Rachel Cockrell

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Interviewee: Rachel Cockrell
Interviewer: Cane West
Date: October 10, 2016
Accession #: PHP 005
Length of Recording: 
Sound Recording

Rachel (Haigler) Cockrell, a 1989 graduate of the Public History Program, is currently the registrar and operations chief at the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum in Columbia, SC. Before attending the University of South Carolina, she earned her undergraduate at Newberry College. While in the Public History Program, Cockrell specialized in museum studies. As a graduate student, she had assistantships in the Department of History and worked at Historic Columbia as a historic house docent. Interview includes discussion of Cockrell’s early introduction to the program through Historic Columbia and her undergraduate professors, her memories of her thesis work on Victorian undergarments, her experiences with the Charleston Field School, cohort musical performances, memories of influential professors, and her perspective on how to teach history through story. She also discussed the role of museum professionals to teach context as well as the specifics of military history and her impressions regarding the role of the Confederate Relic Room in addressing controversial subjects, in particular the objectivity of her state agency in interpreting the Confederate Flag recently removed from the South Carolina State House grounds.



Confederate Flag Removal | Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum | Historic Columbia | Historic Houses | Internships | Material Culture | Military History | Museum Registrars | Museum Studies | Newberry College



Cane West: Good afternoon, this is Cane West on what you say is October 10. I hope I didn’t write anything down yesterday, October 10, 2016. I’m here with the USC public history archives oral history project, and I’m sitting across from.[1]

Rachel Cockrell: Rachel Cockrell. Formerly Haigler.

CW: And in the wonderful bowels of the South Carolina State Museum and the Confederate Relic Room. Alright we’ll start out with the basics, and then we’re going to just jump in. Tell me the years that you were in the program, and what your first position was, and what your position is now?

RC: Okay. I entered the program in the fall of 1986. Took my comps in the Spring of ‘88. Graduated in December 1989. My first full-time job I actually got before I graduated in November 1988. I began full-time with the Historic Columbia Foundation, and I believe the time of the position was called the Education Coordinator. And, currently, I am the Registrar and Operations Chief at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.

 CW: So, you took your comps first? And then you graduated?

RC: I think my comps in March 1988.  I had my full-time job in November 1988. Graduated in December 1989.

CW: So you did take comps.

RC: Yes, I took my comps the semester after I got married.

CW: (Laughter) Wow.

RC: Yeah, some honeymoon.

CW: Did you like taking comps?

RC: No! I didn’t like taking comps. Comps is a very interesting procedure, though. It was obviously very intense. The department chairman at the time was Tom Conley, and I was taking him for Civil War, obviously, because that was his field of expertise. And, as I said, newly married and my new husband was one of his favorite students. He was known for having favorites. I met him in the hallway the afternoon after taking the exam in the morning, and he told me I got an A. I do not know how he managed to grade it that fast, but I wasn’t going to complain. But yeah. Masters comes a time took one day, I think. It was just one day.  And it was just written. You didn’t have oral comps. I have to go back and think about this because at the time that I was in grad school I did my comps, and then I watched my husband go to his PhD comps the following year. So, everything sort of starts to run together. I mean in four years he got his Masters, I got my Masters, he got his PhD. So, from ’87 to ‘91 we were all in grad school together and working on multiple degrees at the same time. It kind of all blurs together after a while.

CW: You must have been the smartest couple on campus at the time.

RC: We had way too many degrees between us. Let’s put it that way. But yeah, we had we were one of those History Department romances people still laugh about it. If you talk to old professors like Connie Schulz. And let’s see who’s even still there. I don’t even know who are still there anymore. Who knew us before we got married and watched the whole engagement process. Anybody who was on the field school in Charleston in the summer of ‘87 will remember that multiple letters that we exchanged back-and-forth and back-and-forth. It became a big joke about how much mail we got. But yeah we were fun. We are one of those History Department romances.

CW: I’m so glad that this is how are interview is beginning. That’s too funny. And what was your specific thesis on?

RC: Oh, that’s fun, too. Because I was one of those truly disciplined students who went into grad school knowing exactly what I wanted to do, by the time it rolled around it where I finished my comps and really, really needed defined hey thesis topic, I was an assistant at McKissick museum.  And had no idea what I wanted to write on. So, I went to the curators and I said, “Okay, do y’all have anything you need any additional research done on? Trying to find a thesis topic.” And the curator of history says, “Yeah, well we could use some more research in the textile collection.”  And I said, “That’s a bit big.”  So I talked with the registrar, went through what they had, what they needed more of, and ended up narrowing the focus to the Victorian underwear. The title of my thesis is  “Underneath It All: The Victorian Underwear Collection at McKissick Museum.” It’s about that thick. I mean seriously we’re talking been bare minimum required number of pages for thesis in 1989.

CW: Because I saw that topic and I was like “Ok, material culture.” And then you were the registrar. I was like “Oh, it all makes sense.”

RC: I was just trying to help add to the scholarship that they had on the collection at McKissick, and they had way too much to try to write on all the textiles. I just narrowed it down to that one particular class of textiles.

CW: Favorite story that you found out from the undergarments of Victorian men and women or just women?

RC: I’m trying to remember if any of it was men’s stuff. There were some early, early mail order things like Montgomery Ward and Sears. Things that were obviously commercially made: knit things, undervests and things like that. I can’t remember. Truly it’s been years since I even looked at the thing. If any of those undervests were men’s or women’s. There may have been a Union suit. The prettiest piece was a nightgown from 1860 that was, I don’t know, 10 yards of fabric. It was very fine fabric, but gathered so tightly across the yoke in the front and the back that it was just really, really full. Entirely handstitched, beautiful workmanship. And, I mean, that was the prettiest piece was that. But there were a lot of other just utilitarian type things. But I learned a lot about the early thing with Sears and Montgomery Ward and all with mail order catalogs and getting clothing through catalogs. That was fun learning about all that.

CW: Before you came to graduate school, had you had a job? Or did you come straight out of undergrad?

RC: I came straight out of undergrad. I did have a part time job that summer. I had been, when I was in high school, a tour guide at the historic houses that Historic Columbia ran. And that led into an internship that I did when I was in undergrad because a professor at Newberry was a former employee at Historic Columbia. So he said, “You can get credit for doing that very same kind of stuff.” Except I worked with the collections when I did that undergraduate internship. That turned into a part time job that summer after I graduated. I was already working part time at Historic Columbia the first full year I was in grad school. I still kept that just 10 hours a week helping out with the collections at the historic houses. So that did also lead into later full-time employment, knowing people and having some experience made a big difference.

CW: Did you always want to work in history? Do you have one or two moments when you were like “Man!”?

