Sarah (Wooton) Garrod

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Interviewee: Sarah (Wooton) Garrod
Interviewer: Jillian Hinderliter
Date: September 23, 2016
Accession #: PHP 010
Length of Recording: 71:54
Sound Recording
Summary

Sarah (Wooton) Garrod graduated with a MA from the University of South Carolina Public History Program in 2003. Before attending USC, she earned her undergraduate degree in History with an Art History minor at Eastern Kentucky University. While in the Public History Program, Garrod specialized in the museums track. As a graduate student, she had assistantships at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, the Historic Columbia Foundation, and the Sumter County Museum. After graduating, she continued to work at the South Carolina Relic Room and Military Museum and rose to the position of Chief Curator of Collections and Exhibitions. In 2009, she decided to attend law school in New York. Garrod graduated with her Juris Doctor in 2012 and sat for the bar exam in the State of Illinois. She moved back to Columbia in 2016 and is currently employed in the health law field. Interview includes discussion of factors in Garrod’s decision to attend the Public History Program, her memories of courses and England Field School, her recollections of what it was like to travel the summer after the 9/11/2001 attacks, and Garrod’s experience as one of the first groups of Public History students to complete the portfolio presentation process. She also described her decision to attend law school and the two vastly different graduate level experiences.

 

Keywords

Art History | Eastern Kentucky University | Historic Columbia | Internships | Museum Studies | Public History | September 11 Attacks | South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum | Sumter County Museum | Women Lawyers

 

Transcript

Jillian Hinderliter: Alright, so I think we’re recording. So, I have a little statement that I have to read here.

Sarah Garrod: Okay.

JH: This is Jillian Hinderliter.  It is September 23, 2016. I am interviewing Sarah Garrod.

SG: Garrod.

JH: Garrod. For USC’s Public History Program Archive.  We are conducting this interview in Columbia, South Carolina. Okay, great. And so, just kind of state your name for the record? Just so we have it.

SG: Okay. My full name is Sarah Wooton Garrod. When I was in the Public History Program, I was just Sarah Wooton.

JH: Okay, great. And so I have in my records that you graduated in 2013 from the program, is that, oh excuse me, 2003.

SG: ’03, yeah. 

JH: Yeah, sorry, yeah.

(Laughter) 

JH: 2003. I was thinking threes. Yeah, so, 2003 you were in the program. You finished there and you worked for a while in the Columbia area and we can certainly talk about your experiences in the program and kind of out in Columbia as a public historian, as well. 

SG: Okay, sounds good. 

JH: So, kind of, first and foremost, what motivated you to volunteer to be interviewed? 

SG: Well, I saw the email and I thought it was a great project for one. And two, my story is a little different because I am no longer technically working in the public history field and I thought that might be a good example of something to include in the archive because I still use a lot of my public history experience and it has been and still is meaningful for me and I want to be involved, so.

JH: Excellent. Well, we’re so glad that you agreed to come and be interviewed and your record will be with so many people that have different experiences so it’s excellent to hear from somebody that’s, you know, repackaged and reusing the kind of things you learned. So, what caused you to look at public history as a career? Why did you kind of lean that way in the early 2000s?

SG: Sure. I was an undergraduate at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Kentucky. I was a history major and an art history minor and I was looking for a career path that wasn’t teaching and wasn’t law school. 

JH: (Laughter) 

SG: Although I eventually ended up going to law school, hence the repackaging and new career which I guess we could talk about later. Initially, that’s not what I wanted to do or was ready to do and I was really interested in alternative career paths. And one of my professors said, “Do you know about public history?” and I started looking at graduate programs.

I also worked for a summer as a tour guide at White Hall Historic Site, leading tours there. So that was really my first experience dealing with the public in a historical context and I also did my honors thesis project for the honors program on Victorian mourning in Madison County, which was the county that my college or my university was located in. So that allowed me to go and get my hands in the archives at the university library and use a lot of the collections. Look at mourning stationary and letters and once you sort of get the bug at looking at these documents you really, you know, I was really into it and knew that this is what I wanted to do with my graduate career, so. 

JH: And so you did some research into different programs and why did you chose this program at South Carolina? 

SG: Because it really was probably the most well-rounded program that I found. I was looking into a variety of options and my choices actually, when I had narrowed everything down, was University of South Carolina, there was the University of Kentucky library science program and there was the Loyola public history program in Chicago. And I was trying to weigh my interests against the different programs and the thing I really liked about South Carolina was that it had these three alternative tracks. You had museums, you had archives, and historic preservation. 

JH: Mmhm. 

SG: If I had gone to UK, it would have been library science. If I had gone to Loyola, it would have been mostly urban planning, public planning, and that sort of thing which would have been really cool as would have library science. But I really liked the fact that, hey, if I go into this program in South Carolina and focus on one of these tracks then maybe I can sort of cross-train and take some classes in these other tracks and really figure it all out by the time I graduate and sort of build a bigger tool kit. And I was really happy with that choice.

I came down and visited and I spoke with Bob Weyeneth and Connie Schulz because they were on campus and said, “Hey, I’m coming. Just wanted to say hey.” And they were very welcoming, very nice and so was everybody else, it was good. I’m glad I made that choice.

JH: Mmhm. And so you chose this program because it had so many options?

SG: Right. 

JH: And so many paths you could take. Right, excellent. So you mentioned Dr. Weyeneth and Connie and sort of while we’re talking about them, were they some of the most influential professors you had while you were here? Or did you work with other people that kind of come to mind? 

SG: They were and I worked with other people, as well. I worked with Kasey Grier, who was a professor in the program at the time. I probably worked with her the most actually because she was in charge. She was the head of the museum track which was the track that I was the most involved in, my track. And she was the mentor for my thesis. I had a class with Paige Putnam Miller. Also, at McKissick Museum we had classes there with some of the staff. Basically all of the professors I worked with were great. I learned so much from them and the other students in the program as well. Those are the names that ultimately come to mind. 

