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  • Ernest Hemingway

Breakthrough Magazine

Magnetic attraction

Carolina’s rare books and special collections draw scholars and researchers from around the globe.

The collections in the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library at the University of South Carolina attract researchers to work with rare materials relevant to their research, which vary from the political papers of Senator Ernest F. Hollings to a collection of horticultural works by Jane Loudon.

The collections are open to everyone. In addition to USC faculty and students and people of all ages from the region, researchers from all over the world come to use our collections. — Elizabeth Sudduth

On the other side of the library is the South Carolina Political Collections, housing the papers of some of the Palmetto State's most famous and most colorful politicians, providing insights to international researchers looking into Southern politics. The Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections holds a world-class collection of antiquarian books but also has a collection of early medieval manuscripts, incunabula (early printed books), historical collections, including the history of science and technology, Scottish literature, British literature, children's and young adult literature, and printed materials and manuscripts by and about 20th and 21st century American authors.

"The collections are open to everyone," says Elizabeth Sudduth, director of University Libraries' Rare Books and Special Collections. "In addition to USC faculty and students and people of all ages from the region, researchers from all over the world come to use our collections."

The Irvin Department's holdings of works by and about Ernest Hemingway span three collections and include more than 100 letters between Hemingway and Maurice Speiser, an attorney and a friend, who sometimes acted as Hemingway's attorney and literary agent.

The letters are being examined by Hemingway researchers Miriam Mandel and Al DeFazio, two of several editors of The Cambridge edition of the "Letters of Ernest Hemingway," a 17-volume scholarly work in progress being published by Cambridge University Press. The Hemingway Letters Project is authorized by the Ernest Hemingway Foundation/Society and the Hemingway Foreign Rights Trust, holders, respectively, of the U.S. and international rights to the letters.

Mandel and DeFazio were in Columbia this summer, "perfecting" letters. Mandel, who traveled to South Carolina from Israel, explained that the editors seek to put a date on all Hemingway's letters, some of which were not dated by the author. Sometimes that includes gleaning insights from the letters' contents, including such curious details as the size, type and location of fish he caught. Sometimes the same fish gets mentioned in multiple letters and some of those other letters might have dates, enabling the dating of the undated ones.

"When I first started, I didn't note the fish. I didn't think they were important," Mandel says of her research. "But they were important to him."

Mandel also is looking for clarification for some letters that might not have photocopied well for various reasons.

"One page he sweated on and that smeared the writing on the copy, but you could make it out on the original," she says. "Another had very fine pencil markings that the scan couldn't capture."

In all, Mandel estimates there are about 6,000 Hemingway letters globally in various collections. Working with the originals is extremely important, and the Hemingway Letters Project appreciates the generous access they have been given to the collection at Carolina.

These days a lot of books like this are digitized, although this particular one is not, but there still is no substitute for having the work in your hands. It’s valuable to see the book as a reader would have. — Mary Ellen Bellanca

Another high-profile collection surrounds the beauty of the natural world. Mary Ellen Bellanca, associate professor of English at USC Sumter, is researching the writings of Jane Loudon, an English author and early pioneer of science fiction. Bellanca is working on an article about Loudon's book "British Wild Flowers."

"The purpose of this book was to enable any amateur to identify flowering plants they would see in woods or meadows," Bellanca says. "She very much approached plant science as a teacher trying to help a student. She thought everyone should learn botany, which was a popular pursuit in Victorian England.

"She really had a sense of her audience. She would meet the reader where he or she was."

Loudon's wildflower book includes many full-page color illustrations, which add a great deal of value and distinguish it from many of her other works. "British Wild Flowers" also contains poems about flowers and Loudon's commentary on how attractive or not a flower might be.

"In a modern field guide, you would not expect poetry or the author's opinions on the beauty of the flowers; it's all about the facts because that's the purpose of a field guide," Bellanca says. "Jane Loudon took an interdisciplinary approach, you might say, to stimulate the reader's interest.

"These days a lot of books like this are digitized, although this particular one is not, but there still is no substitute for having the work in your hands. It's valuable to see the book as a reader would have."

In the South Carolina Political Collections, researchers find a treasure trove of archives related to some of the state's best known and some lesser-known political leaders. David Ballantyne, a researcher at Leiden University in the Netherlands, used the university's political collections for his dissertation about the library's namesake, Fritz Hollings, former governor and longtime U.S. senator from South Carolina.

Ballantyne is turning his dissertation into a book about Hollings to be published in fall 2016 by USC Press.

"Hollings is a really interesting character, and he doesn't fit into any of these easy stereotypes about Southern politicians in the 1950s, '60s and '70s," Ballantyne says of his subject. "I found the work that he did on the Food Stamp program and trying to uncover poverty in South Carolina and the U.S. the most interesting stuff.

"He became really involved in hunger tours in the late 1960s, he did that alongside NAACP officials, which was a pretty unusual thing for a white Southern politician at the time."

Ballantyne credits the staff at the Hollings Library with being key to helping him locate the different pieces of information he needed to complete his work. He says he accessed more than a half-dozen different political collections to round out his biography.

"Having the people there who had put the collections together was quite helpful when I began to search for things myself," Ballantyne says of his time reviewing materials in the comfort of the Dorothy B. Smith Reading Room at the library.

Though their subject matter is diverse, all three researchers credited the University Libraries staff for their assistance.

"If it wasn't for Elizabeth Sudduth, I might not have ever looked into this project," Bellanca says.

"The whole collection is brilliantly planned and presented. For me, the amount of British material from the 19th century is a huge plus."

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