RC: When I was in high school, in 10th grade, I was interested in history. My 10th grade history teacher brought me the newspaper clipping announcing volunteer training for the historic house museums. It was every Wednesday night for a month. And she said, “If you want to do this, I’ll pick you up and take you, and we’ll do it together.” So Ms. Isabell Cardobaum took me to training every Wednesday night for a month. We ended up working alternate Saturdays. We didn’t work together. I worked 2nd and 4th, and she worked 1st and 3rd. For the rest of high school, my junior and senior years of high school, every other Saturday, I was doing tours at the historic houses. Then I didn’t do that through college because I was in Newberry, and it was too far to drive. Except, as I said, that led into the internship that I did my senior year because by then I had a car, and I could drive back from Newberry to Columbia a day or two a week to do an afternoon internship.

But ever since I was in 10th grade I knew I was going to be a history major in college. And especially once Jessie Scott came to Newberry to teach there, he had been involved with the Applied History program at Carolina. And he was, being a good professor, talking to his students and asked me what I was planning on doing after college. And I thought “I don’t know, maybe library school. I love hanging around the library.” And he says, “No. No, you need to do this.” And he introduced me to people in the Applied History program. He got me an interview with Mike Scardaville, who was the head of the program at the time. And, you know, pretty much pushed me into the program.

CW: Had you considered any other program?

RC: There weren’t any others in South Carolina at the time. Carolina was one of the early ones. The nearest other one was Middle Tennessee State University. I don’t know if there were any others in the Southeast at the time. But being a Columbia native, I could go to grad school, live at home. It was the best option for me.

 CW: What did you like about the program?

RC: The people were a lot of fun. Being at Historic Columbia, there were–this was before the days of Graduate Assistants working in other organizations, rather than just the History Department. The weekend staff, a lot of grad students made extra money working weekend staff at the historic houses. So by already having that part time job, I knew some of them. They were in the program. They took me to get-to-know-you events. Things and parties at people’s apartments. Music jam sessions. Really good musicians in the program at the time. They could do Beatles concerts like nobody else. There was a particular performance of the “789 Blues.” That was really interesting. History 789: Historic Sites Interpretation.

CW: Mmhmm.

RC: With Chris Vonville, Chris Bennett, Chip Bennett, on guitar and Stacy Moore on lyrics adlibbing the “789 Blues.” It was amazing. And I had no idea what they were talking about until I got in the program and actually took History 789. It, it was all about Dr. Sonot’s vacation slides and visiting all of these historic sites and driving over the Cooper River Bridge in Charleston and all of these things that Stacy was singing about in this ad-libbed blues song. It was amazing. I was 21 years old and absolutely boggle-eyed at these crazy people. But it was fun. There were a lot of fun people.

CW: What about academically? What sort of stood out to you going into the program?

RC: Going into the program, first thing was that these professors were people who really knew their stuff. John Bryan taught me decorative arts. He was the expert on Robert Mills, the architect, was writing a book at the time. And I had worked in the Robert Mills House as a historic house guide. So I knew something about Robert Mills, and I recognized very early that this was the man who could teach me everything else I needed to know about that, but also how to identify the furniture that I’d been dusting for three years. How to tell what the different woods were that the furniture was made out of. All that kind of stuff. Just a lot of really good technical knowledge that I learned that was very helpful because I had already been doing this part-time work in the historic houses. And suddenly to get the book knowledge to go along with it, it was like windows opening. It was really cool.

CW: Tell about this book knowledge. One of the things that I wanted to get out of graduate school was the deeper awareness of broader contexts. The questions. The real driving curiosities that surrounded that. Did that capture you in any ways?

RC: Well, the way the program was structured when I was there, you had a really strong history component. You were taking the 500, 700, 800 level courses, reading seminars, writing papers (unintelligible), with what they called at that time the “straight history students.” And there was a good deal of rivalry between “real” history, with quote marks around it, and Applied History, which was always fun because my husband was one of those “real” history students. so the less fun part about it was having to write the papers and do all the reading and research. There was always way more reading than there was time to do.

Some of it seemed to be not very useful for the context of what we were going to be working in. That was frustrating. Having to read about voting patterns in upstate New York and how they matched the crop cycles…absolutely no use to me. There were some courses where the amount of reading was just unreasonable. And so those did not seem useful at all, but, you know, it was an American History course and it would fit into the schedule. You pretty much took it because you never knew if you were going to be able to get enough hours. There just weren’t a lot to choose from if you wanted to stay within museum…Like I wanted to stay within American History, and I really wanted to stay within antebellum. But one time I had to take a Rev War course because it was the only American History course that semester, that kind of thing and that level that I needed. But the applied courses, like I said, decorative arts, the museum management courses, the archives course that I took…The field school in preservation was absolutely the best.

But then field schools, you can’t really compare them to classroom experiences anyway because it’s such a different ballgame. But those were, you know, you took the history courses, and they helped you set things in context, but the ones that you really felt…Civil War course, yeah, I really enjoyed that and learned a lot more than I had in undergrad about intricacies about the war, details about the Civil War, but the really useful courses were the ones that I knew I was going to need for actually working in the field: the technical things.

CW: You talked about the field school. You mentioned some of the courses that you didn’t, you know…what professors did you mainly…professors that really stood out as sort of pylons of guidance?

RC: Well, like I said, John Bryan did decorative arts; he did architecture for the preservation students. I think he did another course for the preservation students. I didn’t take those particular courses since I was in the museum track. I do remember that decorative arts course and how amazingly helpful it was.

CW: In what sense?

RC: Just in, you know, the identification of furniture. I mean furniture styles, how they changed over time, materials furniture was made out of. I mean it was really good hands-on, practical stuff. He had a stack. Must have been 3 or 4 inches tall. Hole through each piece, bound together with a chain, of wood samples finished on one side and unfinished on the other. All different kinds of wood: walnut, mahogany, rosewood, poplar, oak, pine, three different kinds of maple, all that other kind of stuff. So you learned wood grain. You learned what color the raw wood was. You learned what color it would be when it was stained, varnished, all that other kind of stuff. You could look at a piece of furniture and say, “That’s walnut.” You look at a piano: “Yes, that’s rosewood.” You look at a bookcase: “That’s mahogany.” That’s how you did it. You looked at a lot of stuff. You looked at a lot of furniture: pictures and actual pieces. That kind of hands on technical stuff.

I always wondered what happened to those stacks of wood. Those wood samples. Those were amazing. I always wished, when I was doing my research for my thesis…there was one book in the library that I couldn’t check out, I could only keep it in my carrel, and I couldn’t keep it long enough, that had a similar type of things for fabrics. Because you read all of these types of fabrics. And it’s like “What’s the difference between Okansa and Dimity? What is the difference between, you know, all these kinds of weaves?” You read about a twill, and you read about a velvet, and you read about all these other things. Having those pieces of fabric to see and to touch would have made a huge difference. There was only one sample book that I couldn’t keep long enough.

CW: Right.

RC: To be able to. When I was doing the fabric research for my thesis, that was vital: that stack of wood samples was something I remember. There weren’t many, maybe one or two, there might have been more than one. But I remember sharing that thing around, looking and memorizing wood grains and stuff.

CW: So John Bryan, Top Toppity Top, Top.

RC: Pretty much, Yeah.