JH: Right, excellent. So, we mentioned the very basics. You finished up your degree in 2003 here. And so what’s sorts of classes did you take? You mentioned, sort of, the professors you had and where they were, but do you remember specific topics within the museum track or anything like that? 

SG: Yeah, within the museum class there was a collections class that was focused on collection management and I remember doing a project. We all had to find something, we were collecting for a USC collection for student life. Yes, that’s what it was, for student life. And we were sort of given a little creative license with that to go out and collect something and I decided to collect something that represented student off-campus employment. And I wasn’t from here. I was from Kentucky so I moved here and I quickly became friends with locals and I found out that Groucho’s Deli down in Five Points was a big place where students got sandwiches and a lot of students worked there.

And so I called the manager and scheduled an interview and talked to him about, you know, the students that worked there and he said, “Oh yeah, we’ve always had students.” For the collection, he gave t-shirt that their students wear and I include that along with the information in the interview along with the stuff that you would put in a collections file like a condition report, photographs, a catalog worksheet. Those are the three things that come to mind. Measurements. Again, photographs, and it’s so funny when I look back at it because this was Fall of 2001. No, no, no, no. This would have been…was it 2001? Did I take it first year? Or did I take it second year? Ooh. Now we’re getting into it. 

JH: (Laughter) 

SG: It might have been spring of 2002. Yes, I want to say it was probably spring semester of 2002. And the funny thing about it is, I was using a disposable camera. Who would do that now? I mean?

(Laughter)

JH: Right.

SG: I’m starting to feel old now that I’m giving my recollections even though it hasn’t been that long. But I still remember getting the shirt and putting it on the bedspread and putting the backdrop behind it in my apartment and taking the pictures. (Laughter) They must have been awful pictures compared to the technology with the digital cameras. Your iPhone can take better pictures than that.

(Laughter) 

SG: Anyway, that’s a little aside. That’s one of the memories I have from the collections class. The other, a lot of other classes, there was Museum Management with Lynn Robertson who was amazing. A name I forgot the mention earlier. She was the director of the McKissick at the time. Has she retired? 

JH: I’m not quite sure. I know that we still have a relationship with McKissick, though, as a program. I know a number of students still work over there.  

SG: Yeah, and we did the museum administration class. We learned a lot about nonprofits and how their structured and how boards of directors work and that sort of thing and that was a little different. Probably one of the most dynamic classes in the museum track, well, there are a couple of them. But one of was definitely the exhibition preparation class. I can’t remember exactly what it was called but we were grouped into teams and we would collaborate on an exhibition together and this exhibit, it was for an exhibit in the Historic Columbia Foundation that dealt with African-American history. And it was a very fun project, I’ll never forget it. Just working, you know, really collaborating. Working with other people in the team. We all had different areas. We had to organize the exhibit, come up with the different areas, divide the work up and that was really outstanding. Each team created panels, texts, and put together images and presented their exhibit in an evening sort of reception type thing in McKissick. I’ll never forget that either, that was great.

Probably academically in the museum program, my favorite class and probably one of my favorite classes that I’ve ever had was the Material Culture class because that was when you got into the nitty-gritty of it. The topic for the class was “everyday objects” and we didn’t get to pick our objects. I remember Kasey walked around with all these little things in a hat, basically. It might have been a cup, who knows. I can’t remember. But I remember her walking around the room and you pulled your thing out of the hat and I got the hairdryer. And I was so excited! Because I just thought, “Wow! I bet you there’s a lot of interesting things I’m going to learn about the hairdryer.” Some people weren’t so excited with their choice because they’re like, “Wow, maybe that’s a little too mundane,” but a lot of people were really excited.

And we, you know, it was a really good exercise and I felt like it was a really good way to teach some of these concepts of material culture by using something that everybody is familiar with but really dissecting it and taking it apart. So, when you’re dealing with something you may not be as familiar with, you have the tools. You have the roadmap that you need to approach that object and figure out what you need to know to, you know, do the research. 

JH: Excellent. It seems like you have some very vivid memories about your coursework, you know, at USC. So that’s great. It’s wonderful. So, alongside the coursework, most people were required to do the internship or, you know, some form of external assistantship. 

SG: Mmhm.

JH: So, where did you complete yours, if you did? And what do you remember about that experience?

SG: Oh, yeah. I did a few actually. I had a research assistantship at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, which actually turned out to be my first full-time position. So I went straight from school to full-time. In fact, I was a full-time employee my last semester of grad school. So I was never unemployed. I went straight in and had a job, which nowadays, I don’t what field you’re in, it’s very difficult to find jobs now. But I never will forget, I skated right into a job because I started out there as my research assistantship.

But I also did other internships. I did one at Historic Columbia Foundation and that was an urban archeology project and that was awesome. I worked with John Sherrer and we worked with professors. It was a collaboration with the Anthropology Department and some anthropology/archaeology students who were doing the dig. And we were able to help with that. It was the kitchen behind the Seibels House. That was awesome. I never will forget. (Laughter) That was a really interesting project because I always hated math. I mean, I’m a history nerd, right? Art history and I just sort of avoided math like the plague. 

JH: Who doesn’t? 

SG: But in archeology math comes into play but it’s fun. You get it. I remember thinking, “Wow, geometry. It kind of makes sense to me now more than it ever did.” Because we were having to measure off these corners and plot everything. And I remember thinking, “Wow. Gee, I wish math had been taught in this context back when I was in high school and hating it so badly.” (Laughter) But, the project at Historic Columbia Foundation was awesome and I learned so much. After I worked in that hands-on part, I was able to work and develop an educational program. Well, educational program materials that they may have been able to use alongside of that for school groups. I’m not sure how or how much of it was utilized but it was something I developed and presented to them.

