Adventures in South Carolina

Jeezus fuckin’ Christus, what a week. Lemme start from the top.

On Sunday, I went off to the airport, first to Atlanta, and then to Columbia, SC. Not much to say there…both flights were uneventful, aside from a slight delay to Columbia. I did notice something more general about the people I saw, but that’s something I’ll mention at the end of this entry.

So when I got there I called a cab to my hotel, a Marriott, and that’s where I spent the past week. I’m of two minds about it…on the one hand, it’s a lot nicer than where I stayed in North Carolina. No broken lamps or anything like that, it was very clean, and the restaurant there was a lot better. However, the internet was absolutely horrible–could barely check my email, and it even went on and off on the public computers in the “business center,” so it wasn’t just me. Very displeasing.

So after a couple of days of rest, I ventured off to my objective: The South Carolina Department of Archives and History! That place was nice, but curiously hard to get to…it was only like a 5 minute drive from my hotel, but pretty much no cab service I called knew how to get to it easily! I had to provide directions to most of my drivers! ;o Ah, well.

So once I got there, I asked the folks some questions about the mysterious M69 Reel 32 I saw in Tunde Adeleke’s footnotes, but to little avail. The folks there mentioned they might have had some letters from Delany to the various governors of South Carolina during the 19th century, but I didn’t have much luck finding those either…I don’t think it’s a big deal, though. Rather than just flailing around searching for primary sources, I oughta wait until I get back from my professors, see what areas of my dissertation need work, and then hunt down primary sources based on their recommendations. They have a lot more experience with archives, selecting primary sources, and finding such sources (and I mean a LOT more experience, they’ve all been in the history game for a long time), so it’d be much much more efficient to go searching with their guidance than just wander around from place to place, archive to archive.

And on that note, some good news…I got word from my advisors, I *should* be able to meet up with them IRL on Oct. 12. Not too far away…I’ll try to get a better version of my most important chapter out to them by then, preferably soon, and that should keep me set before we meet. Maybe I’ll relax (after making the requisite edits to the chapter) a lil bit, maybe do some other stuff…we’ll see.

Now, if you’d permit me, some…perhaps cynical thoughts on traveling.

I’ve always heard that travel is supposed to broaden the mind and expose one to all sorts of different cultures and values—humanity in all its variegated glory, so to speak. It’s supposed to give you things no amount of money can buy. Different experiences, a broader worldview, that vague, hard-to-define sense of ‘completeness’ that comes from contact with something “other”—something you’ve never touched if you haven’t traveled far from the land of your birth, whether it’s physical or spiritual—just something different from what you’re used to.

But I haven’t really gotten that impression. At least not over the course of my wandering through Washington, DC, North Carolina, and South Carolina, on behalf of my dissertation. Nothing and no-one I’ve seen, nor anything I’ve experienced, really struck me as “different” from most else I’ve already seen back home. And before you tell me I’m a philistine or not sufficiently observant, I don’t think this is entirely all on me.

I’ll admit I’ve noticed some superficial differences– a few more Southern accents, more Cracker Barrel and “Southern Food” style restaurants around, there are different kinds of bugs (and a hell of a lot more dragonflies) in Columbia– but aside from that… I’ve encountered the same polyglot mélange of humanity in the urban South as I did back home. Plenty of Asians, black folks, etc. in the same numbers I saw anywhere else. Southern folks are often pretty polite, but aside from that, they generally act the same as folks back up North do. Maybe the Southerners back during the American Civil War were on to something when they feared their distinctive “culture and society” would end up destroyed and subsumed.

Or maybe it’s just the fact that big cities will look the same wherever you go. I haven’t spent much time in rural areas, and from what I hear, it’s a pretty safe bet that Southern culture, ranging from accents to food to worldview to ethnic composition, is still alive and well in those places. But my Dissertation Saga hasn’t taken me to those rural areas, so I’ve mainly been looking at urban areas or college towns (like Durham), which generally resemble those I grew up in for a variety of reasons (cities tend to be multiethnic and, well, cosmopolitan, big nationwide chains will have outposts in most big cities anywhere, etc). And since I’ve been working in archives, mainly, it also makes sense that I wouldn’t encounter anything unfamiliar. If you’ve seen one archive, you’ve seen ‘em all; they generally have very similar operating procedures (microfilm readers, you can only take out one folder at a time, be quiet and careful, etc), and the same types of bookish, intellectual folks tend to staff those archives as well.

Therefore, I have to say that when you’ve considered everything, the nature and purpose of my work is probably why traveling hasn’t been as much of a world-widening or eye-opening experience as one might expect. :p

Perhaps that’s a shame…perhaps not. But if it is a shame, it’s something I can fix later on. Maybe after I finish my funssertation, God willing, I’ll go on another journey—but this time, entirely on my own terms, for my own enjoyment, traveling across the great lands of the United States to see things I haven’t seen, talk to people I haven’t talked to, and so on. Maybe that would be “enriching”…

But that won’t come for a long time. Definitely not until I finish my dissertation ;o

And that about does it for this week. Next week we return to my ordinary schedule—what I’ve been playan, readan, etc. Till then, ciao~

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