Walter Edgar

Return to Interviews

Interviewee: Walter Edgar
Interviewer: Cane West & Justin Davis
Date: November 30, 2016
Accession #: PHP 008
Length of Recording: 107:55
Sound Recording

Walter Edgar, originally from Mobile, Alabama, completed his undergraduate work at Davidson College in 1965 and completed his PhD at the University of South Carolina in 1969. After graduating, he served as an officer in the Army and he is a veteran of the Vietnam War. He continued to serve in the Army Reserves until 1995, retiring with the rank of Colonel. From 1972-2012, Edgar was a Professor of History at University of South Carolina. Early in his tenure, he founded the Applied History Program at USC in 1975, serving as its director until 1981. Among other appointments, Edgar also served as director of UofSC’s Institute for Southern Studies from 1980 until 2012. Now a Professor Emeritus, Edgar continues to be an active citizen, having served as president and board member of numerous organizations, including regional historical societies, civic organizations, state committees, and Episcopal Church governance bodies. Since 2000, “Walter Edgar’s Journal” has been a popular radio show on SC ETV Radio and is one example of Edgar’s career-long interest in public history. Among others, he was inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame in 2008 and the South Carolina Education Hall of Fame in 2010. Interview includes discussion of his many years as a Professor of History at University of South Carolina, the origins of the Applied History program, reflections on the sub-discipline of Applied/Public History in the 1970s, and the value of public history. Among other topics, he also discussed his views on the role of advocacy in public history work.



Davidson College | Episcopal Church | Institute for Southern Studies | Mobile, Alabama | Public History | Public Radio | U.S. Army Reserves | University of South Carolina | Vietnam War



Cane West: My name is Cane West and it is November 30th, 2016. We are in Columbia, South Carolina and I am with my colleague…

Justin Davis: … Justin Davis

CW: We are here with…

Walter Edgar: I’m glad to be here to talk about the origins of the applied history program, which became the public history program. Before we went on tape, I was talking to both of these gentlemen about who they are and their backgrounds and why they’re in the program and I’m really disappointed that we did not record that because what they told me is basically – that’s why we got started. I really think it’s appropriate that you rehearsed your answers…just briefly. Justin, tell us about yourself…

Justin Davis: I’m a native South Carolinian from upstate in Spartanburg, South Carolina. My educational background is before I came…I applied to the public history program – was at Wofford College in Spartanburg…received a liberal arts education there. Since then I worked as a academic librarian primarily – got a MLS and thought that – look I knew I needed a second masters and so based on my interests I thought that a public history MA would suit my needs either for going back – working as an archivist, which was something I found that interests me, even though that wasn’t my title when I was in the working world – or else moving into historic interpretation and that sort of field. I currently work in…for the State Historic Preservation Office.

Not exactly what I…would be the most exact, best fit perhaps. It’s been a useful experience.

WE: Do you do national register nominations or…

JD: I’m their intern – they call me their review compliance coordinator. I’m not primarily working with national register nominations but that – they pulled me into some of that – I primarily – section 106 is the thing I do everyday – as far as.

WE: You don’t have to deal with things like historical markers…

JD: There is a person there that does that but they don’t currently have a grad assistant but I – as far as moving forward I have asked to be involved in other projects that I have in currently to try to expand my…

WE: You already tried your hands in…sort of…in archives…you want to be more in a public position like we already talked about…(Unintelligible 3:29 – 33).  

JD: I really liked that…part of my personality I think is completely…happy being in a position where I have less, minimal public interaction. The Historic Preservation Office is very small though…and I do actually would probably prefer a little more variance in that but I really liked what my…the work I did over the summer being in that position, where it’s still a formal relationship that you have with people who are – “the public” who are coming to visit. It’s a very different kind of thing and it allows for much more – a much broader range of interaction possibilities, some more casual and some formal meet – giving a talk that I presented to people. I found that to be very rewarding especially…even though most people that go through and hear what I say and maybe move on – the people that would stick behind afterwards and come and talk – would start a conversation about John Brown and so forth – that would end up – I was at Harper’s Ferry Historical National Park and that what then work its way in to the world we live in now – why history from hundred and fifty years ago is important. How that story wasn’t – didn’t stop in 1859 — how it continued in that particular sight –well into the twentieth century – its sort of a microcosm of American history. I found that was a very rewarding…

WE: Okay…that’s good. Cain, you’ve had a checkered career.

CW: I had…I began about ten states and two countries ago in Arkansas and then I…did undergraduate at Davidson College – a year at my Alma mater and then I transferred to Sewanee because I really wanted to get those Southern – I wanted to make sure I got most of the South within my education career. Then I moved to California and Washington D.C. and, Maine.

WE: You didn’t mention you were on the alumni…when I was on the alumni council…you were the student representative on that.

CW: Oh, I wish I were…they would not have allowed me…I wouldn’t have…I didn’t have enough suit jackets…is probably what held me back. But I’ve always (Unintelligible 5:50)

WE: But that kind of brings up the point that you went to Sewanee, where you still could take courses in Southern history. The offerings at Davidson were not what they once were. The offerings at this place are not once… what they once were. Major historic sites from the most important are in the South and if you don’t know the background of Southern history…how can you be a public historian?

CW: Its interesting to see how – US history has definitely taken on – it wants to be national but it sort of shifts regionally from different time periods. You don’t talk about the South after the colonial – the early parts of the colonial period – we go into the Northeast. Then you come to the South after the revolution and you sort of talk about the North and the North comes back into US history after the war.

WE: The revolution was won in South Carolina. Why go north…you know, after all it was John Adams who said, “All history is local.”

CW: I was…thinking about that…just on my drive over here and what that means.

WE: But you have had real world experience working for the National Park Service.

CW: Yes. I worked at four… three national park sites and then at the Washington D.C. office. I worked in Washington D.C. at the old Stone House at Rock Creek Park – where you would have visitors from all over the country, accidently come into your park and you would say, “Hello” and they wouldn’t be able maybe to respond to you in English…you try out your Italian and your Spanish…that was always exciting because you – Washington D.C. it’s a global city from about 1800 and on…to a very extensive. You can connect those stories. Then I worked in Utah – the question was how do you tell American history from a place that’s in the Utah Mountains – that’s not even apart of the United States until 1848. Then I worked in…at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. The story was how do we…how does a national park represent…how does it become a demonstration of the values of certain histories at certain times – you can start to tell people about the choices that were made in management or in expansion or why this history all of a sudden seemed important. I’ve been able to compare that public interface with those very stories with sort of the depth of intellectual knowledge that I get from a PhD program.

WE: You are in the PhD program?

CW: I am in the PhD program.

WE: Public history is one of your fields?

CW: Correct. I’m getting a dual PhD and public history masters.

WE: In terms of the public history, you’re doing – it used to be archives preservation…

CW: They call it museums material culture now…

WE: Yeah. Okay.

CW: I’m more in the museum studies – my real world experience is working in a museum field but I need to always be able to talk to people who work in technical disciplines outside of what I know because in that way we can collaborate. If can’t talk to an archeologist about what they are trying to ask questions about…then we can’t work together in sort of a larger organization.

WE: Well, did you find that talking to archeologists on one thing that this is…not uncommon. A lot of archeologists just don’t know very much history.

CW: Its remark – sometimes I – I was working Ken Kelly and the American Southeast isn’t his direct field – I was working with…I saw that more with historical geographers who can bring in the basic story that everybody knows from their Facebook news feed about the United States and doesn’t have to go much further than that because that’s already somehow educational to the students in that class. I found that a lot of fields…can get by without…with facts rather than interpretation.

