ed. Constance B. Schulz. The Papers of the Revolutionary Era Pinckney Statesmen Digital Edition, vol. 1: Revolutionary War & Early Republic (1770–1792). Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2017. http://rotunda.upress.virginia.edu/founders/PNKY.html. $130.00 (individual license), ISBN 978-0-8139-3892-9.
Reviewed by Christopher Sawula (Emory University)
Published on H-SC (August, 2017)
Commissioned by David W. Dangerfield (University of South Carolina - Salkehatchie)
“I have no doubt but I shall receive satisfaction from your deep researches”: The Papers of the Revolutionary Era Pinckney Statesmen
Americans will always be obsessed with the Founding Fathers. Despite the decades scholars have spent democratizing our view of the past, historians continually return to the American Revolution and the early republic in order to better understand the small group of men who established the course of a fledgling nation.
Since 2004, the University of Virginia Press has worked to facilitate this research through Rotunda, a platform for digital editions of documents relevant to the humanities and social sciences. Through the American Founding Era Collection, Rotunda provides access to thousands of early American primary sources, including the papers of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson.
The Papers of the Revolutionary Era Pinckney Statesmen joined this collection in 2016. The digital edition follows three members of this prominent South Carolina family: Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Thomas Pinckney, and Charles Pinckney. The three Pinckneys helped steer South Carolina through the political turmoil of the American Revolution and continued to serve both the state and the nation well into the early republic.
To date, the first of four planned volumes has been made available to scholars. Volume 1, The Pinckney Statesmen as Young Revolutionaries, includes “500 fully edited documents, and calendars’ or lists in the tables of contents [and] an additional 622 documents by or to the Pinckneys which have previously been published digitally by a reliable source.” This latter group includes links to the Papers of Eliza Lucas Pinckney and Harriott Pinckney Horry, an early Rotunda project released in 2012. By including these additional documents and correspondence from the mother and sister of Charles Cotesworth and Thomas Pinckney, the University of Virginia Press has provided an impressively comprehensive resource for scholars studying the Pinckneys and their presence in South Carolina at the turn of the nineteenth century.
Scholars with access to the site are first greeted by two options: “Introductory and Reference Material” and “Original Series.” The first selection brings users to an extremely helpful collection of essays, maps, and overview materials that explain the importance of the Pinckney family, the project’s origins, and the first volume’s focus on social, military, and political history. The latter option allows scholars to browse through the documents contained in volume 1 of the project.
These documents range from 1770 to 1792 and are organized chronologically. Each document has been transcribed with its original punctuation, shorthand, and archaic spellings intact. In addition, each document has been thoroughly annotated with links to a glossary explaining the individuals and locations referenced within. These annotations are marked by a subtle circle and greatly aid in understanding the context of the correspondence sent and received by the Pinckneys.
Unfortunately, navigating between the documents and the editorial material requires some orientation. The Rotunda interface is driven by a compass at the top of the screen that brings users to different “layers” of the project. Going east to west from the “Introductory Overview,” for instance, brings users to pages describing the project’s editorial methods and acknowledgements. Clicking north brings researchers to the index of editorial material, maps, and historical essays. If a scholar gets lost, they can click on the "Entry" option to return to the original two selections. Confusingly, clicking the "Chronology" option does not bring the user to the same list of documents organized chronologically as mentioned earlier. Instead, the project presents each document in a hierarchy organized by decade, year, and month. Although one ultimately gets used to this organization, traversing the site can be bewildering for first-time users.
Many of these navigation issues can thankfully be avoided by using the excellent search function. Users can look for documents based on keywords, dates, authors, recipients, mentioned individuals, and even specific topics ranging from the United States Constitution to social etiquette. The breadth of possibilities helps reveal the extent to which the Pinckney family was deeply involved in South Carolina society, the American Revolution, and the founding of the republic. Keyword searches, however, are hamstrung by the quirks and variations in early American spelling. “Showing,” for instance, brings up different results than “shewing.” While this issue is understandable given the massive undertaking it would require to include spelling variations in every search, it is something users should take into consideration.
Overall, The Papers of the Revolutionary Era Pinckney Statesmen is a worthy addition to Rotunda’s American Founding Era Collection. Like the other digital editions found in this series, the documents will prove invaluable to both teaching and research. The Papers of the Revolutionary Era Pinckney Statesmen helps to expand the collection’s scope beyond more prominent Founding Fathers and into the Deep South. Although the Pinckney family was deeply involved in the Revolutionary War, framing the Constitution, and early international diplomacy, their legacy is not well remembered outside of South Carolina. The most recent biography of Charles Pinckney, for example, referred to him as a “Forgotten Founder.” Despite issues in usability and navigation, The Papers of the Revolutionary Era Pinckney Statesmen will help promote the important role of the Pinckneys within the founding generation.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-sc.
Christopher Sawula. Review of Constance B. Schulz, ed., The Papers of the Revolutionary Era Pinckney Statesmen Digital Edition, vol. 1: Revolutionary War & Early Republic (1770–1792).
H-SC, H-Net Reviews.
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