CW: You mentioned when we talked earlier about people maybe leaving and you just wondering about what the leaving might have-

RC: Well John retired so I don’t know how they got to teach, if they got anybody at all to teach decorative arts. And I heard sort of through the grapevine that they had some guest lecturers teaching architecture. People who worked in either architects in town or people who worked in some of the preservation organizations who did guest lecturing for the preservation students in the program long after I had left. But I don’t know what they had in the way of course work with that after he retired. Mike Scardaville was one of the founders of the program. And Connie Schulz. He moved on into Latin American Studies, or something like that.

I’m trying to remember to make sure I know the sequence. Whether Bob Weyeneth came in right after Mike left or if Connie ran the program by herself for a while. Connie was very good in teaching archives. I took archives from her. I mean she knew everything there was about teaching archives. That was very, very good. That was my other take-one-course-in-the-field just to get exposure in that field and get a three-hour internship as part of that class. A work project kind of thing to get some hands-on work. So I had, you know, the bare minimum exposure to both archives and preservation, ended up using it both in my job even though I had taken all of the museum type courses. And I’ve used those, but how many got multiple course exposure to really develop in working world as well.

CW: That’s fascinating because we are always talking about what applies. I’m wondering about people who weren’t professors but were students. Do you remember? One of the questions I have is about the diversity of students, where they’re from, however we define diversity. What do you remember about the students?

RC: Stacy’s thing was foodways. Stacy knew all kinds of really cool things about historic foodways. Ways things were cooked. Where the foods and recipes origins were–whether it was the historic periods, cultures, that sort of thing. I remember Stacy was really into food. There were people from many different areas of the country. I remember guys from New Jersey, um, I’m trying to remember. We had one or two from California. I mean Chip could surf. He took his surfboard with him to Charleston. Not sure if he ever actually got out to Folly Beach or Isle of Palms to do any surfing, but I remember he had a surfboard with him. As I said, several guys really good on the guitar.

Gordon Jones was big into re-enacting. He was one of the barefoot soldiers. He never wore shoes on campus unless he had to so he could keep his feet tough. He had a pair of 19th century glasses–modern lenses, antique frames–that he wore. And a long black beard. He resembles Santa Claus a lot more now. He couldn’t pass for a starving soldier anymore. Because he’s my age. He looks like a lot more like Santa Claus. Still has the long beard. Not quite as brown as it was. Yeah, Gordon was one of those really disciplined students who made every paper a chapter of his thesis so that by the time he finished all of his course work and his comps, he pretty much had his thesis written. He had a really interesting topic, too. You ought to look up Gordon.

CW: Ok.

RC: Gordo’s big over at the Atlanta History Center now. He’s there, I don’t remember the job title, curator of Civil War collections or something like that. He knows lots and lots of very cool things about the Civil War. But that was the big thing about Gordon was how he didn’t wear shoes because he had to keep his feet tough for when he did re-enactments.

CW: Male/female divide?

RC: Pretty even, actually, Pretty even. Like I said. Let’s see, Catherine Richardson was there. She was already working full time. She may have already been finished. She was just still around the department a lot because her husband George was doing his PhD. She was curator of education at the time at Historic Columbia. So I saw her at both work and school. She’s now at Camden. So I’ve known Catherine my whole professional career. Will Hyatt and his wife Sue. I can’t remember if they got married while they were still in school or just after.

I guess it was probably about two-thirds male. Enough women that you didn’t feel like you were, you know, alone. You weren’t being a pioneer or anything. I mean, Connie was co-head of the department, so you had. All the women, everybody…I don’t remember a lot of diversity culturally. Sharmila was Indian. It wasn’t like she came here from India. She was of Indian extraction. But I don’t know what state she was living in before she came to South Carolina. I’m trying to remember anybody else who was…Yeah, the mid-80s, it was still not real diverse. It was inclusive. I guess it didn’t have that many applicants from other groups and cultures, yet, at the time. 

CW: So, continuing on this thing of people in the program. You had mentioned that there was a rivalry between the Applied/Public History. What do you remember were some of the primary arguments, or did it seem like sides?

RC: It was good natured, but there was some definite rivalry with the “real” historians vs the applied historians. Which the applied historians generally countered with “we may not graduate but we have jobs.” Because, as I said, at the time that I was in the program, and for several years after, the Applied History program had a reputation for not producing graduates. It got people through the coursework and the comps and then they got employed. And once you’re employed full time, writing your thesis is not high on your priority list because you don’t have time, motivation is not there. You may not be living where you can do your research anymore.

My boss at Historic Columbia started working full time in 1988. A few years after, I can’t remember exactly what year it was, when we had a few more staff members, we already had graduate students working there at that time as full graduate assistants. So they were getting paid through the university and getting the tuition abatement, and that kind of thing, the Board of Trustees told him, “You need your degree. We know that you went through the program, but you never graduated.” It had been seven years since he had finished his comps, and he had his thesis almost finished, and just had let it lie. He had to recertify. He had to retake some of his classes and retake his comps before he could finish typing his thesis and turn it in because it had been so long.

But they made that a condition of his employment to finish his degree. And by that time he was sort of the poster child that the people in the head of the department were telling the other students, “Don’t be like this. Finish your degree. Go ahead and write that thesis.” So we had a reputation on the applied side for not finishing, but that was during the time period when it was hard to find a job in teaching in straight history. Several of my husband’s friends and colleagues who finished their PhDs at the same time were thankful for whatever job even if it was teaching at the community college. It was a tough time to find a job in the academic history field. And so the Applied History students, that was their ammunition in the rivalry, “Yes, but we have jobs.”

CW: Which is still the case, in many senses, today. There is this divide between Applied, now Public History, that you were talking about. I mean you’re here at the Confederate Relic Room. Do you feel like your work does offer new insights, new perspectives, new questions to the scholarship?

RC: Well, one of the things that we find here is that we need to be well-versed in the real history. Because our focus is military history of South Carolina. You have to be able to set things in context. Kids in schools these days really don’t get a lot. In the way, when they are being taught history, it’s much more social history. They may not know a lot about various wars. You look at modern text books; they don’t cover wars much. The new approaches to history basically skip over that. You know, World War II in three pages. That kind of thing.

So in order to set the context for the exhibits that we do and the artifacts that we exhibit, we have to know that history. And put it in ways that convey to these school kids and visiting families of Fort Jackson soldiers, and vacationers and whoever else comes through our doors why this particular thing is important. You do need that straight history background in order to be able to set the context for the artifacts we’re exhibiting and the stories that we’re telling. Artifacts are just another way of telling a story. History is a really cool story. Most people get turned off to History because their teachers don’t teach it right. My husband has done seminars for high school teachers on how to teach history. Because if you teach it right then kids are interested in it. if you don’t teach it right, you’ll kill their interest in History for the rest of their lives.

CW: What are two things that you always want to hammer home, or that he wants to always hammer home, about teaching it right? 

