Encyclopedias of the Carolinas

The appearance of editor William S. Powell’s Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press, 2006) comes at the same time as the publication of The South Carolina Encyclopedia, edited by Walter Edgar (University of South Carolina Press, 2006). The coincidence of publication dates practically invites comparison of these two compendia of Carolina knowledge and trivia. Convinced that my status as a South Carolinian by birth and a North Carolinian by adoption outweighs my total lack of expertise, I am taking up the challenge. To begin with, these are a couple of weighty volumes. I mean your grandma could have pressed a lot of flowers with either one of them. At 1314 pages to 1075 the Encyclopedia of North Carolina (hereinafter ENC) wins in the size category. The South Carolina Encyclopedia (SCE) is no lightweight, however, and you will not want to keep it on a high shelf.

Since both North Carolina and South Carolina have adopted the Shag as their state dance, I was interested to see how the two encyclopedias treated the subject. Both articles are well written, interesting, and informative. I couldn’t help but notice that the article in ENC dealt somewhat gingerly with the soul of the dance, while the SCE article got right down to the nitty gritty. The Shag may have links all the way back to the St. Cecilia Society in Charleston in 1760 as the ENC suggests, but the steamy dance I first saw as a kid was a lot more likely to have evolved, as the SCE argues, in black nightclubs such as Charlie’s Place in Myrtle Beach. Kudos to the SCE! Watch this blog for more rambles through these two great books.