Historian Devotes Career to Preserving the Past

Historian Devotes Career to Preserving the Past

Harlan Greene has spent his entire professional career helping organizations and institutions catalogue, preserve and share rare and historical materials.

Harlan Greene is head of Special Collections in Addlestone Library.

Harlan Greene is head of Special Collections in Addlestone Library.

For Greene, a Charleston native and 1974 graduate of the College of Charleston, preserving documents and archival materials that provide an unfiltered view of history is more than a job. By making such materials available to students, scholars and the public, Greene believes his work gives voice to the voiceless. “It lets the dead, the dispossessed, and the minorities speak for themselves,” he said.

Greene’s career as an historian and archivist and his passion for preserving the past has recently come full circle.

Since becoming head of Special Collections in Addlestone Library in June 2013, Greene has been closely involved in planning for the addition of the South Carolina Historical Society’s extensive holdings of books, manuscripts and archives to the College’s library collections.

Greene began his career at the South Carolina Historical Society in1974. By the time he left the society in 1989, he had worked his way up to the position of assistant director and had gained deep familiarity with its repository of materials spanning more than three centuries of state history.

RELATED: Read more about the College’s partnership with the South Carolina Historical Society.

He then spent the next 10 years in North Carolina, working with non-profits and government agencies to help teach and implement best practices in the then-still emerging field of information preservation. During this time he also served as an adjunct instructor in library preservation at UNC-Chapel Hill.

When Greene returned to his beloved Charleston in the late 1990s, the new main branch of the Charleston County Library had recently opened on Calhoun Street. He jumped at the opportunity to develop the public library’s first archive collection: the official government archives of the City of Charleston.

From there, Greene took his knack for taming large collections of historic materials to the College’s Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture in 2005. Avery’s holding are so rich and vital to the history of America and African-Americans that Greene, in his role as the center’s head of archives, found charitable foundations more than willing to provide grant funding to help process and preserve the center’s archives.

In 2010, Greene became an archivist in Special Collections. Four years later, he finds himself at the helm, overseeing the department’s staff of archivists, reference archivists, and conservationists.

RELATED: Read about a recent gift to the College from Harlan Greene’s family.

As he and his staff prepare for an upcoming renovation in Addlestone Library that will create more space for the South Carolina Historical Society collection, Greene is looking forward to being reunited with a repository of materials that he first helped care for some 40 years ago.

More importantly, he’s excited about the opportunity to share the collection with an even larger audience. “We are not a museum,” he said. “We hold it and try to put it in people’s hands. We want you to touch it.”