Sunday, June 28, 2015

7 Questions with David S. Shields, Author of Southern Provisions

David S. Shields is the Carolina Distinguished Professor and the McClintock Professor of Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina and chairman of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation.  His books include Still:  American Silent Motion Picture Photography and his most recent book, Southern Provisions:  The Creation and Revival of a Cuisine.
1.      How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
I grew up in a house full of books and my favorite books were about archaeology—the European and Egyptian ancient world.  I wanted to become an archaeologist, and worked briefly as an excavator on historical sites at Williamsburg when an undergraduate and William and Mary.  My closest friend in college Bernie Herman was an architectural historian and owned a Federal era house on the VA eastern shore.  Going there to work on the house made me grasp ways of life that were traditional. 

2.      What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
I became a historian of writing—not simply literature—but all forms of writing.  I wrote a dissertation at the U of Chicago about the origins of diary writing, asking how a private kind of writing became conventional in the absence of published instructions over a wide geographic area.  As a professor I wrote books about how writings were produced, distributed, and understood—general histories; and I became affiliated with the History of the Book movement as it was being organized.  The first decades of my career were spent as a sociologist and historian of the culture of writing and printing—and I published numbers of books on the subject.

3.      How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
After I received tenure, I decided that I would develop an expertise for each one of my senses.  Taste was one of those senses.  I was working at The Citadel in Charleston and became interested in the history of Charleston cuisine.  At a conference I ran in 2003 devoted to the Cuisines of the Lowcountry and the Caribbean, Glenn Roberts, America's foremost miller of ancient grains, approached me saying that we can pretend Charleston food is a cuisine, but it isn't; a cuisine is an expression of a growing system of a locale.  All of the classic ingredients used to create the famous recipes of Lowcountry cooking had ceased being grown—Carolina Gold Rice, benne, sea island rice peas, Carolina African peanut.  He said the amnesia about what was once grown was so great that we don't even know what we lost.  Would I help by doing the agricultural and culinary history?  So I spent the next years doing just that.

4.      Why is studying/knowing history of agriculture important?
Plant breeding since the 1890s has stressed durability, process ability, appearance, shelf life, productivity, and disease resistance over flavor.  Pre 1890s cultivars made flavor a topmost priority.  That is why we seek historical cultivars (That said, there are some wonderful plant creations of the 20th century and not every early plant was tasty).  
5.      What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
As to what is my favorite historical period, I can only answer that in a variable way:  for photography, the 1905-1930 period, for agriculture the 1830-1880 period, for intellectual history, the Enlightenment, for religion, the Reformation.  

6.       In your new book Southern Provisions:  The Creation and Revival of a Cuisine, you researched antebellum southern agriculture and cooking. Traditional southern cuisine is extremely popular.  Based on your research, how traditional is today’s “traditional” ?
Since good heirloom ingredients have been available to chefs for about eight years, and the old flavors have come back very authentically in southern cities and towns.  But I don't think these ingredients should be limited to performing the old dishes.  Traditions extend the best things of the past into the future.  What excites me most are the way these ingredients and flavors are being renovated in new creations.  

7.      What lost foods and traditions should be revived?
There are numbers of lost food ways that need cultivation.  At some juncture soon the American chestnut will be reintroduced in a blight resistant form.  There was a very rich up country set of food ways associated with it—from chestnut skillet bread, to chestnut soufflĂ©, to chestnut fed venison and pork.  They will need to be revived.

I am interested in the hyper aromatic strawberries of the early 20th century—the narcissa and redstar—the Klondike.  Their varieties were abandoned in the 1970s.  But there is nothing now that can create that cloud of fragrance that draws every nose in the room when the lid of a jar of strawberry preserves is unscrewed.  

Appalachian cookery is undergoing an interesting revival at the moment—there is no more diverse spot for beans anywhere on the planet—and the old dent meal corn varieties still thrive and make the best cornbread meal around.  

