Robin Copp

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Interviewee: Roberta “Robin” Copp
Interviewer: Constance Mandeville
Date: October 10, 2016
Accession #: PHP 007
Length of Recording: 66:55
Sound Recording

Roberta “Robin” Copp was a former school teacher who decided to pursue a career in museum education after her children finished college. Born in San Antonio, Texas, she completed her undergraduate studies at Georgetown University, and graduate courses in education at the University of South Carolina. Copp moved to South Carolina in 1976 and was living and teaching in Cheraw, South Carolina when she entered the Applied History program at University of South Carolina in 1985. After graduating in 1988, she worked at the State Archives until 1993. Later that year, she began work at the Richland County Library and helped establish their Local History Room. In 1996, she joined the South Caroliniana Library, serving as Head of Published Materials until she retired fourteen years later. Interview includes discussion of her assistantship and internship experiences, influential faculty members, memories of trips to Charleston and Washington, D.C. as part of her education, and her thesis emphasizing Anne King Gregory, the first woman to graduate with a PhD in History from the University of South Carolina. Copp noted that during her time at South Caroliniana and at the Pinckney Papers Project, she witnessed many changes the Public History Program and was disappointed to see training in archives studies fade away from the program. Copp passed away on December 17, 2018.



Archival Studies | Cheraw, South Carolina | Georgetown University | Historic Preservation | Local History | Pinckney Papers Project | Public History | Applied History Program | Public Libraries | Richland Library | San Antonio, Texas | South Caroliniana Library | Teachers | Women in Academia



Constance Mandeville: Today is October 10th, 2016 and I’m doing an interview with…would you like to state your name?

Robin Copp: Robin Copp.

CM: For the Public History Program Oral History Project. First, I like to start with question of how you came to this program at USC?

RC: I had to make a major change in my life. I had always to get a Master’s degree in History. I was living in Cheraw, South Carolina…I’ve been teaching for years and started investigating coming back to USC. Actually, met Roger Stroup, who had come to Cheraw to make a presentation about the State Museum, which was just at that point getting underway and asked him about it because I thought I really wanted to go into museum educati, asked him about programs at USC. He recommended coming and talking to Dr. Michael Scardaville, at that time head of the…what was called Applied History. That’s what got me started.

CM: You went here for undergrad?

RC: No.

CM: Oh no, okay. You said, “Back to USC.”…I wasn’t sure.

RC: I had taken…in teaching in South Carolina…you had to do developing…continuing developing education…I had taken several courses. I had almost thirty-five hours of Education Master’s courses.

CM: You came here because you wanted to continue your degree and get it…you’re an older student…you’ll be…

RC: Yeah. I was. This was one of the few places in the country where you could get the Applied History, it was called then, it was a relatively new program at that point.

CM: From what I looked up onlin I saw that you also did Library Science, is that true?

RC: Right. When I came, I had to have, in order to make ends meet, had to have a graduate assistantship and I was very, very lucky and got in a graduate assistantship with Dr. Robert Williams at the College of Library and Information Science. I was his project assistant for a grant that he received. I actually held that position for three years. At the same time, he and Dr. Scardaville had started what was called the joint degree program. Where you could your degree in Applied History and in Library Science in a three-year track, they had it developed. Bob had eventually end up talked me into doing it because at the same time I was also working part-time at the department of archives and history and had gotten really intrigued with being an archivist. I actually didn’t start the joint program until the end of my first year here.

CM: Did you always think you’re going to work in archives or was that something that developed after it?

RC: No, I always thought I’d be in Archives.

CM: It was always here…

RC: Originally, it was going into museum education. [Laughs]

CM: You chose this…why did you…this was one of the few programs in the country, there weren’t really any Museum Education programs or…

RC: No, there were no public – what’s now called, there were no public or very few Public History programs at that time. This one was as I said…very new but becoming established. Connie [Schulz] and I arrived at the same time. We started at the same time. She of course taught Archives Management, that was one of the first courses I took…[laughs] was Connie’s course.

CM: Did that influence you into…

RC: Oh yeah.

CM: Can you elaborate more on that?

RC: It was a wonderfully taught course and a wonderful introduction into doing public history as well as how to work with archives. I was also in a very good group…those of us who started that fall became…the core of us became close friends and we were all gonna…finish and we all did.

CM: Was this just… are you just talking about public history core or are you also talking about PhD students?

RC: No, public history core cause at the time…you only go into…it was just an Applied History program and was the Masters. No, later some people went back to get their PhDs but it was not part of they…weren’t pushing PhDs like they’ve been pushing PhDs in the last five or ten years.

CM: Did you take courses with PhD history students or was it just…

RC: Yeah and we knew them, the history department wasn’t that big. We knew them. Interestingly enough, straight history students always resented public history students because we got jobs. [Laughs] It was quite a bone of contention and they all used to say, “Well, you don’t do as much history as we do.” We did…we did more.

