My project, Not Whole Yet: The Demise of the Plantation and the Emergence of Post-Emancipation Order in Kershaw and Camden Counties, South Carolina, 1865-1874, took me on paths I never would have envisioned. After finding an eyewitness account of the moment of emancipation in Sumter County, South Carolina in Penn’s microfilm collection, I decided I wanted to build a fuller picture of the world that was turned upside down by that moment. In order to do that, I would need to construct the lives of those who existed in that time and place, in order to see how emancipation affected them. I sought to see how the people, white and black, of the DeSaussure Plantation reinvented themselves once an institution that had defined their communities politically, socially, economically, and psychologically had been abolished. What stories of triumph and defeat, reinvention and recapture to the past, took place once slavery had ceased?
My journey brought me to the South Carolina Archive at the University of South Carolina, the South Carolina Government Archives, and the Camden County and Kershaw County local archives. In each place I looked through primary sources to find these stories. Some, like that of Matthew Freeman, I found in 150-year old legal documents. Others, like the case of freedmen Isaac Thompson and Jacob Evans, I found in the voter registration rolls of Kerhsaw County. Other stories, like that of white blacksmith Sam Shiver, I found through a fellow researcher and descendent. The trip was invaluable to my research, and in teaching me to schedule effectively, utilize human resources around me, and to maintain the patience and focus required to sniff out historical clues, was invaluable to my Penn educational experience as a whole.
My research trip to South Carolina was one of the highlights of my Penn experience. Not only was I able to do hands on, academic historical research, an experience I will cherish as one of my best memories as an undergraduate; I was able to experience another place and culture as well. Attending a baseball game and eating barbeque in Columbia was not only a fun way to spend my time once the archives had closed, but a way to see how the history of the place I was researching had evolved into the present. To be able to do field research, funded by Penn, was an invaluable educational and personal experience, and one that I recommend to anybody who seeks to learn more about the past, present, or future.