I want to see vinegars made from the old southern fruit wines.  
Southern Provisions (March 2015)
Still (May 2013)


Thursday, June 4, 2015

7 Questions With Tom Richey

Tom Richey lives in Clemson, South Carolina and teaches government, A.P. U.S., and A.P. European history.  Since 2012, he has made numerous review videos for his courses which have been viewed by thousands of A.P. students and teachers as they prepare for exams.  His website is, and his Youtube channel is found at .

1.       How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
I have a number of memories - the first being in sixth grade as my teacher, Ms. Campbell, was talking about Hannibal crossing the Alps and invading Rome.  She just lectured with an overhead and a marker - everything they would tell a sixth grade teacher (or any of us) NOT to do today - but I was captivated by the story itself and it came to life in my mind.  Then, there was Mr. Felkel, who taught me World History in 10th grade.  That guy was a LEGEND.  Again, another guy whose whiteboard and marker lecture methods would be assailed by the establishment but I swear you could have heard a pin drop in that room because he had such a captivating presence.  I looked forward to that class every single day and I remember thinking, "I wanna be that guy."  So I suppose you could think of the rest of my life as a journey toward being as awesome to someone else as he was to me back then.  It's a constant uphill climb.

2.       What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
Do I even have a personal life?  That's a legitimate question.

3.       How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
Where do I begin?  I teach history and run a number of side businesses (YouTube, online tutoring, and I'm even working on an app that I hope to release in September) that are associated with history.  So yeah, it's pretty much my life!

4.       Why is studying/knowing history important?
I'm a big advocate of classical education on the traditional humanistic model.  Unfortunately, our public education system is largely driven by the values of progressive education, which at its root holds that something is worthless if it can't help someone in their future career.  Often, students avoid advanced studies in history because they feel the sciences are more important for their future career.  They don't realize that they have years of college and grad school ahead of them where they can focus on their career paths but they only have so much time where they can truly focus on getting a well-rounded education and a strong foundation in the humanities.  My dad, for example, had all the education he needed to become a physician, but he told me in high school that he wanted me to get a classical education and be someone who could hold his own in a conversation with educated people.  I think having a thorough background in history is key to understanding human nature, which is the key to understanding people and by extension the key to understanding life.  This is exactly why we teach the humanities and why we believe our subject to be important.  You can know a lot about the technical aspects of your job, but if you don't understand people, you're only going to get so far in any field.  I mean, look at Steve Jobs!  He didn't know how to write code but he understood people.  This is the type of person that our society ultimately deifies.

5.       What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
Although most of my video offerings right now are in Modern European History and US History, what I really love studying and teaching more than anything is classical history.  I plan to publish some videos on Roman History and some more on Greek Philosophy (my Plato vs. Aristotle video is one of my most successful) in the near future.  I feel like over thousands of years, all of the boring stuff has been filtered out and we've retained the best stories from ancient Greece and Rome.  It seems to me that there's so much minutia required by the curriculum when it comes to recent - and especially contemporary - history.  For example, our latest curriculum materials in US History include the 2009 stimulus package.  That kind of stuff is going to be filtered out with time.  Give me the good stuff.

6.       How did you get into making videos to teach history?
At first, it was mostly about trying to have something available for students who missed class.  Every teacher's familiar with how students show up after missing a day asking, "WHAT DID I MISS?" as if we're going to be able to impart 90 minutes of instruction to them in thirty seconds.  I thought I could spare myself the headache - of course, at that point, I didn't realize how much work goes into making video lectures!  So as I put these videos onto YouTube, I noticed that other people were watching them, as well, so that was really encouraging and I started thinking a bit bigger.  Now, when I make videos, I try to select topics that will be helpful to both my students and to the larger community of students across the nation and the world.  There are few things in life more flattering than someone halfway across the world asking me to clarify something for them or telling me that my videos have helped them learn.

7.       You are the host of a small dinner party of 3-5 guests from throughout history.  Who is on your guest list?
Nothing at all against the ladies, but I'm thinking a guys' night out with a few of the greats:
Thomas Jefferson
Marcus Garvey
Alexander the Great
Peter the Great