CM: Yeah, definitely. I can see that today too.


CM: That’s interesting. Coming back as…of having a career as a teacher, how was that…difficult for you…how was the transition back to grad school?

RC: I really worried about it when I first started. [Laughs] I’ll never forget the first day I met Connie, she said, “You’ve been a mother, you raised children, you’ve taught, you know how to manage your time, you know what to do and how to do it. You won’t have any problems.” I had to work hard. I did sometimes wonder why I was doing this to myself when I was studying for exams at one or two o’clock in the morning. I enjoyed being in grad school, I really did. Even though, I was working at two jobs and keeping up with my studies.

CM: How old were your kids when you were in grad school?

RC: That was the thing I had to wait until my youngest son graduated from college before I could come back to college. [Laughs]

CM: They weren’t really around then.

RC: No.

CM: That’s understandable, definitely. You mentioned how Connie was pretty influential and helping you adjust to back to grad school and…

RC: Actually, all three of the professors who taught applied history were. They were all great mentors. Marcia Synnott and Connie and Mike Scardaville. Mark Scardaville was…till this day and I’ll say he was the best teacher I’ve ever had. He was excellent at teaching.

CM: How so?

RC: He was always organized. He walked in and he knew exactly what he was doing. He didn’t deviate. He kept to the point. He made his points. He was strict but he was kind. He was just a great professor.

CM: You mentioned that you would stay late for exams, what type of exams were you taking? We don’t really do exams now.

RC: Oh, we did.


RC: The one I remember the most vividly was Marcia Synnott’s Historic Sites Interpretation. The exam consisted of her showing you slides that she had showed you during class and you had to write – remember what it was and write everything you knew about it. There were hundred of slides that she went from. We all worked hard on that. It was a good course but it was at…on Friday afternoons, late in the afternoon and we sat in a dark room for three hours. [Laughs]

CM: Not so much going outside. [Laughs]

RC: No. We did go to Charleston.

CM: Was that the field school or was that different?

RC: No. That was with Marcia’s class, we did. We went down to Sullivan’s Island to the Fort Moultrie and then we did the York town. So we…

CM: Did you go to any other for like other classes did you have any field trips or anything like that or was it just the…

RC: A lot of them we did…. historic pres, we did…we went to, and that one that Mike Scardaville taught. As a matter of fact, our historical preservation class, we did a survey of, that was part of the class, we did a survey of Waverly. No, we were out and about.

CM: What were some of the big projects you did in some of these classes? You mentioned Waverly.

RC: We did Waverly…and produced and record that was – actually, been used when they made it a historic district and that was kind of an incentive for archives to start making it a project. Of course, I was working with Bob Williams on the literary library heritage of South Carolina; I was very involved with that and produced two museum exhibits.

CM: Where were those?

RC: They were all over the state. The State Museum picked them up and sent them all over the state. One of the things I loved about the introduction, which was the best course I’ve ever had – and I’ve heard they don’t teach it anymore which is a crying shame, was “how to do historical research” which was Mark Scardaville and Connie taught and Bob Weyeneth taught as long as they had it…when he came. We actually really got down to the nitty-gritty of doing historical research and it was invaluable and it still is invaluable.

CM: What was the, what was it…The Intro to Public History or…

RC: It was the first course you took in Applied History.

CM: It was Applied History only…or did other students (Unintelligible 11:40)?

RC: Eventually, other students started coming or trying to come because you learn so much. You learn so much about doing historical research.

CM: What kind of stuff did you do in class?

RC: We…what I remember was, the South Carolinana had been given…over the years had collected a lot of the ephemera that were not really archives, archival material. They decided to give them to McKissick Museum but of course, they had to be identified and all that. We got, there were two of us usually, two working together, we were assigned a cameo that had belonged to, oh help, the lady that saved Mt. Vernon…

[Brief pause and discussion with a third-party person 12:37-50]

CM: I know who…(Unintelligible 12:52-54)…[Laughs]

RC: She was from Laurens County. Anyway, it was literally, we have photos of it and of course, we weren’t allowed to carry the objects [Laughs] but we did extensive research to find out where it was from, how she gotten it, who she was, that’s why…of course, that was a long time ago. [Laughs] She was quite an amazing person. Frankly, she was very, very interesting.

CM: Was it mainly object-based or did you do site based stuff?

RC: Oh, we did site based stuff too, we did a lot. For instance, we went to archives and learned about doing archival research at archives. We went to Carolinana and got introduced and how to do research at Carolinana, it was totally valuable. We had to write a paper and then present it and we learned how to present it at conferences. I mean you really felt like you’ve been kicked off the deep end but it worked. [Laughs] It worked.

