CCU’s Athenaeum Press is awarded a grant from the National Parks Service, and faculty and students seek to engage the broader community with digital projects and discussion panels.
Personal History Becomes Award-Winning Academic Project
For Tanya Jones, history is more than an academic subject; it’s a curiosity that’s kept her exploring for nearly two decades.
Jones’ paper “Hidden Jewels: Grace and Williamsburg County Black Life from 1856 through 1944” won the Margaret Watson Award for Collegiate Research from the Confederation of South Carolina Local Historical Societies in April.
Jones has been tracing her family history since 1998; it’s taken her to library archives and courthouses to uncover death certificates, bills of sale, census reports, wedding announcements and other ancestral artifacts. She discovered the document marking her family’s sale for $5 as a wedding gift. She found letters narrating their lives on plantations during the Civil War. She learned her ancestor George Dorsey was one of 15 black men registered to vote in the Nesmith precinct in 1896.
Jones learned how to shape her materials into an academic project while taking a history course with Maggi Morehouse, Burroughs Distinguished Professor of Southern History and Cultures.
“I had no idea what do with this stuff. She showed me where to start,” says Jones.
Jones’ project and interests have led her to work with CCU’s Athenaeum Press on archival of former projects, and she plans to attend graduate school with the eventual goal of becoming an archivist.
By Sara Sobota
Photo by Abby Sink
Revisiting Sandy Island
A 10-minute boat ride across the tannin-dyed Waccamaw River is Sandy Island, the last undeveloped river island in South Carolina accessible only by boat. For centuries, this isolated land has been home to a rich African American community, the descendants of slaves who built Georgetown and made this island their own. Once a home to around 300 people, now only 60 remain, mostly elderly, and the future of the island is in jeopardy.
However, in January 2017, the National Parks Service (NPS) awarded CCU a grant amounting to $104,798 for its Sandy Island Cultural Initiative (SICI) project to help preserve that uncertain future. Dedicated to the preservation of this community and its enduring legacy of civic contributions in education, community building and politics, the SICI will oversee the refurbishment of the New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church with the NPS grant. Over the next two years, the island’s two-room 1930s-era schoolhouse, which now serves as the island’s cultural center and library, will also be expanded into a larger interactive community center and archive of Sandy Island’s history.
“At first, Sandy Island and civil rights didn’t obviously go together,” says Eric Crawford, CCU assistant professor of music who co-wrote the grant with Alli Crandell, director of digital initiatives in the Thomas W. and Robin W. Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts. Crawford became involved with the Sandy Island project through an earlier Athenaeum Press project, Gullah: The Voice of an Island. After two years of developing relationships with the people Sandy Island, Crawford learned of this new grant program to preserve civil rights history and believed it presented an opportunity to launch much-needed restoration projects on the island.
The civil rights connection emerged when Crawford discovered that Sandy Islanders formed a powerful voting bloc as landowning African-Americans during the 1880s in Georgetown. This unique ability to politically represent themselves was the beginning of the island’s history of social advocacy and resilience. Throughout the 1900s, community members like Prince Washington crossed the Waccamaw to fight for their community’s access to education and utilities.
“Rather than the 1960s and 1970s civil rights era that we know, Sandy Island represents an early 20th century civil rights,” says Crandell. “This is more than a story of restoring a church; it’s telling a story that hasn’t been told at all.”
This first phase of the SICI began with the Athenaeum Press, CCU’s student-driven publishing lab. During a yearlong project, the press team developed a virtual reality film and bookon the Sandy Island community, titled At Low Tide: Voices of Sandy Island. Under the direction of Crawford and Crandell, students created materials representative of the island and its people through information and video collected on trips to Sandy Island.
Thanks to the NPS grant, CCU’s relationship with the island won’t end with the publication of At Low Tide. In the summer of 2017, the press will begin to archive interviews and documents collected on the island over the past year, with five students in CCU’s Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) program transcribing video and audio interviews.
“Throughout this project we’ve worked closely with the Sandy Island community, getting to know the people and their stories,” says Ronda Taylor, a Master of Arts in Writing (MAW) graduate assistant to the project. “Though the future of the island is uncertain, what we create with this project—that’s something they can hold onto.”
To learn more, visit theathenaeumpress.com.
By Maggie Nichols
Photos by Haley Yarborough
With video game technology and historical research, an interdisciplinary team of faculty and students at CCU is creating a 3D reconstruction of Hampton Plantation, a historic Colonial-era rice plantation in the Santee Delta region. This site sits along the Wambaw Creek that once fed the vast rice fields up until the mid-20th century.
“We’re trying to recreate the early 19th century working plantation,” says Sue Bergeron, CCU associate professor of anthropology and geography. “We use the same graphics, the same ideas of interactive video games, but we apply it to real problems. First, we recreate the terrain using modern GIS (geographic information systems), and then we texture it, simulating the look of grass. We use 3D models for trees and cultural features like buildings that would have been on the landscape, trying to recreate the look and movement of the plantation.”
The virtual reconstruction seeks to retrieve and recreate the physical plantation that has been lost over time, including the history of the local descendant community whose ancestors were slaves at Hampton.
“There’s a sense that there’s history in the landscape,” explains Bergeron. “The park would like to tell the whole story, which isn’t just the story of the big house, but the people who worked there, too.”
The CCU team is working with Jayson Sellers, park director; Al Hester, historic sites coordinator; and David Jones, state parks archaeologist, to create a virtual reality experience that visitors can use to encounter Hampton Plantation through spatial storytelling.
“We live life by moving and experiencing,” says Bergeron. “One of our challenges is, how do we represent knowledge and how do we represent it in a way that’s compelling for everyone? There’s a lot to be said for taking storytelling seriously and telling stories in unique, sound academic ways.”
To learn more, visit virtualhampton.org.
By Maggie Nichols