WE: Fair enough. Getting a PhD, how is that going to help you communicate with people in technical fields?

CW: You know…it’s mostly – well, the PhD is mostly an ego trip but at least it afford the possibility of pursuing…affords me the opportunity to say,’ ok are there more questions that I want to ask myself…about the past’? If so, then I can articulate myself better in that field maybe talk to other people in more interesting ways.

WE: What’s your dissertation topic?

CW: It’s gonna be environmental…essentially it’s an environmental history of the frontier. I’m gonna look at how different groups in the Arkansas River Watershed are constructing discourses about the west…about the expansion of the United States through the environment. Once you start filling in who should live where and why then Southern history becomes much more than White owners and the Black slaves it becomes – White settlers and Indian migrants and people constantly trying to redefine inclusion and exclusion in the West.

WE: You’re not talking about going back home to Arkansas are you?

CW: I would…I love Arkansas. I love the mountains of Arkansas – I think that they provide…it’s the only place that has the intersection of Southern…sort of bottom land forest… mountain…American mountain areas…mountain culture and the plains all intersecting within about hundred and fifty miles. People are jockeying on the landscape.

WE: Well, I mean you get to Little Rock and you got Texans…you got Southerners…and you got your mountaineers. They are all coming together in a very, very interesting mix.

CW: Exactly. There is a guy named Thomas Nuttall, who I don’t…Thomas Nuttall, who does a trip in 1820. He is coming…he comes from Pennsylvania…he is from Europe originally…he comes down to Ohio and down the Mississippi and up to Arkansas – he arrived in Little Rock, where the elevations are maybe four hundred feet and he says, “Behold the sublime mountains covered in mist and the roaring cataracts.” All of a sudden, this place is not only culturally strange but it’s geographically, at least in his mind. Literally, a simple (Unintelligible 12:46) encounter, that means for me that I get to talk about people walking around in the woods and then making something academic out of that conversation.

WE: Okay. All right. Fair enough. That could really be used for site interpretation.

CW: Mhmm. The idea being that…

WE: I’m using that as different from museum management.

CW: Mhmm…

WE: That’s really what you would like to do…is more site interpretation.

CW: It is. To be fair, I don’t have much experience doing museum management. Maybe I should, coming out of here.

WE: I’m not really up on exactly in the program now as – you’re in the Masters program, give me a quick run down on the courses do you have to take in public history apart of your requirement for a degree.

CW: The only two professors who teach in public history right now is – the archives track that you mentioned earlier is effectively non-existent – technically still is a dual-degree program with the library school but it’s – they don’t really know how to use that and that’s something that has come up a lot in these interviews about why the program doesn’t have the archives track anymore and or should it reinstate that – obviously the reasons cause Connie Schulz retired and not replaced. Bob Weyeneth still teaches preservation classes – he did a field school on Columbia last year. I think he tries to offer one of those every year for the preservation students. There – I’m taking a class with him next semester – the only one I do cause my advisor is with Allison Marsh and the museum interior culture side of things but its – memory, space…he teaches other classes. There is another class he teaches on historical interpretation on historical structures in spaces and then the museum side of things, there is a class that most people take in material culture – depending on who teaches it…it could really quite different. The class that I had was much more – geared towards reading monographs written by traditional historians.

When Allison March teaches it, it’s more geared to how to manage a collection in a museum. A lot of her exercises evolve around – there is a weekly exercise about making a small description of an object that you might find in a museum, an exhibit label…she calls them. I didn’t do that, every week I was writing questions about monographs. That’s really quite different. Maybe I wish there would have been a hybrid between the two. Other – there’s a – the class that she teaches that I think most people of the museum program take which is the history theory of museum, I took that last semester. This semester there is something that changes each time as a potential project and oral history is one example of that. We are all taking an oral history class and unlike most history classes, this one has involved a group project and depending on what our interests were…

WE: And this Dr. March is teaching this?

CW: Correct. For example, within this my – we’re actually in different groups in this class. I was in the group in charge with coming up with a review basically on what’s going into the archives – we started preparing a finding aid – for example, if I go back working on a archive situation, I thought that would be a useful skill to have to talk about that in an interview, I done that sort of thing before, even though I hadn’t in my professional experience.

WE: What about the strict history component…what era is…you said you gotta…you worked at Harper’s Ferry – Civil War, American South, Military history…

CW: We are expected to major or…sorry, to minor in Early American History or Late American History. I did early…I took a reading seminar in colonial history and I’m currently taking a reading seminar in the 19th century American history.

WE: Just two courses…

CW: There are two courses that are required and beyond that…I think it’s two other courses that we have to decide take…

JD: It’s four requirement classes in Masters and then…

CW: I think so…then, we have some selection of…which traditional straight history, which I wouldn’t call it – class you can take…there are definitely four classes…I think it’s four…

JD: Yeah, it should be about half and half.

WE: Cain, you’re working on your PhD with…talk a little bit about your program.

CW: Talking about…what it looks like today, the Masters program and the public history program are pretty well integrated in terms of course work. I can…I take one extra public history class in order to fulfill my requirement for doing the Masters and the PhD. Those are – it reinforces the idea that Dr. Weyeneth had first told me and now Dr. Marsh – that the initial training is to be a good historian and then you learn ways in which public history can work in the world. My experience has been to – lots of monographs and then about once every semester I’ll take a public history course and it says how do we use this course to ask ourselves what it means to be a historian. As a oral – what is a oral historian and their work tells about being – collecting evidence and using and privileging certain types of sources and how should we approach…sort of controversy and questions like that. The most exciting thing that I’ve done in my time with a – in a public history class is go to Guantanamo Bay. We went to Gitmo and we interviewed people who were – dependence on the base and what does it mean…

WE: When did you do this?

CW: We did this in last March.

WE: That’s part of the course here…

JD: It’s part of the course…

CW: March 2015 or April of 2015.

JD: It’s the year before I came.

CW: Okay.

JD: Yeah.

CW: It’s fascinating to say, what is it like to be at a place where all the narratives – there are – I found six major narratives but the sort of the culminating narrative is that when you go to Gitmo – you’re going to a myth and how do you record the history of a place that doesn’t really exist but is much more a malleable idea…

WE: How did it…how was this arranged?

CW: This was arranged because of Dr. Marsh’s – you have to have connection on the base and Dr. Marsh’s sister was a civilian contractor and she was our sponsor on the base, where we can…it was highly tenuous the whole time and we had a really interesting counter and it was – you’re asking people to talk about what they know is a controversial subject and you try to make it normal and admirable and you’re hearing the military side of things – experiencing the distrust that the military personal have of what they see as journalists because they don’t really know what a public historian is. That is the most out there experience – of being a public…representing history to the public was at Gitmo but then we had a preservation course last year with Dr. Weyeneth cause he – they shifted it from by going to Charleston and now people stay – now he is making it the capital city field school, which is showing – what he likes to show which is that history is not simply – well, public history is not simply museums and that public interface – that obvious public interface but it’s zoning in the vista to make that area revitalized – using its sort of historical feel.

I’ve had both of those – those have been my two most prominent memories.

WE: Well, since you want – the academic side is what you’re really focusing on now…

CW: Correct.

WE: Do you think you’re getting enough academic?

CW: I just finished my last course besides my dissertation perspectives.

WE: Obviously, you took Modern American History.