I did another internship at the Sumter County Museum and that was fun. It required a little bit of driving but that was great. Got me out of Columbia a little bit for a few days a week to go experience something else. It’s a, well, I don’t want to say it’s a small museum but I guess it is smaller than some of the other museums. But a great staff, there were a lot of Public History alums there at the time. I remember Rickie Good, particularly. I don’t know if she’s still there or not. But I worked on a World War I project. They had a collection – William Harrison Saunders. His family had donated some materials or had some materials they needed to be cataloged and organized and taken care of. He had served in World War I and I was able to go through and organize the archival materials and work with the collection to create finding aids. So my experience sort of, it was predominantly museum studies but I dabbled a lot in archival work because I loved it, too. I didn’t do the joint MLS and go all the way into the library, but I did not a lot of archival projects and loved that aspect of it, too. And that was a great project because I was able to do both.

I did the summer England Field School. I don’t know if you have a question for that later. 

JH: Mmhm. Oh, no. We can definitely talk about it now. 

SG: I did the England summer Field School with Connie Schulz in the summer of 2002. And my project there, because there were more museum people and only one – most of us on the trip were museum track people – with maybe one historic preservation, two PhD students and an Art History student. Maybe she was PhD? And one archival track student. And so I volunteered to the archival project. 

JH: Naturally. 

(Laughter) 

SG: I said, “Hey! I’ll do that!” because this is another shot for me to work with archives. And we, Lori Schwartz and I. I think she’s in Iowa now? But we worked together on the administrative records for Kiplin Hall. They weren’t that old, but they were old enough and it was a good service to them. I think they were documents from the 1950s mainly, administrative records. We were able to go in there, organize them, create a finding aid, house them properly. And it was so much fun just looking at this stuff and we had a really pleasant part of Kiplin Hall to work in. Although, they were doing some construction and renovation that summer so we had to walk through some renovations and it was kind of spooky to get to the little wing where we were working. But once we got there it was great. And the Catterick Air Force Base was nearby or air field. Catterick Air Field. I never will forget, fighter jets would go over and scare the you-know-what out of us but it was so much fun. It was not what you would expect in the English countryside. All of a sudden “Vrooooom!” And you’re like hitting the floor, “What is that!”

(Laughter) 

SG: It also was an interesting, just to think about that time in history and what was going on in the world. The summer of 2002 was shortly after the 9/11 attacks when travel just clamped down and traveling overseas and back in that time period within the year or so after 9/11 was an experience, maybe to be documented. Maybe for the Public History students because we experienced that. It was interesting. I remember when we were in the airport in England, in London. Was it the? It was Gatwick. It was London Gatwick. It wasn’t Heathrow. 

JH: Mmhm. 

SG: And there were all these signs, you know, of the things you could and couldn’t take. That we already knew because, you know. And somebody was asking, “Oh, you’re Americans. You already know this stuff.” And we’re kind of like, yeah, yeah. We know. That was an interesting experience in the airport. 

JH: So was that kind of in the back of your mind? You know, September 2001. And here you are the very next summer, right? 

SG: Yeah, we were the first field school to go after that. 

JH: Right. After the attacks. So what besides that airport incident stood out to you? Were you concerned before the group went or while you were there, you know? How did that feel to be there in that moment? 

SG: It’s funny because I haven’t talked about this before. It’s just something that sort of came up. I’ve thought about it, but not much. I guess all the…It wasn’t something I was thinking about at the time, definitely. I was thinking, “Woohoo! I’m going to England. I’m going to study. Horrible things are happening but I can’t process that right now.” But looking back after all these years later, yeah. It was an interesting time. I remember, I have actually have some interesting social stories about this. I don’t know if they’re interesting. But looking back I think they’re interesting.

JH: Well, this seems to be such a big part of that memory of the field school for you. Kind of this exact timing of it.

SG: It does! And back then it wasn’t. Maybe it’s just because we were living it. But when I look back on it, I think “Wow, that was a really heavy time to be going over to England and studying, or going anywhere for that matter, and studying.”  There was the United States’ perception of itself and the rest of the world, which we still have that today obviously. But it was very interesting because I remember right in the wake of 9/11 it was just patriotism everywhere here. People who were not patriotic were patriotic. The cynics were patriotic back then. I mean, when I look back on it it’s kind of “wow.” And when I was in England. I mean, nobody not even the funny people on TV were making jokes about it. It was just kind of off limits, right? I mean, it took a long time for Saturday Night Live to even get back to its thing and it was still pretty reverent and careful from what I remember in how it handled that. But we were playing soccer with some kids who were children of one of Connie’s friends and one of them made a joke and I will never forget thinking, “Wow! That joke would never fly in the US.” You know? I can’t even remember what the joke was. But I remember thinking that was just something that came out of it. It wasn’t a bad joke, but was just something that during that time kind of hit you and you’re like, “Wow, hm. Nobody tells jokes like that back there yet.” 

JH: Right, “We’re not there yet as a people.” 

SG: Yeah. 

JH: That’s a fascinating time to be over and kind of as a school group going, that’s so interesting. Reflecting back on your internships, your assistantships, and these sorts of things, how did those experience influence or benefit your coursework or vice versa? Was there a relationship between the two? 

SG: Oh, they definitely did. Another project I forgot to mention was I did the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts the same summer I did the Sumter County project. That’s at Winston-Salem. I did a backcountry material culture program. So that was the other outside-of-the-box activity that I did and I did a material culture project on powder horns that were decorated.

But yes, so getting into how all this effected or benefitted my coursework and vice versa. Well, they – Connie, Bob, and Kasey – had developed this portfolio project requirement in the Public History Program. I don’t know if it’s still a requirement. 

