South Carolina History: Past, Present, and Future

By Edgar, Walter | South Carolina Historical Magazine, October 2000 | Go to article overview

South Carolina History: Past, Present, and Future


Edgar, Walter, South Carolina Historical Magazine


THE SOUTH CAROLINA HISTORICAL MAGAZINE IS NOT ONLY A collection of essays, articles, and documents relating to South Carolina's history; it is also a reflection and integral part of that history. In May 1999, I began to browse through my set of nearly four hundred issues. As I read, I marked those articles that had influenced me as a historian or that I found particularly interesting. Then, I pulled each of those issues from the shelf and soon found myself facing a stack of some forty-two articles. They included Daniel W. Hollis, "`Cotton Ed' Smith-Showman or Statesman?" (1970); Richard S. Dunn, "The English Sugar Islands and the Founding of South Carolina" (1971); William J. Cooper, Jr., "Economics or Race: An Analysis of the Gubernatorial Election of 1890 in South Carolina" (1972); Arnold Shankman, "A Jury of Her Peers: The South Carolina Woman and Her Campaign for Jury Service" (1980); Pauline Maier, "The Road Not Taken: Nullification, John C. Calhoun and the Revolutionary Tradition in South Carolina" (1981); and Daniel Littlefield, "The Slave Trade to Colonial South Carolina" (1990).

I have read with interest the ten articles that my fellow historians have selected as those that they thought the most "significant" ones to appear in the South Carolina Historical Magazine. Malcolm Clark and Robert Weir both chose articles that dealt with the colonial and early national periods. That is understandable, given their research interests and, as Weir notes, "much of the writing in the Magazine" deals with the first 150 years of the state's history. Vernon Burton's choices, on the other hand, are more indicative of recent trends in the historical profession and his personal political bent. These ten articles demonstrate the richness and diversity of our century-old journal.

I know my fellow guest editors fairly well and understand their choices. Each makes a strong case for the "significance" of the articles that he selected. Significance, like beauty, however, is clearly in the eye of the beholder. Two of the articles I considered were among those that Weir selected. But, as much as I admire them, were they any more significant than the other forty I had sitting on my desk? A case could be made for any one of those articles. And, if any of the four of us were given a list of articles from the Magazine and asked to make a case for its significance, I do not doubt that we could do so.

Having the opportunity to choose any article from the several thousand to appear in print was like being the proverbial child in a candy store. What a tempting array. Making a selection-like choosing that candy more than a half-century ago in an old confectionary shop near the waterfront-was not easy. Should I go for the biggest or the most colorful or the most unusual? Should I just choose one kind, my favorite?

Clearly, there was no unifying theme in such a disparate group of writings, but there was a common thread: careful, painstaking scholarship. Evidence was important; it counted. Historical interpretations can and have changed as documents and sources are examined by different generations, but the basic materials remain unaltered. The one constant in each of the forty-two articles I had singled out as significant was the reliance on empirical evidence. Some of the articles were elegant; some were stodgy. All were solid; all were built upon the efforts of many members of this Society over the years who labored to preserve, protect, and publish aspects of South Carolina's rich history.

Recently, one modern historian remarked about the worldliness of local history "when that locality is South Carolina...." The volume of material published by locals and outsiders is, she continued, "a testament to how carefully South Carolina's citizens have conserved their past, and to the scholarly community's recognition of the significance of that past. Even Virginia is no equal in this respect; there the Revolution exhausts the interest of citizen and scholar alike. …

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