RC: The historian should be a storyteller. People are always fascinated to hear stories. You need to present history as a story. That’s where museums do a good job. They pick a person or an object that illustrates a person’s story, but you have to set it in context. You have to tell about the battle and you have to tell about the war the battle is a part of. And you have to tell why that war started and all that sort of things. You tell the story, and that way you convey the history and in a way that people are really interested in it. And maybe they want to go back and read a good book. That’s not a history book, maybe even a good historical novel gets them interested in a particular part of history. It’s a lot of technique in the way you teach it when you teach in high school, or even earlier, that will either put them off of it for life or keep them interested.

That’s the thing. Teaching and using objects to teach. When he was teaching high school, teaching college, my husband always took objects in. As historians we are pack rats, we keep stuff, we accumulate stuff. He would take stuff in that we owned. Or borrow stuff. When he was teaching at Newberry, he would get stuff from the library there from their small historical collection to be able to demonstrate. Using objects to teach are what museums do well. There is nothing that says a classroom teacher can’t do the same thing.

CW: Do you think that museums and academic history build on each other or they are separate?

RC: No, they need to build on each other. They really do. People need to use the same techniques in the classroom to keep the kids interest. You use objects in the museum you have to set the context. A gun tells you nothing. A gun carried by Richard Kirkland, that tells you a little bit more. Richard Kirkland the “Angel of Marye’s Heights” in the Battle of Fredericksburg in the American Civil War. If you know anything about Marye’s Heights, and Fredericksburg, and the Civil War, then Richard Kirkland’s gun hanging there in that case is a whole lot more interesting.

CW: You said “museums, you have objects. Teachers have stories.” We need to meet in the middle and remind each other. Do you, in your exhibits, do you ever put forth a controversial or like a very strong argument, or is it more about the stories?

RC: We try to keep it non-controversial. It’s difficult as the Confederate Relic Room to keep it non-confrontational, and of course the last couple of years have been rife with controversy because of all the stories having to do with the confederate flag at the State House and that sort of thing. But we try to make sure that we do keep things in context and as a state agency we are not going to take a side. We are going to try to present all sides of the story. Keep it balanced. We have a lot of battle flags with bullet holes and blood stains. We have the flag that flew over the State House, not on exhibit yet because the legislature hasn’t yet approved the display plan or the money to build the display. But most of what we exhibit are military artifacts. That’s a political artifact, so you have to approach it differently. Just because it’s red and blue with a white stars and an X does not make it a battle flag. Battle flags flew on the battle field. Battle flag style flags that flew on a memorial on the building grounds is a completely different artifact.

CW: Do you…could be more controversial?

RC: No, no.

CW: You personally?

RC: Personally, no. We had to walk such a fine line last year and some this year. The anniversary had some additional press coverage of people who really wanted us to take a stand, but the controversial stuff brings in the public. But you spend almost all of your time clearing up misconceptions that you really can’t tell the story you want to tell. One of the things we had when we had in all of the international press with the battle flag thing last year was to show them the difference between historic flags. We have a Civil War Union flag in our gallery that’s the last remaining flag that US Colored Troops, that were made up free slaves occupying the sea islands on the coast of South Carolina. That’s a South Carolina Civil War flag even though it’s a Union flag. So there’s not just Cross of St. Andrews flags, either.

We have hand painted and hand embroidered company flags that were made by the women who sent these men off to war with some really inspiring saying inscribed on them. And newspaper accounts of really emotional ceremonies where the men mustered together and the women sent them off to war. And, you know, stories like that have a lot more meaning than a flag on a pole in front of the statehouse. There’s so much more to be told.

CW: Are there museums where you hope that there is controversial history, or do you think that we actually sort of miss the point when we don’t (unintelligible).

RC: One of the hard things about controversy is that if you only present one side then the story is incomplete, and you can end up making the problem worse. Those misconceptions can be re-enforced. And then you end up with really extensive misunderstandings.

CW: And then considering…

RC: I can see the benefit in attacking controversies, but you have to be careful in your approach to be balanced in your approach, or you’ll be guilty of not telling the story correctly.

CW: That’s fascinating because I was talking to Al Hester, and he says he wishes he could put more controversial stuff. Obviously, he works at a state agency as well so he doesn’t.

RC: I guess there’s a difference between working for a state agency and being in a private museum where your focus may be just one-sided story.

CW: That’s what you’re saying. You’re kind of clearing up those things that kind of already are kind of one sided. When you…

RC: Trying to balance it out. But one of the problems that you have if you are a museum that only presents one side of the story, you’re only going to get half of the audience. The audience that does not agree with your viewpoint is not going to come see you.

CW: Who is your audience when you imagine them?

RC: Our audience is the State of South Carolina. School kids, visitors to the state, residents of the state. We get a lot of Thursday afternoon when a new class graduates at Fort Jackson. Family Day. We get a whole bunch of new baby soldiers and their families after Thursday afternoon. And because Fort Jackson publicizes us, this is military history. This is what you need to go see. Show your family around town. This is one of the places to go. That’s people from all over the country who come in to learn about South Carolina military history.

CW: Are most people who visit military families and school. Are there people who are visiting outside?

RC: We get some just general vacationers as well. I’m not the one who keeps the records on attendance and that sort of thing. But just my impression of people who I talk to in the galleries and that sort of thing. Working with being in such close proximity to the State Museum, sometimes that works to our advantage because we get visitors who come to both museums. Sometimes it causes a lot of confusion when people don’t’ realize we’re a separate institution. That we are celebrating our 120th anniversary. The State Museum is nowhere near that old. We’ve just been in this location since 2002.

CW: Oh.

RC: So, you know, our name, the Confederate Relic Room came from the fact that we were a room in the State House in 1905, on the second floor right next to the senate. And we had all these Civil War relics and artifacts that were collected by the wives and daughters of Civil War soldiers. We were founded by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.  These were women who had their husbands’ and their fathers’ things, and they put them in the museum. So, we have all the stuff they collected even if that’s not military. We have the stuff their sons who fought in the Spanish American War brought back. The stuff their sons and grandsons who fought in World War I brought back. So that’s how we became the military museum. Because it’s not just the Civil War. Very soon after we were founded in 1896, Spanish American War stuff started coming in.

CW: You were adamant about being multi-sided today. Do you think that that is a shift in philosophy from the origins of the museum?

RC: Well, understandably, because of its founding, it was going to be pro-Southern in dealing with Civil War specifically. But because of its general military focus for the later conflicts, then it’s just been military adventures of South Carolinians, basically. First World War, Second World War, Korea, Vietnam, all the way up through current conflicts. We’ve got a big collection of new things that came in from 2003 on because we developed a program called “right from the front” that was an archival based program. You know, every historian who ever does any research in old wars. They read the shoe box full of letters. This war, almost all the correspondence is electronic. And if you don’t have a plan for saving that, it gets lost.

CW: Which is on you.