JH: Oh, yeah. They still do portfolio presentations before they can technically earn a degree and everything. Yep, still part of it. 

SG: So I think, I want to say that I was one of the first groups to have that requirement to actually present it. I could be wrong about that. But I want to say it was something new. Ooh, now I want to go find out.

It was great because it did a lot of things. First of all, it required you to be engaged with what you were doing. So if you’re going to do this project or internship you needed to be able to create some product out of it. Something that’s useful. That shows what you learned that is not only useful to you but useful to the entity you’re working with and also shows what you’re learning. Something that you can show and share with your colleagues as well, your peers. So with each of these projects that I did or internships, I was able to build my portfolio and that was another big thing for USC. I mean, we all graduated with these amazing portfolios of work that we had done because we were getting our hands dirty and doing the work while we were in school with our assistantships, with our internships, with our summer programs. So we were working while we were learning and it was evident by what we were able to produce.

And I remember not having any problem putting together a portfolio. It was what do I have to take out of the portfolio? And I remember really enjoying putting that together and I really enjoyed the portfolio presentation. I enjoyed learning about what my friends had done and seeing all the fruits of their labors and it was fun to get up and actually talk about some of the experiences that I had in a very formal atmosphere. I know this is a little, I’m a little more laid back I guess. But so many years have passed that I’m trying to remember all of the details. Some of them are just coming back to me so I hope it’s not too fragmented.

JH: Oh, we are going where your memories take us. No worries. (Laughter)

SG: But it was such a positive thing. That the whole portfolio project. I think that it was just the right way to do it. To require students to do that. 

JH: Right, mmhm. So how would you say that those experiences, you know, your portfolio and all these sorts of experiences you had, were impactful for your career? Your later public history career. You kind of mention that this, you know, people came out of the program with all sorts of things under their belt. 

SG: Mmhm. Well, it’s interesting because some of the stuff that I was doing at the Relic Room made its way into my portfolio and that was my first job. So I was able to, sort of, I guess maybe talk myself into a job with the some of work that I was doing. I don’t know how it worked out with the timing and everything. The position was open and I was there, so and I had been there. And I was definitely able to bring those experiences together because my first full-time job was registrar for the museum so I was in collections management and I had learned what I needed to know in the program and I was already applying it at the Relic Room. So I knew how to catalog. I knew how to condition report and take pictures. I didn’t have to use a disposable camera there! We actually had a really nice camera back then at that time. I’m sure they have an even better camera now. 

JH: (Laughter) 

SG: But yeah. I mean, I was able to take the tools and immediately apply it. So my first job was really me just sort of continuing doing what I had been doing but improving and staying abreast of what was going on and staying in contact with my friends at the other places. “What are you doing about this?” That was the great thing about Columbia and the museum field is that it’s pretty close-knit and if you had a question about something or a material, you could just pick up the phone and call somebody at Historic Columbia or McKissick. “Hey, I have this issue. What would you do or what would you recommend?” or “Where do you get your acid-free tissue paper? Who do you use?” You know, all kinds of advice like that. It was really collegial and really friendly as well. It was a great time to be a part of that community.

And I was able to use my archival skills as well because eventually I was able to work with the Write from the Front Program there. Where we were printing and archiving email and also creating a digital archive of it as well. Emails that families of soldiers were sending and soldiers were forwarding themselves, who were in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time. So we were creating a sort of living archive of things that were happening then. I think it was started in 2003. Yeah, it was started in 2003 when we went to Iraq. I mean, it was interesting to be a part of and along with the collection management. I eventually worked in just about every area you could work at in that museum. So there was a lot to do.

Started out in collections management as a registrar. I helped out with some archival stuff. I eventually was titled Curator of Collections and Exhibitions, and then before I left I was Chief Curator of Collections and Exhibitions. Or, wait. No, I have this wrong. I was registrar, and then I was Curator of Collections, then I was Chief Curator so I was managing exhibitions and collections at that time. So, it was great. There was a lot to do and I still keep in touch with everybody who works there.

JH: And you kind of see the program as one of the, certainly one of the major things, that kind of put you on that path. You know, you had the class, you had the field experience, and you also got in there as an assistantship and kind of built those relationships over time and your skills. 

SG: Mmhm, yeah. It was really great. When I look back at it, it was just such a positive and such a great time in my life because I was networking while I was learning and doing. When we move forward to my career change, I really can’t say it was that. Well, maybe. It wasn’t that enjoyable. Law school wasn’t that enjoyable.

(Laughter) 

JH: Right. We will certainly talk about that shift, right?

SG: Yeah. 

JH: So let’s talk a little bit first about your thesis research. 

SG: Sure. 

JH: So you looked at the commercialization of Christmas gift-giving in Columbia. 

SG: Yes, I did.   

JH: And so tell us a little bit about that. How did you come upon that subject and what was that like for you? 

SG: The very first class we took in Public History was a survey course of some sort. Public history…I can’t remember the exact title of the course but Connie and Bob co-taught it. It was this sort of survey course where you write a paper. You sort of get your hands dirty doing your first sort of public history paper, research paper where you do some sort of primary historical research. And I can’t remember the name of the class for the life of me but I was looking for topics that, something I might develop into maybe my thesis project. I was trying to find something that I really wanted to study and not just do the paper and be done with it and move on to the next class.

JH: That’s smart, yeah.

