Time for some fun and photographs. Following up on the occasional series from last spring on pictures of antebellum law schools -- Princeton (yes! they once had a law school) and Litchfield -- it's time for some photos of antebellum literary societies.
Close followers of this blog may recall that one of my areas of interest is intellectual history of the old South, particularly as it relates to legal thought. One piece of this is how libraries helped propagate culture.
I am particularly interested in college literary societies. They had libraries, often quite large ones; we have some printed library catalogs, and sometimes we even have records of what students borrowed. But we can bring some precision to what students were talking about. For students, as well as prominent members of the community (like judges, politicians, and lawyers) often gave addresses to the societies. In those addresses, many of which have been published (others of which remain in manuscript form), we can sometimes see how these people fit their world together: how they understood the role of the intellectual in society, how they thought about history, morality, economy, and of course slavery. We can also trace changes in those ideas over time -- the University of Alabama addresses change rather dramatically from the early 1830s to the eve of Civil War. (I tell that story in an article in Law and Literature, "The Law of the Descent of Thought.") I wish I had a photograph of the building where the UA literary societies met. Alas, that building, and the university's library, went up in flames in the closing days of the Civil War -- yet another casualty of the war.
But the University of Georgia's buildings that house its two antebellum literary societies are still standing. I took pictures of both of them last month when I was in Athens for the Thomas Cobb conference. The Phi Kappa is above. It looks like a secret society, doesn't it -- no windows and all that. The Demosthenian is at right. Interesting in reading a little bit of one of the antebellum addresses? Here's a link to Alexander Meek's 1845 address on "Americanism in Literature."
Next up in this series? Why the UNC campus, of course.