CM: Yeah, it sounds like grad school though. Do you agree? [Laughs]

RC: Yeah but this course was so intense…

CM: More than the other ones though?

RC: Hmm?

CM: More intense than the other classes?

RC: Yeah because you were doing so many different things it wasn’t, but you learned how to do it and Mike Scardaville made damn sure that you would have done it right. He would quibble over citations. I think the first assignment we had was to write a synopsis.

CM: Did he pick it apart?

RC: Of course he did.


CM: Are they really constructive or critical with their comments?

RC: Oh yeah but they were constructively critical, which there is a difference. It’s like I would put something in a paper and he’d say, “But you didn’t cite anything.” and I say, “But that’s common knowledge.” He say, “No, Robin, there is no such thing.” [Laughs] We go back to the drawing board. We had one assignment where we had to go to the library and look up these sources and write about them. Oh yeah…he was…it was intense.

CM: About how many students were in your cohort then?

RC: I think, I want to say twelve but there were some others that were part, were in the classes with us but there were twelve of us who were really the core of the class.

CM: Socially, how did you, did you mainly just hang out with them or especially as an older graduate student?

RC: As an older person? No, I did hang out with them. As a matter of fact, Mike and Connie were both very much keeping the Applied History students together as a cohesive unit. Yeah, we did a lot of, we did a lot together but I also had other friends that I did things with. I have friends here in Columbia that I knew.

CM: Did you live in Columbia during that now?

RC: Oh yeah. I moved to Columbia (Unintelligible 16:36) when I came to graduate school.

CM: Cause I have a friend who is in the library program right now from Cheraw, who …

RC: No, I wasn’t going to do that, well, I couldn’t have. I mean there was no way I could’ve done that.

CM: Did you do an internship as part of…?

RC: I did.

CM: What was your internship?

RC: I did it at the department of archives and history.

CM: Was it part of your job too?

RC: No.

CM: It was separate?

RC: It was separate. What I did was my thesis, which you’ll all don’t have to do anymore…

CM: We have a thesis.

RC: Do you?

CM: Mhmm.

RC: My thesis was on the Historical Record Survey in South Carolina. The archives had the papers from that part of the government and had never processed them. I did. I deliberately did this and everybody knew I was doing it. I was killing two birds with one stone. I could do my research while I was inventorying and organizing, refoldering and taking out gazillion staples and paper clips.


CM: The real part of the job…right? [Laughs]

RC: There was one lady who worked for the Historical Record Survey, she was really kind of the supervisor and she loved the stapler. If one staple would do, she would use twenty. I’d pulled, I’d opened up how many rusty staples out of her reports, papers. I did all of that first and then I did the office correspondence. And I’ll never forget I was sitting there one day and I came across this later she had written back to the home office on reporting on what she was doing – and I think she was in Spartanburg – and she said, “Please send the copy machine. I forgot to bring it.” And I went no, no, no, don’t send it, don’t send it. I don’t want any more staples…


I had several instances like that. The office correspondence from that survey is probably one of the best histories of the depression era in South Carolina areas because of what those men and women did and wrote back cause they talked about how much it cost them for meals, how they had to travel, how they had to pay…all kinds of things that you know it was a struggle but you don’t realize it until you sit there and read – that and their letters of application, the women who, and men, who had lost everything and needed a job.

CM: What was your thesis, like the actual argument in your thesis that it was just talking about the different…

RC: Other than it was a tremendously valuable service.

CM: Now, did other students use their internship like your other members of your cohort used their internship for their thesis? You know, or were you an exception?

RC: There may have been one or two who kind of combined like a good friend of mine from the cohort – who is not in public history now at all and – did the hair jewelry from the antebellum era and she was working at McKissick as a graduate assistant. Her thesis was on hair jewelry cause she could…she had resources there that are available there she could use. We have…she went up to other places looking for things like Charleston, Old Salem because they have a wonderful resource library. She traveled but it was all…it was kind of tied to her work we can say.

CM: When you designed your internship, did you already have the topic in mind when you did it?

RC: Oh yeah.

CM: How did you discover those records?

RC: Actually, somebody told me about them while I was working…

CM: What did you do when you worked there?

RC: I was on the night and weekend staff.

CM: Was it just secretary type stuff or…

RC: Oh no. Actually, I was a reference archivist, I worked in the reference room.

CM: Anything that sticks out from your memories from working there that helped with your schooling here.

RC: Oh sure. Yeah. Usually, in the archives, half the time helping other people used them helped.

CM: Were there any projects that stuck out that people came in looking for?

RC: The book…Moonlight Madness, the one about the…he was writing, Peter was writing a book then and he was in a lot using the records. There were a lot of people who that came in that who were using the records and then we have…and an Archivist still does…we have lawyers and all who were still working for past cases and you tend to remember those things.

CM: How did you get the job there? Was it just a, did you have connections, or?