SG: I wanted to do something that I could grow with. So I talked to Kasey, my mentor, and I said, “I’m really looking for a topic that I can live with for a while that I’m interested in for this class.” And we talked and talked and talked and we were talking about holidays and the idea came up that nobody had really talked about Christmas gift-giving in Columbia. And I thought that was really interesting because who doesn’t know about Christmas? Whether or not they celebrate it or not. Culturally, it’s everywhere in this country. You can’t get away from it if you go shopping or walk outside after Halloween now. I mean, it’s everywhere. So, just trying to see when that market for gift-giving really developed here on a local scale but also comparing that to other places and maybe on a national scale. And it was really just a lens. In a lot of ways, it was a lens to look at economic change. Socioeconomic change, too. You had the market economy, the plantation economy. You know, how that effected things. It was really interesting. So you thought ho-ho and jingle bells, but actually going to do a lot reading on economic history when you get into the thesis. (Laughter) 

But it was interesting, I looked at – I got to go back into the archives. Spent a lot of time at South Caroliniana. That was my favorite thing to do. My favorite place to go. I just loved it there. Became really good friends with Robin Copp. I don’t know if she’s there or not anymore. But, yeah. I looked at a lot of newspaper advertisements in Columbia newspapers to see when this marketing was just going and how long this marketing season was lasting and those changes to see some of the advertisements and how those developed. Some of them were really funny. As you got into the twentieth century when cars and shaving, some of those ads were just really funny. But also looking at accounts in the archives in the manuscript collections and when there were things written about Christmas. A lot of times, it was a sort of last minute thing. Going Christmas Eve to go and buy candy and that’s it as opposed to a few years later when it was “Let’s go window shopping,” and all that. So it was a really interesting project and I’m glad that I was able to find that topic early because I think it made it a lot easier for me than maybe some of my peers who searched for a long time before they found the topic that was right for them or that they were comfortable with and I got lucky that I found it early. 

JH: And the resources here kind of, almost right on campus, and in Columbia itself really seemed to have helped you do that project. 

SG: Oh yeah, mmhm. They did and I was able to help out with some tours at Historic Columbia Foundation for Christmas. Go on some of the carriage rides that they were doing with some of the Christmas tours as we were riding around Columbia and tell them about some things, you know, about my thesis and that was fun. Total voluntary thing that I really enjoyed doing. So there was a little bit of application there as well. 

JH: That’s wonderful. That’s great. It seems like you really made the most out of that experience. 

SG: I tried to!

(Laughter) 

JH: Wonderful. So, you know, when you were here. You came in as a public history student but some people come in as a PhD but they do a field in public history and kind of all these different versions and people get involved in public history. So, how did you feel about the role of Public History within the larger History Department while you were here? What was that dynamic like? 

SG: I think it was good. I had some interaction with PhD students. The England Field School had interaction with a couple of students who were on the trip who I’m still friend with on Facebook. We’re all scattered around. But I’m still friends with them. I think one of them works for the Department of the Interior. I don’t know what the other fellow does. Can’t remember. But one of my friends ended up marrying a PhD student and we’re all still good friends. So, socially, I had good connections with PhD students. Academically, I don’t know. Besides the England Field School, I’m trying to remember how many PhD students were in some of my other courses. Material Culture, definitely. There were some PhD students in there. I don’t remember like the cataloging or the exhibition classes necessarily, but definitely Material Culture and the England Field School. And the interactions I had with the PhD students. It was really good, really friendly. But I wouldn’t say it was, I guess, I don’t know on a scale of 1-10 how I would rate it as far as how integrated the PhD Program was with the Public History Program at that time. I know there was some overlap.

JH: Right and did you feel like the Public History Program had a good representation within the department? You know, you had your voice and people seemed to value the program?

SG: I think so. We were getting jobs. We were getting plucked out into jobs before we were graduating so I think we were definitely a positive feather in the cap of the History Department at that time because we were out in the community doing things and we were working. So, there was that. So, yeah, I think so. I think it was positive.

JH: Wonderful.

SG: I don’t really have any negative experiences when I look back on it. 

JH: Oh that’s great. No, it’s always interesting, you know? 

SG: I’m trying to think of some though! I really am. 

JH: Oh, you don’t have to. (Laughter)

SG: That might be helpful or it might be interesting. 

JH: Mmhm. 

SG: I’m trying to think of something. You know, maybe it’ll come to me as I’m driving away. Something I would have changed about the program.

JH: Well, if you think of something I’ll be more than happy to include a note. You know, it’s just so interesting to think about programs where it’s not just MAs. Not just PhDs. People are really mingling and interweaving within the classes and their interests and that sort of thing.

SG: There was some mingling. Oh! The survey courses like History 202 and History 203, you were in there with PhD students or MA, regular MA students. So that was different because you’re in your traditional survey courses. So there was overlap there. So there was overlap. I guess just a lot of the Public History classes and projects are just so vivid in my mind that I remember those the most. But I do remember, I did have interaction with PhD students and it was positive and the survey courses were good. 

JH: Wonderful. That’s great. So, you mentioned when I asked the question what you were looking for in a program when you were coming out of undergrad and you said some of your goals were really to have the kind of diversity of experience that you seemed to have had here at USC. So, you know, when you look back on it, how do you feel about your choice to go to with public history about something like museum education or an archival program? 

SG: I think it was great. I think I made the right decision. I don’t think I would change a thing about it. I think that everything that I learned was helpful and very insightful for me. I wish I would have had the opportunity to take some historic preservation classes because I did focus primarily on museums and archives. But the good thing about it is, the way that the program itself was structured, you had access to historic preservation students. One of them is still my best friend to this day. I just saw her on Sunday. And so, it wasn’t that historic preservation was way over here (gestures with hands) and I never saw Bob Weyeneth and had no idea what they were doing. I did and you sort of know what’s going on and you’re a part of it even if you’re not directly involved with it because the program was big enough to have a lot of opportunity but still small enough that people knew each other and you knew what your peers were up to. 

JH: And so you mentioned this kind of professional comradery that you felt when you were at the different museums you worked for as an assistant and later as a career and, in terms of your post-graduation experiences with your classmates, you said that you’re still best friends with one. 

SG: Oh, yeah. 

