Almost 150 years ago, state leaders traveled from Columbia to Charleston to avoid a cholera epidemic and continue discussions that led to South Carolina's secession from the United States.

On Wednesday, historian Don Doyle traveled from Columbia to Charleston to continue discussions that ultimately could create new insights into when secession can be a good thing.

"There's no cholera this time, and I hope no secession," Doyle joked. "We're there for peace and deliberation. Calm and reason will prevail."

Doyle, the McCausland Professor of History at the University of South Carolina, organized the three-day conference, which is expected to attract 30 historians, philosophers and legal professionals from all over the globe. The public is welcome as well.

Doyle said the American Civil War will be the focus of Saturday's sessions.

"We're not there to celebrate or denounce Confederate secession, but it's full of historic significance," he said. "What better city to contemplate secession than Charleston?"

Of course, secession as a political phenomenon began long before Robert Barnwell Rhett and others laid the groundwork for the Confederate States of America. Texas seceded from Mexico in 1836.

It also doesn't always lead to the spilling of blood, Doyle said. Norway split from Sweden in 1910 without much fanfare.

Still, the impact of the American experience still reverberates around the world. One seminar will show how Chinese leaders are using Abraham Lincoln's arguments against Taiwanese secession.

As globalizing forces such as the Internet, mass immigration and free trade blur political boundaries, more regions in Europe, Asia and Africa are pushing to secede. "I don't think those trends are unrelated," Doyle said.

Doyle said the conference will consider questions such as whether a president, an unpopular tariff or a single election should ever be enough to justify breaking a state in two or more pieces and whether an international tribunal could decide when secession is the answer.

"Some of it's about deciding when a region deserves to be a state. The answers aren't easy," he said. "Secession or separation is a source of conflict but also can be a solution to conflict. Inherently, it's neither good or bad, but it can be a very volatile subject."