RC: Somebody in Cheraw, cause I knew I needed a job, part-time job, had suggested that I contact somebody he knew in archives. That led to me being the person who was head of the night and weekend staff and then getting the job.

CM: What about the assistantship with the library program?

RC: Mike Scardaville actually told me cause he and Bob were good friends and told me that Bob was looking for one and said I think you ought to go talk to him.

CM: With that assistantship is…do you want to go in a little bit more on what you did there for three years? You mentioned museum exhibits but…

RC: He had gotten a large grant from the South Carolina Humanities Council to do the library heritage of South Carolina. I literally started at the beginning and this is where taking at the same time, I was taking how to historical research – and Bob Williams is an archivist…originally an archivist before he got his PhD and started teaching. The first thing was to find every article that had ever been written about South Carolina libraries. I spent a lot of time doing research and this is before Google. [Laughs] and all of that fancy stuff. This is when computers were very, very, very first being used. As a matter of fact, the history department had just started and we had to do our assignments on the computer but they were here in the history department…that we had to do it. They used a program called Volksrider, which was very difficult. [Laughs] At the library school, they were just started to use computers and they had a program called WordStar – everything I was doing I was inputting into a computer and that was the other thing I did, I had to help pick out a database to enter all of the data and all of this.

I was using their program, which we were all learning together…that was what’s so interesting…we were all learning about computers together. The computer…the library school did have a computer lab, which was great. Anyway, they used WordStar, which was a forerunner of WordPerfect, which is a forerunner of Microsoft. Anyway, I had to get permission from the history department to use WordStar to do my work on. [Laughs] But I did and it made a big difference because I wasn’t switching back and forth to two different programs. I actually ended up buying what they called a portable computer, it was this long and this wide and this deep and weighed a ton but you could pick it up and carry it. You had to use floppy discs and I don’t know what I would have done without the computer in grad school. [Laughs]

CM: Had you – you said you were learning at the time, so you didn’t have any experience with the computers before this or?

RC: Nope. I mean computers – this was a long time ago dear. Computers were just becoming kind of commonplace. A couple of people in the class had Apples and they had to switch but they could use their Apples for their homework and all but they had to learn books right or two. We learned about studying up databases…I mean this was all brand new. Everybody was just learning. We even took our comps the old fashioned way.

CM: Okay. You had comps then?

RC: Yeah.

CM: How was the studying process with that?

RC: Long. [Laughs] Drawn out. Yep, you had three questions in the morning and then in the afternoon, you did your area of historical concentration and it was a three-hour…that was three hours. It was a long day.

CM: Did you study together at all or was it…or did you do it individually?

RC: Pretty much, we did it individually…well, at least…well, I did cause I wasn’t taking the same three fields. I mean I had to take – I had an archives question, I had a records management question…I’m trying to think what my other… I think it may have been historical editing question for the morning. Then the afternoon, my area of concentration was the Spanish borderlands.

CM: How did that become your concentration?

RC: I’m originally a Texan and I’d always really been interested in the Spanish heritage of the Southern part of the United States. Actually, it was St. Augustine that really got me really interested in history when I was nine years old. I also – Mike Scardaville used to laugh at me – the Spanish have a very bad name for what they did in the Americas and it’s called the Black Legend and I also wanted to refute it because I don’t believe it and matter of fact, it’s pretty much been refuted. There were some bad things but everybody did bad things…it was propaganda by the British.

CM: I did notice that was your concentration when I looked you up online, it was Spanish borderlands and I wanted to know what your connection was. When you were living in Cheraw, did you… how did you come to South Carolina?

RC: That darling is a long story we’re not going into.


CM: But by the time you came, you’ve been in South Carolina for a while?

RC: I’ve been associated with South Carolina since 1959…58 but didn’t actually come here to live until 1976.

As a matter of fact, oddly enough, I discovered at archives that my ancestors in fact are from South Carolina. My paternal ancestors…it all worked out.

CM: That’s cool that you kind of came home in a sense.

RC: Texas is populated by many, many former South Carolinians…it’s kind of like full circle.

CM: Did that happen…Civil War or before?

RC: Some of happened before the Civil War, when the panic of 1820s and 30s. People were moving west, so some of them, South Carolinians, ended up there but a lot of it was after the Civil War – a typical sign in a South Carolina yard or plantation was GTT, College of Texas. Michener wrote The Centennial History of Texas and I took some of the names he had used in the centile history and looked them up and darn, he had done his research; he knew exactly what he was talking about.

CM: That’s always nice cause sometimes you find that they didn’t do their research. [Laughs] We talked a lot about the different classes, are there any other classes that stuck out to you besides the research class and the site interpretation…

RC: [Laughs] They had a [], he was from Great Britain…history professor here for a year and who was really good, James Gardener, and he taught Latin American history and which I took because of my area of concentration and he was really good. He was a very good professor…I thoroughly enjoyed that class. Oh and Historical Editing – Jim Taylor, who just retired from the Adams Papers at that time, was a co-editor here and he was a very good instructor too. I thoroughly enjoyed that class, obviously, here I am. [Laughs]

CM: Any other like projects you did that stuck out in your mind or no?