JH: Do you think that you’ve all maintained or at least some of you have maintained pretty lasting relationships out of USC? 

SG: Oh, yeah. In fact, a couple of my very best friends from the program, we just got together on Sunday. One of them lives in Augusta and the other lives here. And, where I just recently moved back to Columbia in January, so I’m in the process now of trying to reconnect with all my museum and Public History buddies. But we kept up over the years online. A lot of us, not all that wouldn’t be true because some people I don’t know where they are, but a good number of the people I was in the program with I’m friends with on Facebook and you sort of keep up with each other and know what’s going on.

Also, when I was at the Relic Room after I graduated, I had the fortune of being able to bring in other students to do internships to help them fulfill their requirements and build their portfolios because I’d been through it. I knew what it took to build a good portfolio and I wanted to give back. And I also knew that it wasn’t just about me giving back. That these were a valuable group of young men and women with great skills that they were learning that were also valuable assets to the museum as well. So that was just good and I’m in touch with a lot of the people that did internships with me. I don’t want to say under me because it sounds like I’m standing above. But no, the people that I was able to mentor in some aspect of their internship. So, and we had research assistantships, and I don’t know. I had heard that the funding had been cut off at some point so I’m not sure what the level of research assistantships are that are supported out in the museums now if that’s the same climate that it was back then, but it was pretty great.

JH: Great. Wonderful. So before we talk a bit about your career at the Relic Room and then moving into law school and what that was like, are there any other memorable moments that you want to share about your time in the program? Or just while at South Carolina? 

SG: Hmm. Just great, great times. It was a good time to learn and every class that I took and every experience that I had was valuable. Just spending time in South Caroliniana Library looking at collections, looking at manuscript collections. Going through old newspapers. That was just really fun. It was work, but it was fun. Just all of the different – the England Field School. I think I’ve hit a lot of the high notes already.

JH: Yep. 

SG: Maybe some more will come to me as I compare the difference between my Master’s program and my law school program. 

JH: Oh, that’s fine. Mmhm.

SG: But yeah, I think I’ve probably hit most of the high notes. 

JH: Wonderful. I just didn’t want anything to slip under the radar if you wanted to share it with us. So, you mentioned that you worked here in Columbia for a while. How did you decide to shift careers from public history to practicing law? 

SG: Okay, so, that really sort of developed organically, I guess. I was working in the museum and every collection, just about every museum I would say, has collections issues. Especially the older the museum some of the more difficult issues you might have with ownership of the collections or old loans and a lot of those issues I became very interested in. I started out from the museum collections management perspective trying to resolve these old loans. Maybe you have something that’s been on loan to the museum since 1896 on permanent loan. There’s no, you know, what kind of documentation you have, you have this documentation in a ledger. Then as the field progressed then you have deeds of gift or you have different documentation in your collection and that was fascinating to me.

So that’s one aspect, just getting to the bottom of who owns this stuff or abandoned cultural property. If there’s something that’s been left at your museum and you have no idea how to get in touch. There is a South Carolina statute that deals with abandoned cultural property that you can go through to take ownership of the property so that you can do with it what you need to do with it. Sometimes you want to take ownership of it so that you can deaccession it or so that you can, you know, loan it to another museum in good conscious or whatever. Issues like that, I started really academically becoming interested in that. At the time, the museum was part of the South Carolina Budget Control Board and when we would have interesting legal issues, we would seek the council of our attorneys for the Budget Control Board. And the director of the museum, Alan Robertson, who was also an alum of the Program, was a great mentor to me and would take me along. (Laughter) I will never forget one of the attorneys said, “You ever thought about going to law school?” That’s what my parents wanted me to do and I said no. “You should think about that.”

But I really became interested in the legal issues the museum faced. I also was interested in issues of copyright, how we can use things, what we had rights to and what we didn’t, and just all of those things. I wanted to learn more. It seems like public history got my foot into the door with some of these issues and then my academic interests started to change and go in this different direction. So, I went with it and I look back at it and think “Wow, I just really said okay I’m going to go to law school and I went.”

But I was 30 when I decided to go and it was really hard leaving the museum because I, you know, had a good steady, stable job and it was a good job at the time for the field. And I was working with great people, so I didn’t have any reason to leave as far as being unhappy but I felt it was the next step I needed to take for myself. So I did it and my husband and I moved to New York and I went to law school in New York for three years. Well, law school is three years. Then after law school we moved to Chicago and that’s where I took the bar exam was in Chicago. So that’s where I’m licensed right now, technically, is Illinois. I didn’t take the New York Bar because we moved right after graduation.

JH: Mmhm. 

SG: But it was a great experience, but it was very different. And it had its ups and downs but, just the interaction, the collaboration and all those experiences that I love about the Public History Program. Not really that. There was a good bit of that in law school, but not to the same extent. The creativity, just working together to create an exhibit or doing all these side internships.

Law school was a lot more competitive. Let me put it to you this way: When we were all sitting in the auditorium, one of the professors or one of the deans got up and said, “Yeah, at the end of the semester a good portion of you won’t be here. You will flunk out. You will be gone. You won’t cut it. You won’t pass muster.” So it’s sort of like a big difference with starting a program in public history where it was like, “Hey, let’s put our heads together,” versus in law school “Perform or die. Perform or go away.” 

JH: Mmhm. 

SG: Where academically, structurally, two totally different structures for graduate programs. Luckily, I was adaptable enough to jump in and have enough or had enough competitive spirit to hang in there through it. But definitely, the Master’s program in Public History was much more enjoyable. 

JH: And are there any skills that you learned in the Public History Program that kind of helped you in that career shift or that you still use in your career today? 