CW: I took an Early up to Colonial and Up to 1860s – 1877. I took the sort of the first two of the (Unintelligible 21:44). I wish I could get more. My – I am much more of an American Studies mind but I needed to come to a graduate program, I wanted to come to a graduate program that didn’t fit my intellectual strengths cause in my mind, American Studies would allow – would have allowed me to be a little bit more blasé because I don’t have the internal discipline and detail rigor. This is my way of balancing that out. However, that mean whenever I read about a geography course or a…some sort of interdiscipline course – I took one Southern Studies class with Dr., not so great, and reminded me that I really wish I could take more classes all the time. Even though, I’ve had four semesters…five semesters in graduate school classes…

WE: You gentlemen have really…you saved me a lot of breath as why the program got started.

CW: In what way…cause that’s our curiosity for you – is you’re thinking in the 1970s, I want to begin – I’ve seen this work somewhere, I haven’t seen this work…

WE: It wasn’t working…it wasn’t. When we first started, this came about because for the first time in many years, the history department got an outside chair, John Sproat. He started about once a month, the first year he was here, he would have untenanted assistant professors just come by his house…have a cup of coffee or something stronger and talk about their interests and where things were. One of things he asked very early on – he said, “What do you folks do outside the University?” Well, I was on the Board of Historic Columbia and he said, “What do they do?” and I started talking about it and I said, “This state is full of local historical societies, museums, county museums – major collections in Charleston and there is no real training other than if you want to do the fancy stuff and go to winter (?) tour and folks like that.” He said, “Draw me up a program.” That’s where it began – that’s how it began. Now, getting it approved was not easy because we called it, applied history. The closest program that might – there was an undergraduate program at Middle Tennessee but there was no other graduate program.

I just started putting out feelers to people at other universities – Pittsburgh was thinking about doing it and at successive American History Association meetings, we just kind of got together and founded what became the Public History Association. But initially within the department there was not tremendous support for our public history – applied history. “We’re not a tech school. This isn’t real history.” Some people are like who cares about…talking history or presenting history to the general public, we’re… interestingly, the director of graduate studies was Professor Owen Connelly, was one of the most old-fashioned…Owen Connelly he was a great historian. If you’re in European history and write French history and the French translates your work – you’re a damn good historian – Owen Connelly was a damn good historian, he liked the idea. He pushed it through George Reeves, who was the dean of the graduate school pushed it – pushed it through, it had to go to the faculty senate committee meetings, it had to go to university committee meetings. Then it had to finally be approved by commission on higher education because it was a new program. Initially, it was a joint program with the art history department and that eventually kind of fell away – lack of interest on the art history side of it.

CW: How did you sell it…cause you’re talking to multiple institutional factions – with different interests – with different goals…so what was your…?

WE: Well, the initial way it was set up, we had the four instruments. We had preservation, archives, museums, and site interpretation and I know its been restructered – but we had the four areas. I went to folks I knew…point to the state archivists. I went to the Confederation of State Historical Societies, they were all very interested in that and part of that had to do with the generational change. The day of the older semi paid volunteer running historical societies and museums and working in archives, they were all beginning to retire and they would like to have somebody…younger, who had a background and, initially there was much interested in the fact that you had history as you had some courses in archives. When we started out – you’re were supposed to – you couldn’t just say I’m going to be in archives – you had to take at least three – there were basic courses of archives – you had to look at three because – the idea…if we particularly – the county historical societies said, “Well, my gosh. You send me this fancy curator – they got to be able to do public lectors, they got to be able to do archives, they got to conser…” Everybody got a taste of that, but then you could take a second course in what you wanted to do but then but half of the coursework had to be in traditional history. `

There was an internship, which was part of the program. We began to work at internships and, they were not paid in those days but they were a semester. Most of them were local here, but then some began out of Columbia they would offer assistance if somebody were commuting to – because getting assistantship money was very difficult back then as it is now but the internship was one semester…not necessarily related to the thesis. Okay? The thesis were more traditional…in some cases, the internship could produce a thesis topic in some cases and some cases not – the thesis would be…you might say a regular MA thesis and there all in the room…I think…I don’t think nobody is done all of them…through now. But particularly with George Reeves as director of graduate studies, we got an awful lot of regional publicity because – let’s just say in Georgia, there were no public history programs…applied history programs – they could send someone – I don’t know how the cooperative interchange worked – we got a national student application pool, almost from the very beginning – heavily Southeastern but still got people from New York and from away.

The word passed and it wasn’t that we out and advertised, although they were several articles in various historical…national historical organizations talking about – well, first of all, is applied history or public history and then, they dropped your name. All of a sudden, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, there is an article and the University of South Carolina and University of Pittsburgh call it applied history – Washington University and St. Louis decided it’s gonna be…applied history…they are gonna call it Public History. Initially, it was both, we called it applied – I have no problem with the term public but I still think the applied – there is a good argument to be made for both of them but it became the Public History Association and the name changed. The graduates of the program…every time, they grad…they got jobs – that got the central administration’s attention is that in tight job markets, the Master’s students in applied history were getting jobs than the PhD’s in philosophy or wherever else were not getting jobs. James B. Holderman, president of the university, thought that was pretty neat and besides that you send a good student out here to working at the cabinet county museum and giving the fact that this is a small state, the next thing you know, the senator from Calhoun County is talking about that great program at the University of South Carolina. You don’t have to do anything, your students become your best product…your best advertisement.

CW: You had a…national…you said you had a national pool of people that you could draw from and I’m wondering about how – what would you see in somebody to say that person has…what we are looking for. To help define what it means to be professional historians…

WE: Well, the application process wasn’t complicated then as it was now. Usually, you have on-site visits and that kind of thing – you know we had a statement of purpose – you had…you could look at references…references used to be a lot more honest than I think they are now. You got to be careful what you say on a reference today. But if somebody say, “Oh, I’m just dying to come to this program and the south because I want to recite the Civil War.” Well, that’s not gonna sell…it wasn’t gonna sell me in the 1970s. Now, if somebody said they wanted to…their goal is to work to at Old Salem and they were very interested in historic horticulture and I know Old Salem has a good program in that. That person…even though we couldn’t necessarily teach historical horticulture…although, there would be course…we have a place for an elective, I could send them to work with Dr. David Rumbert, one of our most famous botanist, he can give them one or two courses in historical botany. Of course, John Larson, who is still vice president at Old Salem, was that student. Actually, John just appeared out of…at my door one day – he was getting out of the army and just said he was interested in this new program…that he had heard about.

CW: You had originally envisioned this program as well integrated into the traditional history program…into the PhD program – you wanted half and half courses. What did you feel like that balance would offer to both public historians and then the public…PH history program to the traditional (Unintelligible 35:05)?

WE: Well, this is an argument that when public historians got together, some…oh – I can produce an archivist and let’s just say at University X and they can come to the [South] Caroliniana Library and they can curate those documents and I say, “Well, what if they don’t know anything about South Carolina history – I mean how can you properly curate the collection if you don’t know the history. I don’t care if you know – having the technical expertise is fine but if you don’t know how the background…how and the heck can you do your job. Particularly, if you’re in a position…where you got this – as archivists do and Justin will tell you – well, we look at this and we might save two out of five documents particularly from the (Unintelligible 35:50) collection. Well, if you don’t know the history, then you might be throw the wrong three documents away. Archives…with archives but still you go to a historical site and you land at the State Park at Kings Mountain – you don’t know anything about the American Revolution or about the back country not just the Carolina back country but the entire back country – going back to called Breidenbaugh, Pennsylvania to Georgia – how can you talk about the site. Just a quick – as you mentioned earlier – just a Wikipedia sound bite – isn’t gonna make you a good interpreter of that site.