RC: For Historical Editing, he gave us letters to transcribe and actually, do a minor historical edition and that was very interesting and was fun. I was one of the few who tried to index…didn’t do very well but I tried it. Which is one of the more difficult things about historical editing is doing the indexing. There was a lot of research involved. I actually found a piece of information that Jim Taylor admitted he had missed and should have known about. [Laughs] I’ve found a fire, Henry Lawrence in one of his letters refers to a fire and I found the fire in the citation. I was very proud of myself but it was a lot of research.


CM: Did you go to any, did you mainly stay in the archives in Columbia or did you travel at all?

RC: Now, Connie for her archives class actually took us to D.C.

CM: Oh wow.

RC: Yeah.

CM: How was that?

RC: Not everybody had to go, it was a voluntary trip. It was a great trip…it was a really good field trip. We stay at in the dorms at George Washington. We went to the National Archives and the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian and we went out to one of the warehouses, where they kept things. She got us around D.C. and we met a lot of people and learned a great deal about archives and how they work. I had gone to Georgetown University and I kind of was back in my own, it was great, we spent ten days.

CM: It was in the middle of the semester?

RC: No. It was in the summer. At the end of the semester before summer school started. Cause I went year round while I was here, I did it in three years…two, three…three years.

CM: About how many students went with you…with Connie?

RC: I don’t remember…Connie can tell you. I drove and there were two, two went with me. I’m trying to, she may have taking a van. I don’t remember but I mean I drove, so that I could have, would be mobile. Of course, you get to D.C. and you parked the car, you use the metro.

CM: Yes, pretty much.

RC: It worked really well.

CM: That’s good and it was ten days, was it just public history students or did it?

RC: It was mainly archive students.

CM: Archives students…okay…there were…it was separate…it was completely separate at that time?

RC: Mhmm.

CM: Perfect. Interesting. And…

RC: They need to have the archives segment back which they haven’t gotten anybody to replace Connie to teach archives and they really need that.

CM: Is that when it died?

RC: It didn’t really die…what happened is the library school has an archive…someone who can teach archives but it’s not the same. It’s taught from the library angle rather than from the historical angle, which Connie was really good about…

CM: What would be the difference with that? 

RC: In the history, you really learn about how much an archivist needs to know their history in order to be a good Archivist, you really need your history. The library school is much more technical. I still think archivists should have a library degree but I think they need the historical training as well and that was always Bob Williams’s argument. After working in archives, I couldn’t agree more. You need to have the history background and the research, you need the ability to do the research.

CM: They are not doing that at the library [school].

RC: The library doesn’t do that…no.

CM: Speaking of trips too…did you ever travel to conferences while you were in grad school?

RC: Mhmm.

I know the Association of Southern Women Historians met in Spartanburg at Converse College while I was in grad school cause everybody knew I was writing my thesis. I actually went to help with the conference and gave a paper. At that conference – they used to do something here but I don’t know if they do it anymore or not. They had a graduate symposium, where graduate students presented papers and it was just history faculty who were there and it was always just history faculty, who were your commenters and grad students who were presenting were allowed to stay too…but mainly it was just grad students. Which was really good practice for us. I’m trying to think if I went to…I can’t remember the first time I went to WAASLH, if I didn’t go while I was in grad school, I was going in right after grad school and I’m still a member of that cause I found it more valuable than SAA, which is the Society of American Archivists. I did belong to SAA, I’ve given…I did go to…I went to SAA in New York, while I was in still a student.

CM: The city…New York City?

RC: It was in New York City…the conference was in New York City. While I was still a grad student and then the summer I finished grad school and at their conferences in Atlanta and I went and gave a paper. I was a member of SAA until I retired…officially retired.

CM: Did you ever go to NCPH?

RC: No that one I didn’t. No I did go to NCH but long after I graduated but a lot of my cohorts went to NCPH.

CM: Is there a reason why you didn’t go?

RC: Conflicts I think.

CM: Understandable.

RC: Mainly, that was it. I remember one year when they went – Connie took them on a bus and I was going to Cheraw for some reason and we were on I-20 (Laughs) – they passed me and my cohorts were acting up.


CM: I know you worked at South Carolinana…do you want talk about that a little bit?