SG: Absolutely. Absolutely. The writing and research skills I think really gave me an edge going into law school. And just having some maturity of having gone through another graduate program degree and having some years out in the real world working and then going into law school. So I really had a lot of life experience under my belt that I could take with me. But also all these experiences that I had learned in the Program, through my interactions with others too. Having been a manager. When we did work together in teams, I was a really good team leader because I knew how to manage people, you know. Or help people bring out the positive… 

JH: Help people work together. 

SG: Yes, help people work together. Facilitate.

JH: Facilitator, that’s it. 

SG: Yeah, so that was one thing. But the writing and research skills hands down helped me. Saved me, I want to say because I was a little terrified at first and I sort of said, “Sarah, you can do this. This is some hard stuff, some hard material. But you’ve got a toolkit. You learned a lot of things and you can write and you can do research. And when all else fails, go back to that. Pull those skills out of your pocket and do that.”

And the writing really helped me. I was able to write on to the law review and I was able to partner with a friend and we won best brief in the intermural moot court competition. Then I was able to work on another brief for a competition in Chicago and we won best brief, too. So my writing skills really helped me because I went in to writing projects in law schools saying, “I’m going to win. I’m going to win this project because I have developed these skills and I’m going to us them.” Now, legal writing is very different but when the fundamentals are there, they’re there and when you have the discipline to conduct research that you pull, that you get from the Public History Program, from the PhD Program, from the History Program I would say in general. When you have that discipline that you’ve learned and applied you can bring that. You can take that to law school.

It was really a good training ground for me and any case that has anything to do with anything cultural, that was interesting to me. But that moot court competition that we ended up going to in Chicago was the National Cultural, Art, and Heritage Moot Court Competition. They give you a fake fact pattern and you go through the appeals court process and you write a brief and argue in front of a panel of judges who really take you to task. But that project was, I actually sought that competition out and told the president of the moot court association, “We need to go to this competition. We need to put together a little team because this is great. This is art and cultural heritage law. I’m going to be all over it. I’ve got the wheelhouse for it. Let’s do it.” And he said, “Alright, I like that attitude,” and he pretty much let me put together, well he didn’t let me put together the team but it was me and two other students. We went and we won best brief. So we worked together. It was definitely not just me. But I had that confidence. I wouldn’t have had that confidence had I not had the background that I had coming out of the Public History Program to really take that on. And it was really empowering to tell someone, “Hey! I can do this. Let me do this.”

JH: Mmhm. I have the degrees, right? In my back pocket that will let me show how.

SG: Yeah, and he was like, “You go! I like that. Man, go!” (Claps twice) And so I went. But it wasn’t just me. I was working with really, really, really, really brilliant people. But it was definitely a highlight and that’s definitely an example of where my background came into play.

I also took a class in art law, which was so much fun. Loved it and did a, well we’d call it a research assistantship. A short, temporary research assistantship with my art law professor. She was updating her treatise on art law and I was able to Shepardize the cases, I’ll explain what that means quickly without boring you to death.

JH: Oh, it’s not boring.

SG: But she had a chapter on internet art law. Art law on the internet. Internet art law cases, basically. So I would go through and update those cases and look for, Shepardize them to see if there had been any changes in the law. If any other courts had anything to say about it or if they had been appealed or that sort of thing and updates for the treatise. So that was really interesting. So I was able to weave those two together and just being in New York for three years and going to the museums there, when I had time. That was the most frustrating thing because school really took over my life and it was very difficult for me to do anything but I found ways here and there to go to museums and there were free days, too!

JH: Great thing about New York City, they do that. So do you still consider yourself interested in public history, you know, as a field or as a practice even now?

SG: Absolutely. Even though that’s not what I’m doing. My career has more or less taken me into health law because that’s where the jobs are right now and that’s where I have found the opportunity. But, I don’t think that part of me and my interest will ever go away. I will never forget when we were moving because my husband and I have moved across the country a few times now – from Columbia to New York, from New York to Chicago, then from Chicago to back here again – and I have all these books, right? I have tons of books. You have books. We’re students. We have books. There’s going to be book.

(Laughter)

SG: So, he would say, “Gosh, you really got to get rid of some of these books.” And I’d say, “Nooo. They’re my life! I will never get rid of these books!” And he’s like, “Okay. You kind of scared me a bit. I’m never going to ask you to get rid of your books ever again.” I’m like, no. Don’t do that.

JH: He should know better.

SG: Yeah, so it’s always a part of me. I still have all my books and I still go back to them every one and a while and look at them. I’m still interested and who knows how my career would evolve. But now that I’m back in Columbia, hopefully I can make some connections. Reconnect with some people and maybe do some volunteer work and get involved and see because it’s something that I cherish and it is a skillset that I continue to use.

What I do now, even though it’s health care law, I research and write every day. I’m not in court. I’m behind the scenes and I like that for now. That’s what I want. That’s what I want and what I enjoy. The job that I have right now is very interesting and I write every day. Again, that toolkit I developed. I want to say, you know, I did a lot of writing in undergrad but when you go to graduate school that’s when you get some really harsh criticism on your writing and you really start to grow. Or at least that was my experience and I was really…I don’t want to say harsh criticism. I mean real criticism. “Oh, this is where you need to improve,” and I’d say, “Okay, let’s improve. Let’s get this going.” So really the writing and the research skills I use every day. I mean, what would have seemed to be a lot of writing a long time ago is nothing. I mean, I can pop out a good fifteen pages/day. You know, if I need to. So it’s just a lot of writing and I love that.

JH: And it still there under everything that you seem to be up to.

SG: Mmhm.

JH: So, I just have a couple of closing questions for you. Now that we’ve reflected and we’ve also kind of looked forward in terms of what you might be doing now that you’re back in Columbia.

SG: Hopefully I didn’t trail off too much.

JH: Oh, you are doing great. Don’t worry at all.

SG: (Laughter)

JH: So, if you could make a suggestion to the Public History Program at USC or even public history students, what would you say?