RC: Server Crash. Delete button. Anything like that. So, we set up this program, and we solicited contributions from soldiers. We said “You send your family email, copy us. You send your family pictures, copy us.” We print it out, we save it archivally. We save it on a server that’s backed up at the state. We established all these relationships with soldiers for their archival material, which led into the “I brought all this stuff back, and decided I don’t need to keep it. Would you like it?” So we’ve got Afghani clothing. We’ve got Iraqi…not necessarily arms, they were not able to bring firearms from this war, not many of them…but we have souvenir uniforms, all that kind of things from both Iraq and Afghanistan, that is a good collection from the current conflict. People are still bringing stuff back.

CW: Do you think that there is a need to have museums, public spaces, that are education and, sort of, pro-military. Or I guess explicitly military history?

RC: It is sort of a specialized field, yeah. And if you’re going to do a good job of interpreting, it’s good to have people who focus on military. A general museum like the State Museum has so many things to cover-history, and science, and that kind of thing-that maybe they can do an exhibit here or there that focuses in on a particular thing. They’ve done exhibits on the Civil War. They have the General State History section that’s got some things on the Revolution and some things on the Civil War and that kind of thing.

But as a specific military museum, we can focus and can direct our collecting, direct our exhibit plans, so that we give that military history. South Carolina has always been a very important militarily in the country’s history. More revolutionary War skirmishes were fought in South Carolina than any other colony. Civil War, obviously, the Civil War began. Lots of South Carolinians kept that tradition in their family of serving in the military. We have a lot of veterans and now it is one of the best places to retire. People who came through here, whether they were training at Fort Jackson or stationed at one of the emplacements along the coast, or at Shaw or like that, they come back to South Carolina to retire. There’s a big military presence in this state. And having the military history museum acknowledges that.

CW: A year and a couple of months ago, the Confederate flag comes down. Or was lowered and was brought to y’all. And my last vision is some guy. Do you know the guy who was wearing the white gloves with the nylon flag who’s walking off on like NBC?

RC: That was Allen [sp?].

CW: Yeah.

RC: That’s our director.

CW: There we go.

RC: Yeah, he was handed the flag. The troopers took it down off the pole. Rolled it up. Handed it to Allen. He carried it back into the back of the State House. I was holding the box he put it in. And then they took us down through the basement of the State House. Put us in an armored vehicle. Sent off the decoy to the front of the museum and drove us to the back. And then we got it back here. We unrolled it, put it in a larger archival textile box. Padded it out with acid-free tissue paper and locked it up in alarmed storage where it’s been ever since except for the times when I’ve had to take it out and show it to members of the press. And we put together the display proposal as we were directed to do by the legislature. Sent it over to them in December, and we haven’t gotten an answer back yet.

CW: Before that fascinating story happened, had y’all been talking to each other? Because one of the things that people were saying was “that needs to go in a museum.” And I don’t really know quite what they meant by that, but I’m wondering if you all imagined that you might be the repository?

RC: Well we weren’t certain because when they took it down off the dome and out of the chambers of the State House in 2000, when they first put it on that pole, those flags went to the State Museum. Those were the big, rectangular Army of Tennessee flags. The square Army of Northern Virginia flag that they put on the pole, the first one that flew on the pole was a heavy cotton flag. It didn’t do too well. That’s why they went to nylon because it fluttered in the wind a lot better, even when it was wet. That first one that was on the pole, that came off the pole, is here. It was autographed by members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans who stood color guard for it when it was lowered—or,  sorry, when it was raised. Because it has the date of July 1, 2000 written on it. And their initials. And I’m not sure how long it flew. It flew long enough to get faded. It’s got definite fade patterns. It’s weathered. I’m not sure how long it was out there, but it’s definitely faded. But it was cotton, and it was heavy. Especially when it was wet. It just kind of hung there.

So that’s why they wanted the nylon flag because nylon is much lighter in weight. And it’s printed whereas the cotton flags were sewn. Each stripe was sewn together. Each star was sewn on. That just added to the weight. So the nylon flag is printed and it’s much more light and fluttery. Catches the breeze much better. But we already had the 2000 flag from the pole. And because our name is Confederate, we assumed. And because there are some members of the legislature who have–one or two who actually have artifacts here in the museum. Some of which came back relatively recently, um, and others who were aware of our existence. A lot more because our profile was higher. There existed some programs that we had done. Interestingly enough, in 2000 when they took the one down off the dome, we were looking directly across the street from the capital. In the old War Memorial building on Sumter Street. They didn’t put that flag here then. They brought it to the State Museum.

CW: Why?

RC: Don’t know. Our profile just wasn’t that high? I don’t know really. I mean in 2000, I wasn’t here so I don’t’ know what the story was then. But technically the flag on the pole, just like the flag on the dome, is a political artifact. It’s not a military artifact. Has not flown over a battlefield. Not a true battlefield, I mean. People have fought over it, but it’s been wars of words. The bullets that flew were not over that particular field. Nobody was shooting at the State House.

So, the whole political nature of that flag means we’d have to treat it differently from the other artifacts that we have here.  It needs to be set in its own context, and it needs to be exhibited differently. It’s not accurate to put it on the wall next to the flag of the 19th South Carolina, that’s got bullet holes. It’s not accurate to put it up next to the flag of the 26th, where the stars were all cut out by the men when they surrendered. You know, it’s a completely different artifact.

CW: If you were to put it up, do you have like two ideas of how context that you would mention about it?

RC: Well, the plan that we proposed to the legislature, which even if we have to modify the style of the thing, the general concept still needs to be, the mandate by the legislature was that it be exhibited as part of a memorial to the 22,000, I don’t remember the number, it’s not my job to research, of South Carolinians who died in the Civil War.

CW: So…

RC: So it would be part of a memorial display that somehow or another lists those names. That was the mandate of the legislature when it was taken down and put in this museum.

CW: How do you feel about the legislature mandating an interpretive approach?

RC: They write the checks. Of course, at this point they haven’t written that check. That’s why we haven’t exhibited it yet. But as a state agency, there are some things we don’t have choices about. Even if we wanted to we couldn’t say, “No, we’re not going to display it.” We would like to have some, you know, we sort of insist on some autonomy in terms of how it’s displayed. But right now the mandate is that it should be displayed as part of the memorial to the 20 something thousand who died.

CW: As somebody who has taken graduate courses in History, how does that–does any part of your training. How do you consider that within the sort of context of your training?

RC: Well—that sets it in that sensitive a context. Because one of the reasons that there was such a hard-fought battle to the side who wanted to keep it up, is that it’s their way of recognizing their ancestors who fought and died. That’s why having the memorial aspect. Now, as the museum, we’re not really in the business of having a memorial. That’s a completely different focus. So that’s one of the reasons why the designs for the proposed exhibit and that sort of thing are not the same as the way we’ve got the ones in the gallery exhibited. It’s to put it in that context.