RC: I started at Archives. I was hired before I finished to be the educational outreach coordinator. I was there until there was these tremendous budget cuts…over three years later. I was the last person they hired, I was the first to be riffed…along with some others who have been recently hires including Alex Moore, who ended up an editor of the [ ] University of South Carolina Press. Alex was also, he and I were riffed at the same time and a lot of the computer people because of the, I mean they were drastic budget cuts. I was very, very lucky and was hired to work at Richland County Public Library, which is a wonderful job as a reference because I was always referenced that research course really stuck…at the public library and I was in reference and they were just establishing, they just established the local history room. I also helped out a lot with buying books and getting books and getting information for…even getting some archival material for the local history room. Which by the way if you don’t know about, they have a wonderful South Carolina vertical file and a lot of databases that you could access, it’s a very, very useful place to know if you want Midlands history, mainly Midlands history. It’s really good.

Debbie Bloom is the head of it and she actually volunteers doing transcriptions here.

CM: Oh okay. I didn’t know she volunteered.

RC: [Laughs] Then, they came to me from Carolinana – when the longtime head of publish materials retired.

CM: They approached you…

RC: They approached me to apply and I was fortunate enough to get the job.

CM: Around…how long…

RC: It was 1996.

CM: How long after you graduated?

RC: Seven years…six years basically…six years.

CM: South Carolinana…what did you do there exactly?

RC: It was what I was trying to do…I went a lot of workshops when I was still a student and I also took a course in book preservation, conservation and did an independent study for the head of conservation at archives while I was…all while I was a student. This is what I was trying to do. The main job of the head of public materials was reference but we were responsible for the collection. We also have a tremendous, wonderful vertical file that I was responsible for…there were a lot of and it was the best of both worlds for me cause I was doing library but I was also doing – I was helping people, I was – but I was doing what I was trained to do. A lot of book conservation, map conservation, reorganizing, getting things updated and in order, introduction of computers – that’s when they had first started using computer cataloging. It was the perfect job for me, I loved it, I loved every minute of it.

CM: How long were you there?

RC: Fourteen years.

CM: You said that it was a good job cause it helped – cause of the aspect of also helping people.”

RC: I loved doing that. I love helping people do research.

CM: Its just research people…like research based helping people…was there anymore like community type thing or was it just researchers?

RC: No, any kind of research. I work part-time at the public library now and a lot of it is finding people to help people find sources to get help. No, it’s helping people find what they – the information…to providing information, getting them to it. That to me is what an archivist and what a librarian do and I don’t care which one you are. Now, there is a big rift between librarians and archivists. Archivists tend to look down their noses at librarians and it’s stupid [Laughs] because librarians, we think…when you’re doing library work, you’re thinking on along a little different on the lines but you’re reaching the same goal and that is to make information accessible to everybody. That’s all it is. That’s what archives do, that’s what librarians do is to make information accessible. That’s why I love working with people because I’m helping them get to the information.

CM: I assume that you worked with them even before we started this interview you mentioned helping Mary find her, that map. How did you interact with the public history or applied history students?

RC: Oh, they were the best. [Laughs] I was very prejudiced, they were the best.


I spent – well and because I don’t think they do it like they used to, they always had us use local sources as much as they could, we could really get into the repositories and learn. Of course, again, we didn’t have the computers that you could do research at a distance like you can now. There were a lot more that were using it and I loved working with students…. I loved teaching. I got out of teaching because I was doing more paperwork than I was teaching. I wanted time to teach not to do all the other stuff. Teaching is always been part of my nature and that’s what I love doing and that’s what I did. I loved all students who came in but then I – we had a lot of older people who came, some who were serious historians, some who were genealogists but its all…it’s fun and it’s a challenge finding that little missing link or… it’s really a challenge. I guess I like being a detective too.

CM: Were there any projects that stick out in your mind that were particularly challenging when you were working there…that people came with?

RC: We had one gentleman, who went through a lot of histories about South Carolina. He always does kind of the semi side core histories. He doesn’t live here in South Carolina and I had to do a lot of sleuthing for him cause he would…I did a lot of long distance research for people, which I enjoyed…it was fun but a lot of it was sleuthing. It was all a challenge – like he now is a professor at College of Charleston and has made quite a name for himself but for his dissertation he had a citation that he couldn’t get right and he came and it took us a long time to find exactly what it was…where he had found that piece of information. [Laughs] I’ll never forget…(Unintelligible 47:58 -48:01) but we got it, we got it right but there was so many over the years.

Didn’t you say you were doing the LGBT papers?

CM: I’ve been working with those papers.

RC: One of the students I worked with was Sandy, who was the one who actually got them started. Yeah, he was fun. He did…for Connie, when he did his brief archives…his archives course…he actually did some for me. He did one of the projects for me, which was organizing and weeding the vertical file collection. I had an applied history student and a library student – Sandy is now in Texas, still I think.

CM: Yeah. I was quite sure I was talking to her…

RC: Robin, her name happened to be Robin, is a PhD teaching in…Kansas…I think she is in Kansas.

