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Getting to know...Luke Meagher

Luke Meagher has been the Littlejohn Project Archivist at Wofford since February of 2007. Next February his title will change to special collections librarian/archivist.

luke200What do those titles mean? Meagher spends a lot of time organizing and cataloguing historical records, artifacts and books -- seeking those “nuggets to be mined” from the impressive Littlejohn Collection. Civil War items represent the strength of the collection, with a concentration on the Confederacy and an even finer concentration on South Carolina history. And come February Meagher also will be in charge of the rare book collection in the Sandor Teszler Library.

But for now, with his student assistant Mary Frances Dassel, Meagher handles objects in the Littlejohn Collection that were used before his great grandfather was even born. There are antebellum rifles, cellulose cylinders (precursors to the vinyl record), and even a music box from the turn of the 20th century. And manuscripts. Lots of manuscripts.

“We’re not going to discover the lost manuscripts of Robert E. Lee, but we can get a good sense of history based on what we have here,” says Meagher. “The coolest part of this job is getting to see things that have been out of view for years, stuff acquired and kept privately.

Here is a requisition form for 20 bushels of corn signed by a Confederate officer, for example. Some of the manuscripts, like this one, are routinely created records that won’t have a bearing on the larger historical narrative, but there are some manuscripts and other items that actually can change how we consider an historical event or time period. But what all of the manuscripts do is help paint a picture of what life was like back then. And holding a piece of paper in your hands that was created in the course of an historical event really provides excellent context and perspective – it’s a very tactile interaction with history.”

Considering the subject matter of the collection, it sounds like an ideal job for a South Carolina native. Only Meagher isn’t from South Carolina. He’s from Rhode Island by way of Vancouver, Canada.

“I did my graduate studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where I got my master’s degrees in library science and archival studies,” Meagher says. “I moved back to Providence, R.I., after grad school and applied for the opening here at Wofford. I chose it over a government archives job because this job just had so much more variety to offer – and I knew it’d be more challenging.”

Meagher had never even been to the South before. He says the time spent in Vancouver has helped him realize that people from Rhode Island and South Carolina have more in common than he previously thought.

“When I was in Canada I developed my sense of Americanness,” he explains. “In studying South Carolina history, I have found that it has a lot in common with Rhode Island. A spirit of independence, for starters.”

In that sense, Meagher is right at home providing access to historical South Carolina documents.

Meagher maintains the Littlejohn Collection blog, and images of manuscripts from the Littlejohn Collection can be viewed on Flickr.