But we’ve done a few exhibits, in the late…We had an exhibit back in 2013 for the anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg. And we had one small section in that exhibit where the walls were just plain covered with the names of people who died. South Carolina soldiers who died in Gettysburg. And, you know, that was a specific section of that exhibit on the aftermath of the battle; the memorials that were done. There’s a memorial in Charleston where some soldiers were reburied after the battle. Disinterred from the battlefield and reburied in Charleston by Rose Cemetery. That sort of thing. So it doesn’t have–it’s not that there’s not precedent. The space it took for just that one battle was a considerable amount of space. The space it would take to list all of the names of the soldiers who died in the entire war is one of the logistics issues that has to be overcome in this exhibit. Because it just takes up a lot of space. So we’re looking at electronic solutions, cascading screens, the names going over its interactive so that you can stop it, pick a name, and maybe, you know, find a name. Enter the name, look it up, tell you what unit they were in. Where they died, maybe. Who knows? I mean there’s so many different possibilities, and it’s all possible with enough money. But, you know, just depends on what the legislature wants to pay for.

CW: I know, I mean there’s so many political questions about, you know, the legislature’s asking you to do something that’s in some ways outside of your normal purview. Do you ever–if you’re at a cocktail party and they’re like, “I think the flag should be” and then whatever it is that they say, it’s probably like four different things that most people say. How do you balance your academic and professional training and respond to the concerns, the ideas that other people have?

RC: Generally, we try to keep a good clear idea of people willing to express and share strong opinions on the ways the flag should be exhibited. Then we take those into account in our planning because we assume they are not alone in their opinions. They’re likely a large constituency that’s going to feel the same way. We just have to keep the balance. We have to be careful as a state agency. And you always have that caveat not to take a side. You’ve got people who want it enshrined in gold. And you’ve got it people who want it to stay in that box in the back. And then there are some people who’d rather you just take it out and burn it. So, you know, we can’t do that. We can’t do that. It’s an artifact. You can’t take it out and burn it. It’s doing anybody any educational good stuck in the box. So it sort of does need to be exhibited. It’s how you exhibit it and how you set the context. And the lessons that you try to teach. You know, which include trying to at least trying to present multiple viewpoints. And without saying one is better than the other. I mean, as a state agency, we do have to provide that balance. We are not in the business of taking sides.

CW: Would you put up like–This may or may not have the most controversy of anything that you put up just because the memorialization of the Civil War is different today. Would you put a “And this is what the public thought.” The top ten ideas just so people would understand, you know, everybody’s different–all the potentialities in what was chosen and why?

RC: In regard to exhibit plans?

CW: Just, you know, because it seems like it would be difficult to have balance inherently because, in a way, if you’re going to take on 50-50 down the middle then you would have a memorial here and, like, people just yelling at people with Confederate flags over here. And that would be in my mind at least currently how I would see balance. At least in public perception.

RC: Well and we would…and I said, anything’s possible if you had enough money. The sort of gold-plated standard would be to be able to exhibit the statehouse memorial flag from the monument with some depiction of the list of names. To have some background into the flag as a battle flag using real historical battle flags with the stories that the units that fought under those flags, the battles. That sort of thing. And to some of the controversial, you know, “Why do some people hate this flag?” Which is difficult to do. I mean a museum that puts up a picture of a Klan rally is not going to be able to pussy-foot around. You’ve got to be careful about that. Same thing that we’ve got a super cool artifact in the back. I don’t know how we’ll ever be able to exhibit it– a Nazi flag that was captured in World War II—that was captured by an engineering unit and they signed it. And several of the people who signed it are from South Carolina. And one of those guys is the one who gave it to us.

So in the context of souvenirs brought back from war, we could fold that flag up will the only thing you see on it is the middle part with the signatures. And lay a bunch of stuff in there with it. But there’s no way we can put that flag on the wall. You’re not putting a swastika up on the wall in this museum. There’s too much of the controversy already. It’s the same way. I mean, you can set it in context: stuff brought back from the war. We’ve got a Japanese Katana. We’ve got a German pistol. We’ve got this souvenir, that souvenir, booty brought back from the war. And there’s this bright, orange-y red Nazi flag with the black spider on it, like the girl says in the “Sound of Music,” with these guys’ names on it. Signatures, hometown kind of things. That’s a context where you teach people. Hanging it on the wall is not going to teach anyone anything. It’s just going to make people mad.

So we’ve got to place the Confederate flag from the State House in the same kind of context. We can’t treat it like a hallowed artifact without putting it in that context. It’s an important artifact because of the stories surrounding it. Why it was brought down. The Emmanuel Nine Story. Why it’s been fought over since 2000 when it was brought down from the dome and put on that pole. The various viewpoints of the Sons of Confederate veterans. People even more extreme than them on the pro-confederate side. The NAACP. All the other different groups that have an opinion about the flag need to be represented in whatever kind of story is presented. So it’s, you know. I just say, yeah you can put it in this kind of case. I’m not the one who has to write the story. I’m a registrar. I’m not a curator, I’m a registrar. I deal with the artifact.

CW: I’m so glad I got the opportunity because there was more conversation than I thought there would be during the height of people having this discussion and the legislature gathering. But I always felt like there could have been more education about it, especially because all I kept on seeing, and I bring this up to my students all the time about the flag controversy, for the first time in my life I see people Facebook saying “Know your history. ” And they’re all having the history that’s very contracted into their particular point of view. People, at least for a time, were willing to talk about educating each other’s’ viewpoints. So I’m excited about this. Is there a different place that would be an ideal spot for the flag? What would it be?

RC: Um, well, if you’re going to go with precedent, the one that came off the dome is at the state museum. And the State Museum has a wider variety of collections because they are to represent the entire state and multiple disciplines. And it’s, as I said, technically a political artifact, not a military artifact. So the State Museum would be a good home for it. I don’t know, as I said, I was not the one who wrote the bill who said, “Put it at the Confederate Relic Room.” I don’t know if they discussed. Some people wanted to put it in one museum. Some people wanted to put in an another. I’m not privy to those discussions. But there is the precedent to send it to the State Museum because they have the previous one. The one that came down off the dome, and the ones that came off of the legislative chambers.

CW: When somebody says, “Put that thing in a museum,” what does it mean for you to put something in a museum? For you?

RC: Well, I mean, the one thing that a museum can do, and should be their purpose, is to set it in context. And to be able to say, “You know, if you’ve got the scholarship behind it” to be able to say the design of the flag came from this, it was used in battle for this reason. It was used after the war for these reasons.” It’s used in years since the war for these reasons. Some groups hate it. Some groups love it. This is why.” And that is what museums do. They tell those stories. A lot of people who do not frequent museums would say “stick it in a museum because I don’t’ want to look at it.” That’s their prerogative. They don’t have to come to the museum. They’re not forced to come to the museum. When it’s on the pole in front of the State House, it’s kind of hard to avoid. They can avoid it in a museum. But it is still available to the public if it’s on display in the museum. And it can be an educational artifact.

CW: I’m going to switch to completely fun, off the wall questions.

RC: Ok, fun questions are always good.

CW: I think that they are fun because they make me think that there’s a bit different. What did your parents say when you told them you were going to go to graduate school?