CM: Were there any other applied students…history students that you remember while that worked with you in South Carolinana?

RC: Oh, a lot of them.

CM: Did you see any change with them…with the rest of their program over time?

RC: Yeah.

CM: What kind of changes?

RC: It wasn’t as rigorous…I hate to tell you. I think a big part of that is when they took away how to do historical research and that was no longer a requirement. Bob brought classes, Connie brought classes, they all brought classes, Walter Edgar used to bring his class to Carolinana, so that I can tell them how to do research at Carolinana. That started diminishing which I thought was a shame because it’s such a valuable resource.

CM: I’ve used it more than once.

RC: It really is and there is a lot they can do for you. A lot of people you can meet and a lot of resources you can learn if you didn’t go down there and got help.

CM: Besides it being less vigorous…where there any other changes that you noticed while working at South Carolinana?

RC: There weren’t as many students, the program got smaller, which I also think it’s a crying shame. No, cause really could public history education is invaluable, if you ought to work in public history. A good education – and South Carolina was a renowned program for really producing and I think it’s a shame that the history department doesn’t support program more than it does.

CM: Do you think they were more supportive back when you were a student than they are now?

RC: Somewhat. There always been this friction but no, there weren’t much more than they are now.

CM:   In what ways?

RC: Just when they hired people, they hired people and made sure we had good professors, they didn’t like the fact particularly that we were getting hired more…straight masters students but we were good. They were supportive of giving graduate assistantships. I think…maybe some of the change came when they want to the new system of accounting at the university, where you had to earn your way to set apart and it also came when they started pushing this PhD business instead of pushing…having really good masters students…it was oh no, you don’t need a masters, you just need to go straight for your PhD. I’m sorry, I don’t think it works that way. I don’t think you have to be a PhD to be a good…good in public history. I think if you have a good masters program, you can do a darn good job and in some cases better than the PhDs.

CM: In that in mind…how has the program helped you with your career as an archivist?

RC: My goodness. I retired successfully from a very good job…what more could you want. I wasn’t out to conquer the world or become a renowned person but to do a good job and do something I liked, which is a lot to be said for.

CM: Did you…were you…I’m pretty sure I know the answer but overall were you very happy with your experience here?

RC: Oh heavens yes. No, it was great.

CM: It prepared you for the greater job…

RC: Most certainly. Around the same time that I finished, Archives hired a new Assistant Director and he had a Masters in History and a Masters in Library Science and he looked me in the eye and he said, “Robin, you don’t have to go on and get a PhD.” Now, Bob Williams was encouraging me that I need to go on and get a PhD but I told him frankly I didn’t want to because I didn’t want to stay in the Ivory Tower…[Laughs]…I needed to get back to life…to work…to real life. I don’t regret and as a matter fact, George Rogers sitting in that office right there one day with me…said…I told him that somebody had told me I ought to go on to be…for a PhD and he said, “No Robin, you don’t need it.” He said, “You’ve got everything you need and it would just be futile.” My son just didn’t think I could afford it.


CM: Why do you think he was pushing…he was pushing you to get your PhD though?

RC: I was a good student…[Laughs].

CM: He wasn’t pushing other students?

RC: No, he didn’t push other students I think but he thought I should go ahead…that was not for me. I have done what I set out to do and I’m still doing it…what more could you ask.

CM: In regards to the future of the public history program especially since you have seen it…kind of the ups and flows of it…what do you think would be the future of the program here?

RC: What do I think…I have no idea? What do I think should happen? I think it should be strength in it…I think they should encourage more students to come by offering graduate assistantships. I think they need to hire somebody to do archives. I think the history department itself needs to recognize the public historians are invaluable…so there. [Laughs]

CM: What you mind being…elaborate on how they are being invaluable and…

RC: There are too many of us scattered across the country who are doing good work or have done good work…they’re all over…in museums, archives. One of the graduates of the program…the joint program is a senior person at…in the National Archives now. She went through the joint program under Connie, who is right behind me, kind of right by me, and is doing…they have gone far and wide. It just irritates me that this university, this department had something that was doing well and pushed it aside.

CM: I think it’s a good place to end.

RC: [Laughs]…I think so too.

CM: Do you have anything else you would like to add?

RC: No but I think what Allison is doing with the oral history is great. It really is. Oral history is a really good…while I was at the public library, we actually did some oral histories of people involved with the library and people in the neighborhood around the main new library, which was a very thriving African-American neighborhood at one time. Now, there – they were just done on video and now, they’re being transcribed or they were transcribed and the looked at the transcription and said they weren’t done. (Laughs) It was difficult for me because I knew how oral history should be done but I was working with somebody else who didn’t have the vaguest idea on it.

CM: Out of curiosity…did you learn how to do oral history in the program or was that something you learned after?