The core…not the core knowledge – the knowledge of a particular area…I mean I realized at the National Park Service, you might end up at Yosemite… or you might end up…you ended up in Utah. You could have said after your Arkansas experience, “This is the place.” But I guess part of it…the traditional history, the (Unintelligible 37:06), you just didn’t have the syllabus. The expectation was you were gonna be reading outside what was required in a course. Obviously, Cain, you do that on your own now. I don’t think it’s necessarily true of graduate students today – it’s pretty much – it’s not just public history, everybody has a syllabus and that’s what they do. The initial group of students was very cohesive, even though, they might be…somebody might be…wanted to do museums or twentieth century or colonial. The initial group of students, they were very, very cohesive and we bring in six or eight a year – then of course, every two years, then you have eighteen…I mean sixteen to eighteen students. They kind of looked out for one another…it was – because there was…with the traditional history students there was…you’re in Applied History. Part of that, quite frankly was envy because knowing in two years, most of those people are going to have jobs and…

CW: That’s funny too…because we’ve been asking that question to the people that we interviewed who were students…what was their impression of the way that the program worked as far as cohesion among both PhD and just the MA students in public history. Their responses have been varied.

WE: Well, it could be envy. I don’t think that the public history student…self-segregated but because they were taking courses…some of the core courses together but again half of their courses were with everybody else. One thing that was different, all of a sudden, they got that internship and they’re not around that semester.

JD: Was the internship full-time commitment then?

WE: It was…it was not a forty-week but it was worked out with the individual. For example, you said you had an internship…

CW: Which they are calling it assistantship now as of…like I had an internship over the summer, that was on me to set that up. I could chose anywhere in the country basically. Or outside of…potentially. But with the assistantship, there are a set number of partners that have been acquired over time including the Historic Preservation Office, Historic Columbia…for a while because the museum here on campus…we had one (Unintelligible 39:57).

WE: Yep, well, all of those people were apart of the initial group and it was not a forty hour week kind of thing…usually, they have a specific project that we are gonna put somebody on. I’m trying to think who is local…who graduated that you could ask.

JD: From those early years?

WE: From those early years. I think Harry Fortson is still in town. Marie Hollings is still in Charleston. John Lawson is still in Old Salem but he is different – he did not completed his degree when he was offered a job at Old Salem. His thesis actually was a project…the restoration of a house in Old Salem.

CW: He was or we be interviewed.

WE: Do you mind if I assess that…

CW: This is the people that have responded so far…

WE: Donald Roper was an early…Robin…(Unintelligible 41:05-15). Of course now, John was a later student…. Aaron…now, Aaron was a – to my knowledge…one of the first PhD to take a public history as a field. For a while, that was not allowed.

CW: Really?

WE: Because I moved out of the program in 1980 – to direct Southern Studies and it still was just a Masters only.

JD: He works for the State Historic Preservation Office – he is in charge of the marker program in South Carolina…historic markers.

WE: Aaron Mars?

JD: Oh, Fully. Sorry.

WE: No, Aaron Fully. Aaron Mars, who works for the state department now.

CW: In D.C.?

WE: In D.C. – he is a historian for the state department.

JD: Well, that’s great. The federal government employs a lot of historians…I didn’t realize.

CW: I’m telling you…

WE: Yeah. John is still em…he still at Old Salem. Donald Roper has retired…that’s health reasons. I taught most of these either…even though I was no longer doing applied history – I had Beth Herron in class…Christy Hampton…John Sherrer did his master’s thesis for me.

CW: Yeah, I can imagine your work in Historic Columbia and his current position at Historic Columbia were not discontinuous.

WE: (Laughs) you expect me to put that on tape. (Laughs) No, I was always happy to recommend – no, John actually came and did his thesis for me after he was already at Historic Columbia. He was gonna do the Wade Hampton house…the Wade Hampton house is his thesis. He came to me because I had worked with Historic…I’d been president at Historic Columbia.

CW: Was there push back from the department against applied history the entire time that you were chair…

[Phone Rings]

WE: Excuse Me. There was…I wouldn’t say push back, there wasn’t an awful lot of support. It varied from faculty member to faculty member…some faculty were extremely supportive and like I say had it not been for the assistance of Owen (Unintelligible 44:03), who was a French Historian and hard nose director of graduate studies – I don’t know if we would ever have gotten the program through.

CW: Do you think that is the product of the time or nature of many traditional history programs that are trying to continue to identify themselves as something?

WE: Well, see – I mean in ’75 this was brand-new. We were pioneers in the area – yeah, there were very – you got people who got very traditional degrees and they’re looking at…what’s Edgar trying to do over here. Some of it – part of your annual evaluation…what have your students done…well, I have five students graduate and all five of my students got jobs. That’s…

JD: In their field…

WE: In their field. I had doctoral students at the same time and I mean that’s not – I mean I continue to have folks who were not in Applied History as students…I don’t know. I mean…you might have to ask some of them. Part of it might have been…the fact that the program really got a lot of good local press. Not necessarily…it was not necessarily…I didn’t initiate it but it happened. It thrived cause it got…continued to get support from the university and then searched when Dr. Scarlett…have you got Dr. Scarlett on the list?

JD: I think they responded recently to your request…

WE: Okay.

CW: Do you think that having public historians…applied historians in a graduate program…does it change sort of the essence of the studies? Does having those classes…or did you notice that…

WE: I don’t…. well, at the time… I don’t think so. Later on as director of graduate studies…long after…there would be complaints about public history students. The one or two faculty that said, “Don’t ever assign a public history student to me. I got to have somebody who knows something about…” Well, you’re only teaching Western Civ.…or U.S. – I mean it’s not exactly brain surgery. Somebody – it wasn’t always possible, if you’re teaching a big European history sect…there weren’t enough European history graduate students to give. Like I said the one or two people were always complaining about public history students. I will not name any names but I will just tell you that they did not have graduate students of their own, they went into fields where they had no graduate students on their own and they disliked it. (Unintelligible 47:27).

CW: You had always had an infinity to history? Talking to people about history, I presume you didn’t just come up with this program idea willy-nelly after you left the Army. Or did you always had it…

WE: No. I didn’t always have it…when I first started…well, I don’t know, I’ve always been a history nut. When I was growing up before we entered states, every time, we passed the historic marker, we stopped and read and that kind of thing. I grew up in a family, where history was apart of discussion…family dinners. Anyway, I guess how history was presented did concern me – in Historic Columbia and how that was presented…I think had something to do with – because they we beginning to interpret it they way it should be…at least for that day – interpreted. You can still – not there… but I can go look at historic sites today and the bologna that is put out by the interpreters, they put out today is outrageous. I have the most fun with a living Historian at St. Augustine one time. He was sitting in what was the oldest schoolhouse in the country. I said, “Oh gosh, didn’t this get burned in 1740.”


JD: What was the reply?

WE: He started – I said, “Actually, the folks from South Carolina kind of burned this town twice.”


WE: It was only because he was being…because my children asked a question and he had been real kind of…he was in character but he was kind of snippy and I just decided…anyways, no having it always with me. I guess my own work with historical organizations…the fact people seemed to want younger folks. You go to work at the Historical Society in Charleston and Mrs. Pryor, who was the director, watching her (Unintelligible 50:13), I would sometimes say – I wish maybe I knew a little bit more about this, that, and the other. She was an incredible director. Still maybe it all comes together. Cain, I have no…I didn’t have a roadmap to Damascus experience. The light just didn’t go on but that conversation with Jack Sprot, the first year he was here department chair – it was almost a challenge – how would you do it…what would you want. I worked in the Carolinian as a researcher regular in the archives and those were two things – I started with that – I liked side interpretation. I had a colleague here in (Unintelligible 51:17) that got involved very early on. She had worked at Brown…she worked with (Unintelligible 51:28). She did her Masters where she had early equivalent of public history experience. She came in about the same time…maybe a year after I did. Then it just so happened that Professor Richard Mendel, who was a European Historian, had been trained as an archivist at some point in his career.

