This project seeks to digitize the diaries of Shelby Foote, the southern writer and Civil War historian. Students in History 105 – “Shelby Foote, the South, and the Civil War” spent a semester exploring the major events and influences in the life and work of Foote, the significance of the Civil War in American history, and the role that Foote played in shaping the public memory of the war in the late twentieth century. In exploring these issues, students acquired the knowledge and skills to necessary to transcribe and annotate the Foote diaries.
In 2011, Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, acquired Shelby Foote’s personal papers and library. Foote’s connections to the city and to the College were strong. For the final fifty years of his life, the writer lived in Memphis, and in 1982 the College conferred on him an honorary degree. Upon the College’s acquisition of the Shelby Foote Collection, private library consultant Carol McCarley and Rhodes history fellows Jordan Redmon and Lauren Peterson (both class of 2013) created a finding aid for the materials, which include over two thousand volumes of classic literature and interpretation, drafts and manuscripts of Foote’s works, research notes, Foote’s personal correspondence, and family photographs. But most important for this digital history project, the Collection also includes Foote’s personal diaries.
Beginning in 1941 and continuing through 2001, Foote’s diaries offer valuable details about the writer’s daily life, habits, and writing process. After Foote completed his final novel, he wrote nearly every day in his diaries, and from 1978 through 1999, Foote diligently recorded his thoughts in his signature script. Redmon and subsequent Shelby Foote student fellows began transcribing the diaries. In the fall of 2013, Rhodes students enrolled in a Foote-themed course also contributed to the transcription effort, deciphering Foote’s entries for 1991.
Designed and taught by Professor Timothy Huebner of the Rhodes College History Department, this introductory history seminar, “Shelby Foote, the South, and the Civil War,” was first offered in the 2013 fall semester and again in the 2016 spring semester. Students studied Foote’s life, works, and interpretation of the American Civil War by reading Stuart Chapman’s recent biography, Foote’s well-received novel Shiloh (1952), and the first volume of Foote’s Civil War narrative, among other works. But the course also provides the rare opportunity for original undergraduate research, requiring freshmen and sophomores to utilize the Shelby Foote Collection in their classwork and assignments. Specifically, the 2013 class transcribed the 1991 diary because Foote had entered the national spotlight in September of the previous year, making his television debut in Ken Burns’s acclaimed PBS Civil War documentary. For their part, students in the 2016 course contributed to this digital history project by annotating Foote’s diary entries for 1990 and part of 1991, and by writing the short essays under “Further Reading.”
This digital history project offers a snapshot of Foote’s life in the early 1990s as he finally received popular recognition for his work. Each of Foote’s diary entries has its own page on this site, and each page includes a scan of the original handwritten diary page, a transcription, and annotations. This site also provides scholarly essays on Foote as well as several photographs unique to the Shelby Foote Collection. Rhodes College supports this digital history project, which is led by Professor Huebner in collaboration with student history fellow Madeleine McGrady (class of 2017) and the Mellon Grant faculty and fellows.
Student contributors to this project included Megan Aleman, Casey Brottman, Shauni Cowan, Jordan Daniels, Alec Davis, Grant Ebbesmeyer, John Ganucheau, Rachel Giampapa, Christopher Harris, Erin Hart, Caroline Ilnicky, Grady Kable, Brooks Lamb, Jon Lauck, Claire McCullough, Mark McMullan, Alex McTaggert, Eric Monroe, Tucker Nichols, Annie Rebbe, Daniel Saharovich, Adrian Scaife, Alessandro Secino, Smith Stickney, Rebecca Sillars, Chandler Vaught, Matthew Vavrek, Lee Whitley, and John Selberg.
The project’s leadership team wishes to acknowledge the work of Carol McCarley, Jordan Redmon, Lauren Peterson, Elizabeth Gates, and Bill Short in processing the Shelby Foote Collection at Rhodes College, as well as Steve and Riea Lainoff for their ongoing support of the collection.
Irma O. Sternberg Professor of History
Dr. Huebner's research focuses on the Civil War era and American constitutionalism.