RC:   We were introduced to oral history, we never actually had…which was good that you all going and doing it. We actually never had to go do them. Some…now, some people did. Some people used them for their thesis and things like that. When I was at Archives, I – as I told you I wrote a book on how to do oral history, in order to write the booklet, I had to do a lot of research and a lot of doing.

CM: I’m glad that there is some introduction because even back then oral history was still kind of new…

RC: No, but there was a gentlemen who taught in Georgia, who did a lot of oral history and that was kind of my bible. I read other things and looked at other things but he had to have such a successful of doing the backcountry of Georgia…I can’t remember his name.

CM: Was it more like Gullah?

RC: No, this was in the…up in the mountains.

CM: I’m sorry…mixed up geography.

RC: To the Georgia…Northwest corner. Very rural, very Appalachian but he was very successful. A successful teacher and recording the area…and he talked about how to do it. I used during oral history…I used is…World War II because at that point we were…they were starting to began the interview.

CM: That’s kind of a theme still in our class is…that’s a big memory. World War II is what we are dealing with a lot cause there is so much aspect to it…cause there is also the depression and what not…its…

RC: If you really want to read some interesting papers – the correspondence of the historical record survey

CM: Yeah, it’s kind of relating to what we have been talking about in terms of…

RC: If you’re doing LGBT…some of it…all of illusions to it but people didn’t talk about it then but the lady who was head of the historical records survey, Anne King Gregorie, was the first woman to get her PhD in history from USC. She was a very interesting person. Her assistant was Flora Belle Surles and they lived together until Anne died…many years later…in the sixties. There always been this question but when you read the letters somehow…it was just not talked about. It was just not talked about.

CM: Are those papers…does she like have papers here?

RC: There in the historical society in Charleston…her papers…her diaries. Read her diaries. If you get…she was a fascinating woman…it really was. She was well known by – she ended up writing the history of Sumter County, which got an honorable mention from WSLH. She was well known and she did an excellent job of running the historical record survey. Interestingly enough, the headquarters of the building, of the historical record survey was in Carolinana…up on the third floor. Anne King Gregorie was a graduate assistant, she was here on campus and her office was in Davis College, which was where my office was. [Laughs] I always thought I’m being haunted.


But I – she really is – somebody wanted me to write a biography and I just – I don’t think I can do it…I’m too old now anyway. One time…that was something. She was really interesting. I was going to tell you another funny story. When I was doing my internship, during the thirties…well, into the forties, there was no indoor plumbing at Carolinana…it was outside. That’s number one. Number two, here I am reading through and I came across this letter with a social security card attached to it. No, the first thing I came across was a letter written to somebody else…I think it may have been written to Anne from Carolinana and Anne was in Charleston – saying that one of the lady employees had come to work and was not feeling well and she needed the money…we were paid by the hour.

She had come to work and finally asked at one point to be excused to go to the ladies room. She didn’t come back and they finally went down and she had died in the…and they couldn’t get the door open and they had to get the African American janitor to open the door and you could tell they were so embarrassed. Anyway, this poor lady had died…right there. It was a cold…February, March, Saturday that I was up there working – doing my four hours. I broke in to tears. [Laughs] Cried. Then as I went through, I came across the social security card she never gotten. (Unintelligible 64:25) I had never forgotten that. I kept saying they ought to put a plaque to her cause I could probably find the letter and find her name. Died doing her duty.


But there were also some interesting letters about Anne talking to the gentleman who was then head of the archives, who everybody wanted to get rid of but talking to him about doing microfilming of the state records…to save them…in case of…war…cause it was right close to the start of the war. ‘

CM: Now, we have floods. [Laughs]

RC: I still maintain microfilming just to save it…it’s the safest way to go because you can reproduce microfilm. It’s not like having a database crash.

CM: Yeah, that’s true but no one likes to think about microfilm.

RC:   Oh, I know. I spent many hours looking at it my dear but it’s invaluable, believe me.

CM: Oh, yes. I had to use it. People still use it.

RC: Sometimes, it’s the only place where you can find information and you stumble across odd things but you can find lots of odd things. Like that lady in Texas who drowned her children in the bathtub, it was a big case – well, it was right when this big case was coming. Someone from somewhere wrote me and asked me to look up – her grandfather had had a first wife and the woman had died in South Carolina and they didn’t know anything about her, anything about what had happen – could I please look and see if there is any record – well, I found it in the newspaper. His first wife had murdered her children, tried to kill herself, set fire to the house, and evidently recanted or something but went to a neighbor but it was too late to save the children. They saved the wife just for a…she died shortly there after and he left town and never looked back…what else would you do.

CM: Yeah.

RC: It was to say it was post-partum depression, this was the 1800s.

CM: Just seeing that.

RC: Just seeing it. Mhmm…you just never know. Okay, I’ve taken up enough of your time. Go study.

CM: Well, thank you.


Interview Ends 1:06