RC: Well, my mom basically said “Are you going to pay me rent?” Because I was moving back home after school, after college. I said “Yeah, I’ll pay you rent because I’ll be getting paid. I have an assistantship for grad school.” She thought it was a good idea. She thought the idea of working in museums. I mean museums were places that we went when I was growing up. So, I mean, she pretty laid back by the time I was graduating from college. She was just glad I had a plan, you know. Willing to do stuff. So, she was single mom, so she was glad I was coming back home–at least for a little while. I was home for—let’s see, I graduated. I can home from college in May of 1986. I got married in December of ’87. I was here three years not two years. She was glad to have some company in the house. But it was–she didn’t have a problem with it. I don’t know how super excited she was, but she was fine with it.

CW: And I wanted to clarify. Your assistantship was working with Historic Columbia.

RC: No, actually it wasn’t. My first assistantships were in the History Department. The first one I worked for Kent Perkins in Middle Eastern history. Learned way more about Islam and the history of the Middle East than I ever knew possible. That’s been instructive in recent history, although I don’t remember a whole lot about what I had to learn in order to grade papers for him. My second semester, I worked for Jack Myer who taught generally European history. He was part time in structure. He’s still a real good friend. He works one day a week as volunteer conservator upstairs at the State Museum. Jack is still a good friend. Then my second, well my first summer, was when I got the assistantship at McKissick Museum.

CW: Gotcha.

RC: McKissick was the last assistantship. I kept that all the way up until I quit to go work at Historic Columbia full time. Part time job I had at Historic Columbia was just a part time job that grew out of my undergraduate internship from when I was there when I was a student at Newberry. Just because some curator needed some help. And so I came in to do record keeping and housekeeping. And I went to grad school so I dusted people’s houses. Which was often what my first full time job there, even at Historic Columbia. When we were managing historic houses, I still did an awful lot of housekeeping. I kept the historic houses a lot cleaner than I kept my own. Mainly because there were a lot more people coming to visit. But, yeah, I went to graduate school, got a master’s degree, so I could clean dead people’s houses.

CW: Yes.

RC: That was often the story.

CW: That’s really good for cocktail hour.

RC: I learned a lot. I learned about historic architecture and historic furniture and textiles and all that other kind of stuff working in historic houses. But it was. It was instructive to have worked in the field prior to taking coursework. And then to take the coursework and still be working in the field and be able to apply the new knowledge that I was getting in the schoolwork to the part-time job that I had. And as I said, right up until the fall semester before I got married, I worked that job at Historic Columbia, but I was also working the assistantship at McKissick and getting ready for my comps and getting ready for my wedding. And it was like the 10 hours a week at Historic Columbia. I just had to say, “Guys, I got to have a break.”

I quit that job but then, because I already knew the people there when the full time job came open, they let me know when I applied for it and went through the process and got it. It’s always the case, and I tell all the interns that I tell here in the museum. Get to know as many people as you can. Go to conferences. Do all the networking because those are the people who are going to write you recommendations for jobs, for graduate school, for anything like that. And that’s what worked for me, too, was the people that I met and people that I worked with. And they’re the ones who got me further along in my career.

CW: Do you want me to wrap it up?

RC: I’ll just tell my son I’ll talk to him later.

CW: (Unintelligible) First memories of that first semester coming to graduate school. That transition into graduate school.

RC: Sitting in Mike Scardaville’s office crying over a C. I had never gotten a C. All through college, I got As. Maybe a B in something that was really difficult. And I got a C, and he just had to sit me down and explain that graduate school was a completely different animal. And the work required was more and more detailed. And more intense. And you know. But yeah I remember that. That was the big thing was having cruised through college and getting. It’s the same thing my kids have experienced going from high school to college. Going from college to graduate school was the same kind of jump. From the little pond to the big ocean. And the adjustment in the level of expectations on the scholastic side of things. That had always been easy for me. And I remember that: sitting in Mike Scardaville’s office and crying over a C.

CW: Was there an unexpected change or like event while you were in graduate school that sort of shifted your focus a little bit? Did something help? You said you didn’t always have the clarity about what you were going to accomplish. I’m wondering (unintelligible).

RC: It was sort of a confluence of events. There’s not one particular event. Having done the part time job at Historic Columbia and then taking the coursework that showed how to do that job that early. And doing the assistantship at McKissick that was a completely different thing. I was doing natural history at McKissick. I knew nothing about rocks, or minerals, or Ancient Egypt. But that’s what we were working on so that’s what I did. It really broadened the horizon. I mean, I had been doing historic house museums since I was in high school and suddenly I’m doing rocks, and minerals, and Ancient Egypt. And, you know, that opened up the horizons considerably. And going to the field school in Charleston, learning much more about city-wide kind of history work rather than a single building-Charleston being the hub of historic preservation and going to meetings at the Board of Architectural Review. I mean the length of field school was designed so that you could go to two different meetings. So you could see a proposal, listen to their discussion, and see what the person was told to bring back with revisions. See how those revisions grew.

Doing research in the various types of record repositories for the projects that we had to do for that field school. It was a completely different animal, again, from anything that I did in any of my other coursework. And all that stuff, as I said, my first two years in the full-time job, I wasn’t doing museum work at all. It was almost pure historic preservation. So getting that exposure was hugely beneficial. Anybody in the small museum context has to be a generalist. You know a lot of different things. You don’t get to specialize in the museum field until you’re in a really big museum who has lots of staff and you can have somebody specialized. but in a small museum, and there are way more small museums than there are big ones, or small historic preservation organizations, you have to be able to shift to do a lot of things. So get as wide an exposure to things while you’re still in school. You never know how that’s going to benefit you later.

CW: Ok, let’s say you’re at Christmas, and somebody comes up to you. How do you describe the process of the program or the process of your larger professional developments to this person? Maybe they’ve been drinking. They’ve had enough eggnog to at least somewhat of a listen to your professional process.

RC: Well it’s always been, for me personally, making those personal connections. The professor that I had in college, who had worked at the same historic organization that I had done part time work at or had the connections with the department and the program, introduced me to the people. The people that I worked at that summer introduced me to classmates in years–you know one or two years ahead of me–told me about the program. When I was in the program, there were conferences and people. There was a big conference that was in 19…It was the 125th anniversary of Gettysburg, so what year would that have been? Maybe ’87?

CW: ’88.

RC: ‘88. Yeah that’s when we were married. Big conference the History Department sponsored on the 125th anniversary of Gettysburg. Famous, famous people came to be speakers at that conference because Tom Conelly was the head of the department. Famous, Famous. I mean, I don’t know the names in anymore, but we sat down and had dinner with these guys. National Council on Public History had their national meeting in Columbia. Meeting these people from all over the country. It’s always been a matter of meeting people, networking, talking about stuff professionally.