He picked up archives course and the museum course…Museology course was taught by somebody in the art department. That’s how we got staff to be begin with.

CW: You said earlier – you talked about this work being done at local intuitions…you were a fan of local intuitions and you said earlier that, “All history is local.” And all politics is local and therefore, all controversies is in someway local and if history is anything, it can be controversial. I know that you’ve been the guy on the witness stand talking about Episcopal churches and that and all the controversies around there. What is the role of history in particularly – publicly present historians and controversy – if they are so tied to local events…whether it’s the flag or a church or what somebody’s grandfather did?

WE: Let’s see…we once had somebody at the Carolinian before Dr. Allen Stokes…destroyed part of the collection because he didn’t think it was appropriate. The university turned down the chance to get some very important early collections because of who the people were but that’s in the past. I’m not dodging your question…I’m not gonna dodge your question. Being on the witness stand as I was on the case as you mentioned was not the first time I was fully witnessing the Abbeville case for public education. I was also an expert witness on (Unintelligible 54:06) on the Senate in 2001. I’ve done historical research as a consultant for law firms. I still do. I think there is a difference between just the facts sir…ma’am and deciding to take an advocacy position. Now, you might say because I testified for…lets just say the Abbeville case…for equal funding for rural schools in South Carolina – because I took a position because I was hired by the plaintiffs – that I took a side. In the Episcopal Church controversy, I was hired by the defendants. When you are doing a case like that, everything you produce must be made available to the other side. You will be…have a recorded session with the opposing attorneys…if they chose – they certainly did in the Abbeville case…they did in the reapportion case…they did not in the Episcopal Church case and in the other cases, I was never actually called or to produce documentation. I learned things – it’s not something that you…you have to…when you’re say something and sitting there and you’re being crossed examined you’re under oath. Don’t have an historical brain relapse, you can impeach yourself…which is what they call…contradict yourself. That was something I was learning and how you react – it’s not your case…you are not an advocate. When I did the Episcopal Church case, I produced material that might not necessarily have been helpful to their case.

My job was to produce material and how they made use of it and how the other side made use of it that was their call. I knew I was not going to jigger the historical or skew the historical documentation just because I had been hired by a particular client. When I had done this, I made this very clear, that whatever I find and I report to you…it’s there and I can document what I’m putting on paper. It’s not opinion… it’s what I had found in the historical record. People ask me now why don’t you get out in do this and you do that because I’m still am a Public Historian on the radio. If you work for National Public Radio, you cannot be an advocate.

CW: I ask this because this has come up…

JD: It has…

CW: In all of my interviews and we have people who say I want to tell immigrant stories because I feel I’m not unbiased but I’m not telling false history, I’m adding to historical record. A lot of people who work at the relic room, who say you brought in this flag that divided the state for a hundred and fifty years…sixty or sixteen or probably a month or whatever it might be but she is not gonna be an activist. Another guy who says…yeah I would like to be apart of social justice issues but that’s not my role in the state situation. You said you had some other discussions of activism and is there a goal for activism and public historians at all?

WE: Justin, let’s talk about your time at Hawkins Ferry. I’m sure that you – and you interpreting that site and how it was officially interpreted…some people would say that you had a basic scription you were given correct?

JD: More or less…. at least on what they had me doing originally.

WE: That is the National Park Services presentation. Some people might say the way that is being interpreted is being advocacy position. The park services come out of the criticism on how they are interpreting Fort Sumter, how they are interpreting wounded m…it’s not your interpretation, you’re not advocating. If you’re presenting it – of course – Cain, the argument would be any historian who is writing a book is making a case. What are you going to say?

CW: I don’t have a weekly radio show that is super popular. I don’t know if there are limitations that are controversies that I can bring that are challenged.

WE: Actually, it’s not – for example, we certainly covered sensitive topics whether its Mother Emmanuel or Matthew Perry’s life as a young civil rights attorney…the one thing we really cannot do…let’s just say, Justin comes here and he is now working full-time at cow pens and the friends at cow pens are gonna have a big fundraiser and all of a sudden we are not talking about cow pens as he wants to push raising money for cow pens – we can’t do that. We cannot promote any non-profit and John (Unintelligible 60:54) on the program, we might talk about programs that they might have but it’s not – and you can become a friend of Historic Columbia…you see where I’m going. That’s really what I’m talking about being an advocate – that it is more along on that line, not that it can’t deal with a controversial topic. When we have a political figure on there, we usually wait until they are retired because you can’t bring somebody that’s going to be running for office next year and then they’re using public radio as a form.

CW: We are separating advocacy – on top of collaboracy from financial gain…it sounds like…some of it (Unintelligible 61:44)…

WE: Well, I’m – because I interviewed Matthew Perry…does that mean I was advocating a study of civil rights. There are people who might say yes because you had – I’ve had threats because things I have said on the show. I had to get SLED involved in one case because it involved the holocaust – I had two Holocaust survivors from Charleston and we got these horrible series of phone message and left for my wife. Anyway, it was taking care of but by SLED. That person would say I was – his point was the holocaust never existed…and by interviewing these two people, I was saying that the Holocaust did exist, they had made up their stories – and I was promoting Zionism – and then it went to all other sorts of things. I think what you’re talking about advocacy is…I’m gonna led the march on the State House tomorrow. If you been there as a private citizen, I think that’s fine. You may not know…but I know some faculty don’t know because they violated the rule – you can’t – if you’re are writing letters to the editors, you do not sign it with your name as assistant professor of whatever because your speaking for…you have no authority for the university. You’re also trading on…I’m a professor. (Laughs) Which is even less than admirable. In a way, I see where you guys are going and in other way, I think maybe you’re trying to – do you become a public historian to advocate for what…what do you want…what you gonna advocate for.

JD: Thinking about it too…the way that people talk to other graduates in the program have talked about…when they…advocacy…maybe, it has to probably do with the way history is presented.

WE: Well, see that’s – yeah, see how history is presented…and my life experience and I’m shorty going to be seventy-three and I can tell you going into historic sites across the country and not just in the South – tens of historical admission and commission were right. It’s amazing to me…listen…it drives my life crazy because I will – I wanna take the tour as normal person – I don’t never identify myself, I just go. Wherever we are and listen because I am interested on how the site is being interpreted. I was at a site recently at Mobile, Alabama – my hometown and had one incredible docent and it was a two-story building and she could only do the first floor…the second floor. Five minutes into the second floor, I wanted to throw the woman down the stairs, she didn’t know anything about the local history, it was made up, it was all hell to chip and dale, it was…and she didn’t even know the history of the family correctly that she would supposed to be interpreting.   I just bit my tongue and went through it. I did call a friend who was on the board. I just said, “I’m not being ugly but I think you need to know if you’re gonna deal with the Kirkbride house, the docent needs to know something about the Kirkbride family. It’s what you’re talking about but some of it…might be well meaning but some of it is just simply…its laziness. They are not willing to take the time – the fanatical story – people would love to have Sherman riding up his horse, riding up the steps of the Hampton-Preston House throw a torch through the front door…that kind of thing.

All the slaves were happy and what have you – and some places years ago that would have been told. I think that’s what you are getting at, Justin. How the story is told. I don’t consider that advocacy.

