I Spy - Ben Burroughs, the helpful historian
It would seem that Ben Burroughs knows the lay of the land wherever he goes around Horry County. It would also seem that he is always willing to help everyone around. He is director of the Horry County Archives Center at Coastal Carolina University, located in room 220 of Kimbel Library. But his office is located in the Burroughs & Chapin Center for Marine and Wetlands Studies (BCCMWS) on east campus and serves as a place for Burroughs to get work done – analyzing, categorizing and archiving Horry County history. He was assigned to an office in a building dedicated to science so he could help in other capacities while performing his history duties. It turned out to be fortuitous, exposing him to high tech tools and equipment and people that have given his research new dimensions in uncovering our local history.
Burroughs is a best kept secret of the CCU campus as a man with a tireless work ethic, spending long hours archiving the history of Horry County. “I don’t really call myself an archivist,” Burroughs says. “Archivists handle delicate materials with white gloves, in rooms kept at a proper temperature. I’m more of a history researcher.”
Burroughs collects important historical documents. He digitally scans them and returns them to their owner or properly stores them at CCU or another agency better suited to preserve them. “We can either send to the Horry County Museum or to the South Carolina Department of Archives and History,” Burroughs says. “We just don’t have the proper facilities right now to keep them here. They need to be in a fire-proof, climate-controlled environment; that is why we are moving to digitalization of the records.”
A mere mention of a name or a place in the Horry County region can lead Burroughs into a discourse on coastal high soil and agriculture. An offhand remark about local islands may become a conversation about how the local rivers and inlets evolved into modern transportation over the last 300 years. Burroughs can turn a brief hallway chat into a learning experience.
Last year, Burroughs’ assistance was instrumental in putting together the traveling exhibit, “Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War,” for Kimbel Library. He accentuated the displays with real 19th-century artifacts that allowed the historical information to come alive. “We were able to present some really cool items from that period,” Burroughs says. “It made it more than just information posters.”
Currently, he spends a portion of his time setting up the Horry County Archives Center’s local history research room on the second floor of Kimbel Library. He and the staff of Kimbel Library are cataloging books and reference materials, acquiring needed furniture, ordering new microfilm readers and working on a digitalization project that will convert more than 5,500 pages of the “Independent Republic Quarterly,” the journal of the Horry County Historical Society. He is also editing and correcting these pages for historical inaccuracies along the way. “We’re trying to put together a space where people can come and find out anything they need to know about the history of the area,” Burroughs says. “But it’s not just Horry County history. It’s the history of the old Georgetown District as well, which includes our area.”
Though history is his specialty, Burroughs is always willing to go out of his way to help out wherever and whenever he can. For the last several years, he has also been assisting in the printing of faculty and student research posters. “I’m familiar with the plotter and the printer that prints large posters,” he says. “It’s nice to be able to help out when I have the time."
This helpfulness seems to come from Burroughs’ need to know his surroundings. A Conway native, he left the county long enough to earn his bachelors’ degree in administrative management from Clemson University. He came back to Conway and sold real estate in the area for 17 years. Along the way he decided to return to college and obtain his certification to teach social studies which he completed at CCU, but after a short period of teaching high school he realized, “It was just not for me,” Burroughs says. Burroughs has been with CCU for more than eight years and was transferred from the Center of Marine and Wetlands Studies to Library Services in September 2011.
When history is not haunting him, he spends his time working in his yard and around his house. But it would seem history is always creeping up on him. He also serves as the treasurer of the Horry County Historical Society, an organization he has served in many capacities in the past. He has been the executive director, the editor of the “Independent Republic Quarterly” and the president. He is also the historian for Kingston Presbyterian Church. In his role as CCU’s director of the Horry County Archives Center, he frequently gives presentations on local history and occasionally offers tours of historic places.
To say it simply, local and regional history consumes Burroughs. He is always scouring the area for archives to analyze. He admits, “I still take my history work home with me.” But it doesn’t stop him from wanting to branch out and help in more diverse areas. “I hope in the future I can work closely with other departments that are interested in local history,” Burroughs says. “I certainly would make myself available to them.”