The start of 2017 brings opportunities

The start of a new year is an opportune time to reflect on the past while making plans for the future. With Clinton having been admitted to Main Street South Carolina’s Boot Camp program for 2017, there is optimism for the revitalization of the downtown district. Presbyterian College supports the work of city leaders and recognizes the importance of the heritage shared by Clinton and the College. Together, we look forward to the future without forgetting the region’s rich history. Clinton was once a quintessential Southern mill town. The primary industry was textiles, the principal employers were the mills, and at one point, 60% of the residents depended on the mills for their livelihood. PC archives have become a leading regional repository for the history of the textile industry’s once influential prominence in Southern culture. The College holds records from founding mill families, including the Smyth Collection and the Robert Mercer Vance Collection. The archives also house local newspapers, collections of oral history, digital maps, photo-documentation, and other materials. With access to such historically valuable information, PC received a $100,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 2015 to fund the College’s Textile Mill Memory Project. Funding from the grant allows faculty and students to analyze and digitize the College’s archives, oral histories, and other local resources for the purpose of meeting two objectives. The first is to tell the story of Clinton and neighboring communities, with the second being enrichment of the curriculum and the student experience at PC by establishing a “learning community” of faculty and students working together to build a digital mill village. In addition to documenting the stories of mill workers and the culture and community of the textile industry, the project creates opportunities for student-faculty research. While exploring these subjects and the eventual decline of the textile industry, students are exposed to a variety of subjects including English, history, political science, media studies, and women’s studies. The Textile Mill Memory Project is a component of PC’s minor in Southern Studies. The minor focuses on the culture, history, literature, and art of the South, covering periods from the earliest settlers to contemporary times. Students pursuing the minor enroll in courses such as Appalachian Literature, Southern Women’s Writing, Southern Jewish Literature, Southern Politics, and a directed-studies class that allows students to pursue related topics of special interest. Leading the Southern Studies program at PC is a natural fit for Kendra Hamilton who holds a doctorate in English and American Studies from the University of Virginia. Hamilton was raised in Charleston and graduated from Duke University. She began her career as a journalist in Greenville, and moved to Houston, Texas, before attending Louisiana State University for graduate school. While at LSU, Hamilton came to love the writing of W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot. It was then that she decided to explore writing outside the world of journalism. Family ties brought Hamilton back to South Carolina in the fall of 2014, when she accepted a position with PC as an assistant professor of English. “What struck me was how warm and kind the people were,” Hamilton said, as she reflected on her first visits to PC’s campus. After teaching at larger institutions, she quickly realized that PC is a place where she could thrive. “PC reminds me of why we do this in the first place,” explained Hamilton. “We’re helping to shape and form these young people at an important time in their lives, and you do that much better in this kind of environment where there’s much more of a personal connection.” “People think that because they are from the South, they understand Southern culture, but that isn’t always true,” said Hamilton. “There’s so much people don’t know about their history and about the origins and roots of this culture.” The goal of Hamilton’s work and her dedication to PC’s Southern Studies program and the Textile Mill Memory Project is helping students “develop a nuanced understanding of this complex region.” She believes “funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is crucial to keeping the history of not just Clinton, but of mill towns across the South, accessible to any interested parties.” Members of the Clinton and surrounding communities will have the opportunity to connect to the Textile Mill Memory Project in April. Lesley Preston, who holds a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre Design, serves as chair of PC’s theatre department and is using the Mellon Foundation grant to research and digitize visual materials from the archives to form the design vocabulary for PC’s spring play created as part of the Theatre for Social Change course. The play, an original work written by PC students, examines the lives of mill women and incorporates music and movement to celebrate the rich heritage of the mill village. Open to the public, performances are scheduled for April 19-22, with all shows beginning at 7:30 p.m. Author’s note: This submission is based on an article that originally appeared in Presbyterian College Magazine in the summer of 2015. (Bob Staton is president of Presbyterian College.)

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