JD: What would you say?

WE: I would say – people say history never changes it does… things come to light. You can tease things out of documents now – people never thought – look at what Mark Smith has done with sound since – you can pull things out of documents, nobody has ever looked for. When I first started graduate school, photographs were not considered worthy historical documentation or evidence. Although, you can look at a picture from the 19th century and you can tell a lot of a story out of that – but no. It’s just like in graduate school… only foreign languages you can take are French and German. Even though, I argued I was taking – studying the American Southeast and Spanish was a fairly important language to use but Dean (Unintelligible 67: 53) wouldn’t hear of it. He gone to Hopkins and there were a bunch of French and Germans. I said if I do South Carolina, maybe German will help but I would really like to do further south and I would like to have Spanish. He said not part of your program, end of discussion. Then that you could take computers, I mean all sorts of things have changed but…I’m digressing. (Unintelligible 68:21)

JD: We were having a long conservation before we turned on the recorder about how certain things are privileged in the academy…and the frustrations with it that Cain has.

WE: If your frustrated, tell him it’s nothing new. You can come here as a graduate student as I did – I’ve had advanced German in Davidson. You had to take a language test in order to pass. If you came from outside, you never passed the test the first time around because then you had to sign up for the graduate course in German because of additional students in the German department – at least that was the story. Everybody had to take a one-semester course in graduate German.

JD: You said you left the program in 1980 but you continued to have students who were in the program and you have been on boards and you are now working with local public radio broadcast…has your view…has your sort of understanding or your view of Applied History, sort of changed noticeably, demonstrably in that time frame or do you have new insights in sort of the moment?

WE: Into public history….

JD: As a field….

WE: I think public has finally achieved legitimacy in the academy…look at the multiplication of public history programs across the country…it weren’t no accident. (Laughs) Look at what Clemson and the College of Charleston have done…Georgia…USC Greensboro…I mean you name it everybody got an essence of public history program. They don’t always call it that but that’s what they done. Not only is this just in 1975. Whether it’s official or not – you might say imitation is the highest form of flattery, it also push competition for placement cause that’s part of the goal too, not just public service, taking care of your students, placing your students. When your work for the state of archives – past preservation office – do you have anything to with the Confederation of Local Historical Societies in this state?

JD: Not in my position…I could ask what they do, I’d be curious actually.

WE: I’m really just kind of curious…do you go to their meetings…do you go to the State Museum Association meetings…

JD: We can.

WE: If you’re not doing it, you really ought to do it. Since, Cain, you’re in the…you wanna wear the cap or whatever. What major historical association, have you met…Southern…American?

CW: I went to the Southern several times and then I have connections with the Arkansas historical…

WE: I’m thinking more now about something like the Southern or OAS…

CW: I don’t feel comfortable yet with my level of scholarship…

WE: Not OAS but Organization of American Historians…. not necessarily to present but just to go.

CW: Sir, I went to the Southern and that was a great time and last year’s in Arkansas, so I got to fly home…. and the NCPH…. I feel more comfortable at the Public History orientated.

WE: What about the American Association for State and Local History?

CW: That was in – I went to something there in Maryland in 2014.

WE: I’m just getting – actually, you should be going to the Southern Historical Association until you get your degree…. as experience. You need to go – I’m just making, I’m not telling you…maybe but…excuse me…things like the public history Association – that actually houses public history. The American Association of State & Local History – don’t bother going into the National Trust, that’s not gonna get you any where – still a different group…I’m glad with what they do. We’ve placed students over the years with the national trust. In terms of your career since you were looking for archives…there is an American Archives…National Archives Association. Maybe just…even if you go as a student, you’re there…. sit in on the sessions and introduce – just make yourself known, that’s apart of it.

JD: It’s important to do but it’s expensive to go to though.

WE: Well, it is – yes and it’s harder for you for a national meeting that it is for Cain because the Southern is gonna be… 

JD: It’s usually local…

WE: Yeah…but I think if you look at the American Association Of State & Local History, it usually rotates somewhere in the South every second or third year. Its been held in Charleston, Richmond – of course, now the National Archives – I mean the…association…whatever…the association of Archives American Association …they’re gonna be meeting in big away places. I guess there isn’t a state organization for archivists unless there is a division within the…library association.

JD: I’ve been to that before and they – I’m not sure how formal it was. They did have archivists there. Those meetings tend to be so much smaller. I think it varies per year….

WE: There may be a reason – just like the Southeast Museum Association.

JD: Just in Charlotte.

WE: Just to give you a better feel for the profession that you say you wanna go into. See if you sit through a full session, every session at a Southern Historical Association meeting – you may run screaming from the – I’m just teasing. (Laughs)

CW: Yes.

WE: No.

CW: I had met – I had a good time. It was interesting – not everybody wants to meet the next sort of – not everybody wants to sort of cold meet the next crock of non-famous but earnest, young historians. I had that – I’ve sort of seen both sides of that.

WE: Yeah. It’s not the same – this sounds to…I’m digressing again – but it used to be whoever you do – now, who are you running your dissertation for?

CW: I’m working with Dr. Horton at the moment.

WE: Dr. –

CW: Dr. Horton.

WE: Oh okay. All right. I think Woody is good enough, old-fashioned enough that placing his graduate students as part of his job. It was part of my job to place and when I worked with George Rogers, it was part of his job. At the Southern, he would even – two years before I was on the job market – not (Unintelligible 77:14) but there would always be something – well, I’m gonna take you to the “such and such” alumni meeting– and this is my student, he is working on this – and Walter maybe you need to go talk to…even though, it’s ahead of time, you need – somebody gonna…they might be having a vacancy two years from now. I mean that kind of world I’m not sure exists anymore, it used to be you pick up the phone and you call and just say, “Hey, I’ve got this bright, young kid named Cain, he is a little bit brash but he is really good.” (Unintelligible 78:04) – you did that with an honest…it’s all telephone you see, it’s not in writing…

CW: All right. It’s not recorded anywhere… 


WE: If you have a reputation for telling them like it is, you have a much better chance then say a letter – I can’t tell you how many letters I’ve got. “Dear Professor Edgar, this is a chairing search committee. My student, Joe Doe, walks on water, leaps higher than a building, blah, blah, blah.” The networking that used to be there is not really – I don’t think it’s really – it’s probably is closer in public history positions.

CW: If you go to (Unintelligible 78:58) with Bob…oh man…you meet everybody.

WE: Really?

CW: Oh yeah.

JD:   I need to go to Indianapolis this year.

WE: That’s – cause I know Dr. Schulz used to – she loved to go to conventions and made sure her students – we’ve digressed so much – I didn’t sign anything yet…


WE: Public history is something I still believe is very important. I really – Justin, the first time before we went on tape, when you said, “Why you wanted to do public history?” – that was one of the reasons on why I wanted to have this program started. To have young people who really had a desire to present history to a broader audience – presented – oh gosh, I don’t want to say correctly cause that’s a loaded word but to present it as honestly as you could to tell a story of a particular time and place and people. Cain, even if you do go to the dark side…

CW: The non-hat wearing kind…

WE: No, the hat wearing kind.

CW: Oh okay.


