The University of South Carolina’s Digital Collections department is an important part of the Historic Southern Naturalists project. Our newest blog entry comes from Joshua Schutzenhofer, a grant assistant with the project. Read on and enjoy!
Hello, I’m Josh, and I’m working for UofSC’s Digital Collections department as an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant assistant on the Historic Southern Naturalists (HSN) collection. When I am not working on homework or projects in my UofSC Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science, I’m digitizing HSN books, articles, or manuscripts that were written by (and sometimes for) naturalists, from as early as 1792 and as late as 1976. The work of scanning manuscripts and developing accompanying metadata can be tedious at first glance, but over time it becomes more interesting, seeing the different topics that the naturalists focused on. I get a glimpse at a variety of documents from the South, with details about botany, geology, and chemistry, as well as details about purchased items, account books, and ledgers of bills. All of the documents that have been scanned will eventually require someone to transcribe them, as they’re all handwritten manuscripts.
The work is great hands-on experience. Handling techniques for rare and fragile archival items prepares me for future archives work. And I get to utilize highly specialized scanners like the Qidenus SMART. I’m directly involved with the creation and editing of necessary and descriptive metadata as well as uploading digitized objects to our online repository. And I’m getting experience as a grant funded assistant, backed by one of the nation’s biggest granting foundations for libraries and museums, IMLS. The classes I take do provide me with knowledge that I will use, but the work I do here will provide me with skills and experience that I can possibly take with me to other positions after I graduate. Seeing all the different types of items and documents is also interesting because I have earned an undergraduate degree in history.
Stay tuned for updates on the pieces we digitize next!
William Gaillard Mazyck, as you learned in last month’s blog, was a world-famous malacologist (a.k.a. someone who studies mollusks or shells). The McKissick Museum took possession of the “Mazyck” shell collection, consisting of 570 lots of shells, in 1976 as an inter-institutional transfer from the South Caroliniana Library.
But what do you do when the provenance of an object, or objects, come into question? This is the situation the grant staff found themselves in when addressing McKissick’s Mazyck shell collection.
During the first phase of the HSN project in 2017, correspondence was uncovered from Wm. G. Mazyck to A.C. Moore. These letters refer to Mazyck’s contract malacological work for UofSC negotiated with Moore. The first indication that our Mazyck collection may indeed be Lewis Reeves Gibbes ’ collection came from a letter scanned by SCDL (South Carolina Digital Library) during the ASPIRE II phase of the project.
As you can see above, this handwritten letter from William G. Mazyck to Professor A.C. Moore, was penned on January 3rd, 1906 and post marked January 5th, 1906. Mazyck first apologizes for the delay in his response to a previous letter due to “enormous pressures of office work” and the end of the fiscal year. Then he addresses the specimens, “About your specimens…if the collection is a general one I would greatly prefer to have them all before me at one time.” And Mazyck goes on to say, “I anticipate much enjoyment from this work and trust that I may be able to…assist you in getting the collection into such shape as shall serve to make it attractive both for exhibition and study.”
In a typed letter dated, April 5, 1906, we read that Mazyck has received the collection from Moore along with a letter. Mazyck speaks to the condition of the shells and the fact that in some cases the locality of the specimen is not noted on the label. He goes on to state that… “In labeling these latter I have given the general habitat of the species or that of my cabinet specimens, in brackets, to indicate that such information was lacking in Dr. Gibbes’ labels and has been supplied by another hand.”
The last letter uncovered from Mazyck to Moore is dated June 4th, 1907. In this short letter, Mazyck lets Moore know that, “By Express I am sending today three of the boxes of your shells. I hope that they will reach you safely and the work done will prove satisfactory.”
With only these letters and the evidence from the historic labels, we are inclined to attribute the collection to Lewis Reeves Gibbes. We have reached out to multiple institutions to find other letters between the two but as of today we have not found any other letters.
Our next stop is the South Carolina Department of Archives and History. There, we will research the Appropriations Acts passed by the General Assembly to find records of the specific funds allocated for the purchase of Dr. Gibbes natural history collections. We know that Gibbes’ specimens were purchased by the state of SC for the university after his death (1894), so in accessing these records we hope to find a specific date for the allocation.
So Mazyck or not Mazyck…the search continues for more evidence to confirm our suspicions.
Man has been using minerals in the creation of art for more than 150,000 years. Earliest art consists of petroglyphs created by prehistoric man during the Paleolithic Period. When I think of the contentious debate involved in erecting a piece of public sculpture today, I chuckle at the thought of John Q Homoerectus’ sons and daughters explaining their intent to a less than admiring community. Did it get violent, did the debate involve clubs?
Petroglyphs are found on all the continents except Antarctica. They are generally found in groupings and can number in the hundreds at a single site. From the Greek word meaning “rock writing,” they predate written and oral history, and as such, many remain a mystery to modern scholars. Still, they represent a universal form of public art. Imagine the committees involved in determining what of the communities resources (man hours, tools etc…) would go for art. What would a prehistoric 2% tax for art look like?
South Carolina is the home of a number of petroglyphs unearthed at the Hagood Mill site in Pickens County. They number more than 300 and are thought to be between 1000 and 2000 years old. They were found by Archeologist Tommy Charles of the South Carolina Institute of Archeology and Anthropology.
Much of what we know about early cultures we know from examining their art. The oldest rock art, the Bimbetka petroglyphs and cave paintings in India depict everyday life, religious ritual, and myth. The paints are believed to have been made from a combination of manganese, hematite and coal. I recently saw the film “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and the film’s protagonist, a child called Hushpuppy, moves through silent moments in the film drawing on any and everything using charred sticks. At one key moment in the film she has started a fire in her home and seeks refuge in a cardboard box. When the lights come up inside the box the interior walls are covered with her childlike drawings. I believe the filmmaker sought to draw parallels between our contemporary understanding of life and the primal urge for self-expression. So in the film modern, storm ravaged Louisiana becomes the backdrop for coal paintings by Hushpuppy.
We humans like pretty things. We have painted, carved and built whatever we could imagine throughout history using the resources of our natural environment. We have adorned ourselves with gemstones, and fought wars over gold and diamonds and continue to paint our bodies with minerals using ancient and modern techniques. The Karo People of the OmoRiverValley in Africa use pulverized white ash, a powdered yellow mineral (perhaps mitridatite), hematite and black charcoal to adorn their bodies. They paint beautiful designs they have practiced this art since ancient times.
Throughout history we have carved monuments into the sides of mountains and built things with stone and minerals extracted from earth. Edgefield, South Carolina has found itself in the news recently as a newly discovered vessel by enslaved 19th century potter, Dave Drake has been identified and auctioned. Potters in Edgefield were using alkalized glazed stoneware.
Today’s artists participate in creating all manner of forms and images using a vast array of the earth’s resources.
Here are a few artists who use natural materials in their work:
– Michaela Pilar Brown
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