lutheran Seminary that is near the battlefield and was itself the site of fighting on the first day of the battle. With each sheet, which is marked with the location on the battlefield where Bell collected the plant, is a photograph of what that particular site looked like at the time of the battle. These are stark images of bodies, artillery, and so on. To make the display even more haunting, there is a note in the case stating: "Perhaps the last thing some mortally wounded Confederate or Union soldier saw was one of these plants."

The other display I was drawn to is of the 20 new bird species collected by Mark Catesby (1682-1749) in South Carolina and then named by Carl Linnaeus. Each species is represented by a mounted specimen and by an outspread wing to show the plumage. This exhibit is a great reminder of the biological riches awaiting the early naturalists who explored the area. While at the museum, I bought several books on South Carolina biology, including a collection of natural history pieces written before 1860. I would not say that southerners continue to relive the Civil War, a claim sometimes made by northerners. However, I would say that they are very aware of their past. I think that history in general, not just that of the mid19th century, is very important to them. However, 1860 definitely marks a pivotal time in that history, and so it's not surprising that it is used as an ending or beginning point for many historical studies.

The first selection chosen by David Taylor (1998), the editor of this collection, is the one I found most memorable. It was written by John Lawson (?-1711), whose early history is unknown. He wrote of his travels in 1700 from Charleston, through western South Carolina, and on to the North Carolina coast. In an essay on "The Beasts of Carolina," he tells of seeing buffalo, bears, panthers, mountain cats, wild cats, wolves, elk, deer, skunks, beavers, foxes, muskrats, raccoons, squirrels, and possums; the latter, oddly enough, he called the "wonder of all the animals" (p. …

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