WE: No, I’m just teasing you but even if you do that, don’t just write for the academics. Who cares…like seriously, you got people – in other department on this campus, there are people who bragged about how a few copies of their book – I write such wonderful stuff that only three hundred copies have sold – they think it’s because of what they had said was so – it takes a real brain to understand it of that the fact that’s boring and nobody wants to buy it. Don’t dismiss the fact of getting out to a broader audience – you’ve already done it and I can tell from just sitting here with you, that you can do it very well. This is always – you’re in – you want to get the PhD…fine but just because you get a PhD, what does that tell you – it’s a challenge and you want to do it and that’s what you want to do…good but if you don’t forget you’ve already been a public historian. I think in your heart, you are still a public historian. That’s important. I wouldn’t keep doing what I’m doing if I wasn’t – if I didn’t feel like it was important to keep talking about things for a broader audience. If you measure by hits, which is what everybody does these days – on a given Friday, there will be 35,000 people listening to me every week, if you measure that by hits, it’s about a million and a half over a year – cause it’s never the same thirty-five thousand people.

Get your point out and you can talk about things – you can present things – you can present a story that has a lot of negative aspects without editorializing…without pointing a finger. If you lay out the facts of slavery and you take a document and you present that – you don’t have to say, you don’t have to beat people over the head with how bad James Henry Hammond was as a master. When you put the story in print, as I did – he not only had a female child by one of his slaves but then he and his son shared that same – his daughter who is – a woman who was his daughter and his brother’s half-sister – a common mistress – you put that down there and in readable English, that message gets through a lot quicker than – that evil misogynist and of course, most people wouldn’t necessarily know when you said he was misogynist what you’re talking about — but put the story – you don’t have to embellish. Tell the story, what have you found.

Now, Justin, you’ve been looking somewhat disapprovingly.

JD: No, I’m just thinking back on the way – I’ve done that or perhaps failed to do it.

WE: We’ve all done that. Sometimes, it’s really hard to bite your tongue either in a public position or on paper you just – because whatever the situation is really rattles you up. Of course, that seems to be the rage today. You can start tweeting your – and then its no longer a public record – it’s a public record until it gets taken down. (Unintelligible 84:58) today is live for the present. What is the job of a Historian is to explain how we got to where we are. You’re a product of your past, no matter who you are, no matter how much you try to disown it.

CW: I’ve been practicing the same – it would be inauthentic for me to take a side when I’m teaching but I take a side by presenting multiple sides. If I can get multiple voices to tell a story then the story complicates itself.

WE: That’s…Bingo. You get no case. You have somebody from the military, you have the pendant, you have the spouse of a prisoner…did you have that?

CW: No but people who worked with prisoners.

WE: There you go. Now, you presented…but some people might say you advocated but since you presented both sides. You’re still looking puzzled, Justin. No, see that’s why when I interview people I have them in the room with me not on the line.

JD: You can look at their face.

WE: Yeah. How they’re reacting. You don’t think Cain is right to present multiple and let the stories tell themselves?

JD: I don’t know if that’s the case. I think there is still a certain selectivity involved in which opinions you are putting out there. But ultimately, professional training, academic training – you have to make choices on what you are going to present.

WE: You do have to make choices. Part of it would be – in the past, where people deliberately sequestered information.

JD: Mhmm.

WE: If you’re presenting you might have a choice of three people to quote from – they might all be telling the same story but in a different way. There is no way that you could avoid – if this is advocacy, then there is no way you could avoid that definition because you made a choice to choose – the way I’ve said something…as a way – Cain, I don’t necessarily considered that advocacy, maybe you do.

CW: I don’t think so. I think the historical record is complicated and that part of the job of a…somebody who is working in a Public History setting – where you doing it in public – is to make sure that it is communicated perhaps one I can say safely. Candid, in my own experience doing academic work here or bringing other people scholarship at certain…certainly been the case that maybe I thought there was this neat narrative where you read people who have presented that and then you read other things or do other research for your own projects and you realize actually, that’s not true. Then, of course, in the scholarly process, that’s exciting because you have something to say that’s original or different, even if it’s challenging somebody prominent in the field. I think in dealing with the general public, who has probably little interest in that process – I think it’s still a worth while thing that people can – I want to say that the people that you’re interacting with – the public…whatever that means – that’s not, we use that term in a very critical way…

JD: All the time.

CW: I think that communicating that this is a complicated topic that maybe there aren’t just two positions that you can take…you can’t just be a Democrat or Republican like as in politics…

WE: You worked at Hawkins’s Ferry?

JD: Mhmm.

WE: That could be a real (Unintelligible 89:24), in terms of interpretation. Right?

JD: Which is exciting…I thought it was great working there.

WE: Was there a problem with how you…with your script or how you would present it…or where there things you were told not to say?

JD: Not me personally, I think that I definitely had the experience of – there were a pretty big crop of interns and seasonal staff there and I had to assist them through some pretty cringe worthy interpretative programs from my colleagues – that was difficult. Then trying to talk to them without going to my supervisor and saying this needs to stop about how maybe that…they could reproach that particular subject. Personally, I had a lot – cause ultimately your own prejudices or experiences are at play – and when I would have people there and their main interests was Civil War or Battlefield history, they gave me a lot of trouble about certain things and I’m definitely – interpretive division of park services, where we have Civil War history here, that’s not really what makes the place important. We talk about that but that isn’t the focus. I think from that standpoint, the National Park Service interpretative staff there was definitely encouraging a certain narrative about John Brown and what that meant for racial relations before the Civil War and after the Civil War – and then how later Civil Rights leaders, W.E.B. Dubois in particular and the Niagara Movement, the NAACP interacted with the legacy and how that one spot has a national importance because of that.

Those were my particular interests in going there as well. I didn’t push against that in particular but I think some of my colleagues and a lot of the visitors didn’t – they were more interested in other things. Being able to bend a little bit made me realize this isn’t all about me that even if somebody is just here liaison on and pass through that anti-campaign. Hopefully, I can talk to them. I had to read a lot about the Civil War history that I wouldn’t have otherwise. That was okay but there were for the first few weeks that I was there – a couple of uncomfortable interactions because obviously I didn’t know what I was talking about – people were asking me like, “where did they cross the river?” – I don’t know…


JD: Nor do I care. But what I realized was when I give the response they look at me and see he doesn’t care – that was a problem, I had to adjust my…

WE: What did they say that you don’t care?

JD: Right. I gave that off. It’s a different thing to say I don’t know versus sort of fluffing the answer off entirely – that was something I had to learn pretty quickly when I was up there to…

WE: That’s something a lot of historians have never learned. Sometimes, you don’t know the answer.

JD: Oh, a lot of the times. That’s something I was – one of my – a doctor here in town, he was quizzed me on what I do and he was giving me his own story — and he said, “History.” And I said, “Yes.” Basically, you just learn it and then you got it – he is coming from a educational background that’s really factual oriented – (Unintelligible 93:18-21), he went to study specific things about tree pollens, etc., etc. The scholarship and the sciences changes but he just assumed that history was exact same way and that mostly on what I was doing was what he did in undergraduate. He came and he probably took a Western Civ. class or an American History class…probably just one and he was expected to memorized specific dates when World War II was or when the French Revolution was, that kind of thing and he just assumes that what history is and that if anything I think needs to change in the academy but number two, most of the people I interacted with at a place like Harper’s Ferry…this might be different, saying as an Archivist but they assume that’s what history is…that’s what academic Historians do and the value of history is knowing a set of dates. Frankly, you can get that off of Wikipedia now and it’s great, I love Wikipedia, I go on it all the time.

The important thing I wish we were doing in the academy was what I was sort of doing…what I was being encouraged to do by the park service at Harper’s Ferry, which is help people understand…well, yes, you have to know some of these basic details. There is always gonna be millions bits of information that we don’t know that you potentially could learn if you needed to. How do you know what’s important to learn to sort of keep in the cache and then how to interact with that…in a way that’s important. I think in a public history environment, when you’re doing interpretive work – why is this site or what happened here important to your life…important to the national story. I think if people leave – can’t – even if they have to think about it for a few minutes, can’t give you one to three sentence answer, probably haven’t done my job or the site hasn’t done its job.