SG: Well, the collaboration and all of the outside of the classroom projects were invaluable to me. I mean, I gained so much from each internship and from my assistantship and each internship and each summer project. The England Field School. The summer program at MESDA. The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts. Historic Columbia. The Sumter County Museum. The Relic Room. Just all of those projects really were valuable to me and being able to work with people who were alums of the programs or who had been out in the field for a while and they could teach me things. That was great.

The collaborative projects were great and the focus on research and writing. I mean, I really loved being able to walk over to Caroliniana Library and look in the manuscript collection and just sort of lose myself for a day or so, just sort of looking through things and doing research.

Sometimes you look all day and you don’t find anything you can use in your project, but you learn so much by reading these things. And you may be in a conversation with your friend who is working on something and you say, “Oh wait, I saw something that you might be interested in. Why don’t you go check that collection out at Caroliniana,” and they do and sometimes they give you a tip. And that was so wonderful to have that type of atmosphere where another professor or another student who saw something, “Oh! I saw something that you might be interested in. Why don’t you check that out?” “Oh, I saw something you might be interested in.”

So if that is continuing then I say right on, keep doing it because that will help you. It will help you in the real world. Or, well, we’re all in the real world. It will help you in the workforce. When you’re out of school, when you’re no longer in school and you’re having to collaborate with people. It’s just great.

JH: And looking into the future of public history as a field, is there anything that you kind of can see public history going towards or anything that they might pick up to add to their…?

SG: Hmm, interesting. One of the things I would’ve wanted, well, one of things that I was sort of interested in but our program didn’t offer it at the time – it might have been outside the scope – was in conjunction with the exhibits might have been some graphic design training. Because if you weren’t savvy with computer art in developing panels, there was only some much you could do. You can research and write your way into a beautiful exhibit, but as far as being able to put it together. Those were a lot of the skills you sort of had to figure out because at that time the program didn’t have any sort of graphic art or graphic design classes or any collaboration with that program. So that might be something interesting for the more creative types who wanted to do some panel design in addition to the exhibit part or portion of public history and maybe some more of the preparator work that you really get hands on. You know, you get it hands on, but if that were incorporated into the program, that’s one avenue.

Another avenue goes into where I’ve taken my career any maybe looking at legal issues and the law and maybe developing that into some sort of side focus for a course within the program. I think that would be really interesting to look at legal issues. Some sort of course on legal issues that public institutions face, museums, legal issues with collections. I think with any of the tracks – museums, archives, or historic preservation – there’s a whole slew of case law out there that could be studied and sort of brought in and maybe collaborated. There might me some opportunity to collaborate with the School of Law. I don’t know anyone at the School of Law because I didn’t go to school there.

JH: Mmhm.

SG: But that would be really cool too. I think that would be good. That would give another perspective of public history in the trenches and what museum directors and museum staff, as well as donors or artists or just historians, are dealing with, too. And so I think those are a couple of different areas.

And then there’s everything that’s going on with this digital age we’re in with all these apps and iPhones. I mean, I was laughing about using a disposable camera when now we have awesome cameras on our phones. Unless you’re a real photographer, are you even buying a camera these days? I mean, do you need to? But, I mean, all the different apps that are being developed. That’s one thing I haven’t even looked into is could the museum field or public history or what kind of apps are available. Are museums utilizing these or? I have no idea. I have no idea. But I think that’s something that would be…I’m sure. There has to be stuff out there.

JH: Oh, for sure.

SG: But is the program looking at that? Or sort of taking a techie look at public history and adding that dimension. So those are kind of three dimensions I could see developing the program further would be graphic design, legal, and tech. Which the tech and graphic design sort of work together but I’m speaking graphic design from more of an artsy standpoint.

JH: I think those are excellent suggestions and certainly the field as a whole and the program individually wants to be able to adapt, you know, and grow as a discipline. So the last question we have here is any parting thoughts that you would like to share with us? Something you would like to elaborate on or something you want us to have on the record as coming from a public history alum?

SG: Oh, it was great. I’ll have to say my experience moving to Columbia was really good back in 2001. I moved into a, I had emailed one of the professors. Maybe it was Bob or Connie saying, “Hey, I’m looking for an apartment. Do you know of any alums who are giving up an apartment or do you have any suggestions?” I can’t remember who it was that I spoke with, might have been Bob. But it just so happened that somebody was moving away and they lived in an apartment on Laurens Street which is close to Five Points but also close to the school. Walking distance was great. No parking issues with the school. And there were two other apartments in this big old house. I think it was built in 1913 and Public History alums lived downstairs. It happened to me John and Mary Sherrer. John at Historic Columbia Foundation. And the other guy who lived in the apartment was a PhD student and so we were kind of like the Public History house and that was great. That was just a really fun thing coming in and then John and Mary ended up buying a house and a couple other Public History students moved downstairs that were my friends and then another friend moved in. So we kind of kept that house in the family as long as we could. That’s a little aside from the academics of it.

JH: It all counts.

SG: But we really were a close-knit community and we had a Halloween party one year and Connie came! It was great! I can’t remember if Bob came, he might have. But I remember Connie coming and it was fun. It was a lot of fun. But yeah, those little things that you sort of forget about until you’re actually talking about it and you’re looking back and you’re thinking, “Wow, we had a lot of fun and we learned a lot too and we worked together.” And it was an easy transition for me, moving out of state, moving to South Carolina where I didn’t know anyone here. It was an adventure but it was a great adventure. And, you know, I obviously didn’t hate it here because now I’m back obviously! So yeah.

JH: Well, that’s wonderful. Thank you so much for doing this interview. We really appreciate all your perspectives and this is now on the record.

SG: Oh, goodness. (Laughter)

JH: For everyone to hear in the future. So thank you so much.

SG: Oh, thank you too.

End of Interview

(01:11:54)