A Duty to the Past, a commitment to the Future
by W. Todd Groce, Ph.D.
Five million. That is the number of manuscripts, photographs, books, maps, architectural drawings, and artifacts held by the Georgia Historical Society. From the seed planted in 1840 when Charles Rinaldo Floyd donated a Revolutionary War drum, the GHS collection has grown into the oldest and one of the largest collections of Georgia history in the nation.
These primary sources form the building blocks upon which all historical research and history educational programming is founded. As such, they are crucial to our nation’s future.
The reason why this priceless documentary legacy exists and continues to grow is because for nearly a century and a half there has been a proper place for it to be housed and accessed—and because someone valued the material enough to ensure its preservation.
Since the completion of Hodgson Hall in 1876, the GHS Research Center has stood like a mighty fortress at the corner of Gaston and Whitaker streets in Savannah, beckoning people from around the world. Each year over 60,000 researchers use the GHS collection to write books and articles, prepare classroom curriculum, do homework, create documentary films, craft legislation, and forge an understanding of the past that informs the present and prepares us for the future.
But a research center is only as good as the material it houses and the services it offers.
Over the years, generations of Georgians and others have entrusted GHS with their personal, professional, and family history. From letters and diaries to photo albums, military records, maps, and financial documents, the Research Center is bursting with Georgia’s documentary heritage, collected from every corner of the state and representing all time-periods, races, creeds, and walks of life.
Other material has been saved because GHS has had the resources to obtain it. Through the annual Book Sale and financial contributions to the endowment, GHS acquires material that otherwise would leave the state or be lost to private collectors, severely limiting access to important windows on our past. Occasionally a generous donor will directly purchase a collection and donate it to GHS.
Regardless of how it arrives, it is crucial that this history continues to be collected, preserved, and made accessible. Over the years I have heard too many horror stories about family heirlooms sold on eBay, thrown out when someone died, or lost to fire or flood.
It is equally important that these resources for history are processed and opened for research. Far too many institutions feverishly acquire material, but do little to make it accessible. These places end up with a massive backlog of unprocessed (and thus unused) collections that never see the light of day.
GHS is currently engaged in a campaign to enlarge, improve, and endow its Research Center. When the $15 million Next Century Initiative is completed, GHS and the people of Georgia will have an expanded and upgraded facility to house tens of thousands of cubic feet of existing and new material, ensuring that there will always be a place for Georgia’s history.
Longer than any other institution in the South—nearly 180 years—the Georgia Historical Society has been a good steward of and a safe home for your history. Continuing that commitment now requires all of us to invest in the facilities and endowment that make our noble work possible. It is a duty we owe, an obligation that we must fulfill, not only to the past but also to the future.
So please join us in this campaign, which you will read more about in this issue. Help us to ensure that the documentary legacy of Georgia and its people will be secure and accessible for generations to come.
W. Todd Groce, Ph.D., is President and CEO of the Georgia Historical Society.