WE: See you get back to what historical preservation used to be…how it was done. Every site was gonna be the next Mount Vernon, it was that important – shrine…they were called shrines…frequently. Which tells you are the all hail chip and dale school that swept through the South in 1960s and early 1970s and house beautiful and is a house being interpreted because of its beauty or its being interpreted because of who lived there. For example, Historic Columbia, the Robert Mills house, he designed it but he didn’t live there, it’s interpreted to show off its architecture…it should be, all the way it shows it off, its got other things. The Hampton-Preston house…that’s a family story. The Woodrow Wilson house…that’s a story. Those are family stories, they’re not…the house is there… you can talk about the Hampton-Preston house is but it’s a family story, it’s being preserved not because it’s a beautiful architecture because it’s not. It’s being preserved because it’s Wade Hampton…Hampton and Preston family home. How do you restore it…that’s why I say I don’t know who interviewed John Narson but having to decide how to restore of this gunsmith’s shop in Old Salem. In a Historic Preservation class, you used to talk about the scrape versus the anti-scrape. The Society for Preservation (Unintelligible 97:18), does not take a house back to quote a particular time, it looks at a creations overtime but sometimes it’s pretty jarring. The first sentence, I think it’s the first sentence of John’s thesis is, “Historic – the act of historic restoration is a act of destruction.” As you quote to restore something, you’re destroying…

In this case, nineteenth century additions to the…they wanted an early nineteenth century gun shop to fit in Old Salem. In a way, that’s activism. That’s really changing the history of the building but in this case, it’s supposed to be part of a bigger picture, it’s made to…fit into…the historic landscape. These are all sorts of public historians have to wrestle with…that’s part of it. I’m sure there are people who would love to blow up that Spanish-American War battery at Fort Sumter. Then you got to remember Fort Sumter is three stories short…three shorter stories than what it was…in 1861. (Laughs) Cause they got blasted away.

JD: I can see them putting the museum in there but still it doesn’t fit the décor with the bricks and the gunpoints…

WE: No. I don’t even think the tell the story of…I mean they mention of what the battery is built and (Unintelligible 98:56) but I don’t think they…

CW: Not really and that is part of the problem with that place – you get one hour and I was just down there with somebody and every (Unintelligible 99:06) — that the boat docks and the clock starts. You can either listen to the plaque story or you can go walk around or you can do both which means that you have a lot less time to walk around look at the museum…

JD: It’s memory versus…there is something to be said about telling a very specific story, there is something that we tell, told about how stories change in the same place…and one of those…

WE: Part of the story at Fort Sumter, as you know, part of a whole series of fortification from…Baltimore all the way around to New Orleans. Then Fort Sumter was not the only fort that had Spanish-American War…it happened to Fort Morgan in Mobile, it happened in Fort Pulaski…not Pulaski…in Pensacola…those old Civil War forts got remade…then for contemporary military use.

CW: Are there any questions that…at least my hope was to ask you questions that you didn’t already have answers to the off the top of your head. I was curious to see…I was wondering if there were any questions that you had…

WE: I let you down the garden path and I digressed all of the place.

CW: We’re still practicing our…I’m fascinated by the information as stories.

JD: Exactly…digressions.

WE: Actually, that’s part of the story.

CW: Where the connections happen?

WE: Yeah. See that’s…being a public historian, you got to fit yourselves into situation – you talked about how you would have people have a conversation with you sometimes at Harper’s Ferry…and you might’ve had somebody angry, you might’ve had somebody…who was genuinely curious about more than where they crossed the river or how many buttons did Robert E. Lee have on his sleeve, when he…the kind of things that make you want to roll your eyes and what have you but if you get into a discussion with somebody who is really interested you may never know where it’s…let that other person led you into what they…instead of lecturing, listen to them. You guys led me into all sorts of things, you may not have intended to.

CW: Somebody is gonna know how to take all that.

WE: You got a real talent for that.

CW: For digressions?

WE: No. Yeah. You see Justin also has a talent because I kept trying to think what on earth is he thinking right now…you must be a hell of a poker player.


JD: My grandmother was a master bridge…

WE: Oh okay. Anyways fellas, what else do you want to ask me? I’m I glad I did public history…yeah. I’m I still glad I do public history…yes.

JD: Is there anything that you feel like you could have a message that you want to send to future public historians.

WE: Care about your craft. Whether it’s written or oral. Care about your craft.

JD: What should we be doing differently?

WE: I’m sorry…

JD: What should we be doing differently now?

WE: Justin, that’s a hard question because I’m not, even though you told me how you’re taking, I don’t know…see part of that is interaction and I don’t know since I retired in 2012, I really hadn’t had students to interact with to.

CW: How should we continue to convince the department of the value of public history?

WE: When I say I don’t know the department…when I retired in 2012… I retired. I chose not to keep an office…this is one of the few times since 2012…it may have been in 2012 since I’ve been on the second floor on Gambrell Hall.

CW: Welcome back.

WE: I don’t even go downstairs much to Southern Studies. I don’t know what the situation is with the department. I would imagine because of the budget crisis, which everybody in the world seems to know about, that everybody is fighting for turf and funding…I don’t know what the placement record of public history is, I would hope it’s still good.

JD: I think so.

WE: That’s an argument that Bob and Allison need to make. It’s not gonna make a lot of other people happy – the number of graduate students is down, I’m told. I don’t know…like I said…

JD: We had a big enrollment this year…last year was small.

WE: In public history or…

JD: In both.

WE: In both. Okay.

JD: We had about ten students…I think ten students made up last year, three public history, four decided to become public history, this year we have twenty students, I think seven of them were public history.

WE: A third of the graduate students. See you’re a hybrid.

CW: I’m a hybrid and I have to politic both sides…at least once a week.

WE: Justin, which non Public Historian do you deal with…have you dealt with? Dr. Holton? Who did you take your courses under?

JD: I had many. I’m working with Tom Brown right now. I took other professors…I took Daniel Littlefield, I took from (Unintelligible 105:40), who was the Chinese historian, although she was teaching material culture. I’ve taken Andrew Burns, who is a renaissance historian and who is teaching environmental history. I think those are the other…

WE: I don’t know what the issues are. That’s something that the department as a whole will have to wrestle with. A third of the graduate students are coming in one field – the department gets funding based upon…in part based upon graduate enrollment. If they decide public history isn’t important, then that’s – money is gonna get smaller cause funding per graduate full time equivalent AR is higher than for undergraduate…it least it used to be…I don’t know that…like I said I’ve been out, I really don’t talk about departmental politics. I’ll bump into somebody and I’ll just say…I’m retired, I don’t know – I kept my library pass, my football tickets and the gym…and a parking place. (Laughs)

JD: We can’t blame you for it…

WE: I’m sorry…

JD: We can’t blame you for it.


CW: I really appreciate you sitting down and giving us this time…it’s been wonderful.

WE: Hey fellas, this has been fun and like I say we digressed but see part of it’s also – the reason I asked something that you all to begin is this is how we have a conversation not an interview. By the way, I did not – I may have stumble on dates cause I didn’t go back and review anything before I came in here and I did that deliberately, cause I’m sure you’ve got the basic facts on who the first class students were. I can tell you some really good interesting public history courses…I guess it can be in print. I don’t know.

CW: Thank you so much.