Even when I was in school, we were encouraged to go to museum conferences. The confederation of museum conferences. National Council on Public History conference. We took a van from Carolina. Connie Schulz drove. We went to DC. Walked over DC. Went to the conference sessions. Met people. Learned stuff. Learning takes place in so many places other than just classroom. And all the conferences and the workshops that you can go to. You never know what’s gonna help you. May not help you next week. It’s gonna help you in the coming years. It’s something you never stop doing. I still go to conferences as much as I can. For a while I was on the executive committee of the South Carolina Federation of Museums. I was the treasurer for two and a half terms because I took over the term for a previous employee here, and then I had two full terms of my own. When I finished that, I took a break. I didn’t go to two or three conferences, but I’ve been going back ever sense. I’ve been to the past four, I think three or four now. There’s always sessions where people will tell about a project they’ve done, and you think about ways to incorporate that into a job you’re doing. If you’re a presenter, then people are going to share stories of similar things that they’ve done. It all continues your professional education. And you make good friends, too.

CW: You were willing to be interviewed, and I’m so appreciative. Not only of you collecting this, but just hearing all of these various thoughts because I agree in many ways, and I have more clarity. What motivated you to want to be interviewed?

RC: Just because I think the program has been very beneficial for me. And I don’t know how typical my story is of how other people have seen the program. But I know it’s been beneficial for me, so I’m doing a little bit of payback on helping the program out with keeping. As an historian, it’s important to keep the history. So some of those stories. I don’t’ know how many other people remember that performance of the “789 Blues.”

CW: I was thinking, “I wish we had people with guitars in my class.”

RC: Sitting there in Chip’s apartment. And it was Chris Fonvieille. He’s at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington right now. Steve Lawson, who’s somewhere back up in New Jersey. I don’t even know where Stacy is now. She was singing. Bruce Harvey was the guy who took me to the party. He was one of the guys who worked at Historic Columbia on weekend staff. Kent Bruce is a private consultant now. I can’t remember where he lives-somewhere in the northeast. This is thirty years ago now. Seriously, we’re talking nearly thirty years ago that this was happening. This was the summer, early fall, of ’86. So we’re talking thirty years ago. And you know for a while those people were really, really good friends.

Now we haven’t all kept in touch as people have scattered professionally, but because of the list serv and stuff, and the appeals–there’s a directory that was just recently put out, I think, if you know where these people live and stuff like that–so if we really wanted to. I mean, we’ve kept in touch with Chris because he and my husband were really, really good friends. And he’s been back. And kept in touch with Gordon because we’ve been working as museums. The Confederate Relic Room and Atlanta History Center. We borrow objects from them for various exhibits, and we, you know, count on their expertise. Gordon is the person to ask about most Civil War questions and stuff. And so we can sit down and reminisce every once in a while about drinking coffee in the Russell House in the wee hours of the morning and stuff like that, but, you know, you make good friends when you’re in that really high pressure environment of grad school. And sometimes they last and sometimes you get married and sometimes you never see them again, and you kind of sometimes wonder what happened to them. And sometimes you just don’t care.

CW: (Laughs) You’ve actually been able to stay in contact with the program, in some guise, by having people here. What is your vision for the future of the Public History program? This one and sort of public history programs in general.

RC: Well, I don’t know really because there are so many more choices now. I remember we have a 480 intern several summers ago, the year we put on the Gettysburg exhibit here. So that would have been 2013, who was a little bit older student. He had been in the army and had come back to school after being discharged. And the whole purpose of that 480 class was to expose History majors to public history careers to help them decide, “Do you want to go to grad school? Do you want to work in this field?” We’ve had some people who did internships and said “No, I really don’t want to do this.” But the fire got lit in him. And so he started, you know, he picked our brains. He got on the internet. He talked to all kinds of other people that we told him to talk to. To find a program. He wanted a program that had both military history and public history because he wanted to work in a military museum. There are a lot of programs that are really good in museum training, but they don’t have any military component. There are a lot of programs that have good military history but they don’t’ have a public history component.

There are way more choices now than there were in the ’80s. Way more choices. And helping Matt find one of those was an adventure in itself. He ended up, I think, going to Georgia working for the National Park Service while he’s in school as a park ranger. He’s, last I heard, happy as he can be, doing what he discovered he really, really wanted to do once he got out of the Army. But that’s, you know, that’s what you really want. To see somebody get that fire in their eye. “I really want to do this. I want to teach people about, you know, history, and I want to do it in a way that enjoy doing” because everybody has that bad classroom experience, but very few people have a bad museum experience.

So if you can get them, get the story there, and get them interested in history through a museum, then, you know, that always helps. But there’s so many more programs out there. I think this program really needs to find a niche because the competition is bigger. One of the things that we tell job applicants these days, or people who are interested in getting in the field, and those interns are a big part of that. Especially in this state, without a master’s degree, you’re not a viable candidate for a job. Because there are so many graduate programs, not just the USC program, but other programs in schools in the southeast and nationwide, that for every job, they’re going to have multiple applicants with advanced degrees. If you don’t have that degree, you’re not going to make the list. You’re not going to get on the cut because there’s almost too many programs now that are pumping out more graduates than there are jobs. That’s the impression that I’m getting from reading list servs and blogs and things like that. People want to know where the best program is because just any program won’t do anymore. Because there’s so many graduates out there now in public history. And this program’s got a good track record, but it’s got a lot more competition now. So I think it really needs to find a niche or some way to prove to the world that it’s not an average program, that it’s got to be something specifically to get.

I don’t know enough about the department anymore. All my former professors have retired. (Laughs) It’s now, some of the people that I worked with who are on faculty, and more as colleagues now, but I don’t know enough about how everything works in the program and what it’s focused on. But that’s just the impression I get from reading and talking to the people who are looking at whether they want to go to the program here. Because I mean, it would have been convenient for that student to go here since it’s where he lived. But it didn’t have the exact parameters that he was looking for. Now not everybody is going to be able to meet everybody’s needs. But there needs to be some kind of cache that this program does this thing really well. To be able to attract students for that.

CW: I’m thinking. I don’t even know what my answer would be. That’s fantastic. Thank you so much.

RC: You’re welcome.

CW: This has been wonderful. Thank you for sitting down with me. That is a wrap.

RC: Ok.

CW: Is there any question I should have asked?

RC: I can’t think of anything. We’ve covered a lot. I probably got way off topic three or four times.

CW: Well, it’s the tangents that are really compelling to me, so.

RC: Hope they are useful to other people.

CW: Oh, I hope they are. We had a whole list of questions that we didn’t fill in on.  You know, what is it like to have the social life here. What is it like to live in Columbia? And you answered those questions. And you know we’re reading through oral histories every week and my statement is always, “We have to anticipate that what we think is the most compelling aspect of this, may not be for future historians, the most compelling aspect of this. You don’t know what questions they’re going to ask. So if you go off on tangents, then you have a broader artifact base.  (Mumbling) “When you’re finished, press the black button.”

End of Interview

[1] This interview is compiled from the backup audio, which includes nearly 7 minutes of pre-interview conversation. The interview begins at approximately 6:55 and all subsequent time-stamps reflect this extended audio file.