This summer, the University Archives offered a new program for undergraduate students called Duke History Revisited. The idea was to give students a chance to dig into the University’s history and tell the stories of people and events that were not widely known.
On September 19th, the program’s eight students will come together to recap their research projects. During this event, each student will briefly introduce his or her topic, highlight their research discoveries, and offer their own insight into Duke’s history. The presentations will be followed by refreshments and an opportunity to talk with the students in more detail.
The DHR students spent 6 weeks working with faculty members Jolie Olcott and Joshua Sosin; graduate student Will Goldsmith; and archivists Amy McDonald and Valerie Gillispie. The group met twice a week to discuss progress and share research. This special program was made possible by a grant from Humanities Writ Large and the Office of the Dean of Trinity College of Arts and Sciences.
We also welcomed a number of special guests to the program to talk about the act of doing research or reflecting on the past. Our guests included William Turner (T ’71, M.Div ’74, PhD ’84), Charles Becton (Law ‘69), Brenda Becton (WC ‘70, Law ‘74), Bob Ashley (T ’70), Steve Schewel (T ’73, PhD ’82), and Robert Korstad (Duke faculty). We were also joined by experts from the library, including Tracy Jackson and Matthew Farrell (University Archives), John Gartrell (John Hope Franklin Center for African and African American History), Laura Micham and Kelly Wooten (Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture), Hannah Rozear (Librarian for Instruction), and Michael Daul (Digital Collections).
The students pursued a wide range of topics, using archival materials from the University Archives, materials from other repositories, oral histories and interviews, and other sources. Each created a final project that they felt best expressed the content. The titles and links to the projects are below:
“The babies are entered like any other exhibit at an agricultural fair. . . . They are examined by judges, just as live stock [sic], grain or apples are examined. . . . The result is bound to be – not prettier babies, – but better babies at each year’s fair, – a stronger, healthier race of people on the farms, in small towns and in the state.”
This excerpt from a Better Babies Bureau circular, from the papers of Victor Bassett, contains several templates for Better Baby Contest advertisements. Popular at local fairs in the early 20th century, Better Baby Contests presented a lighthearted way to challenge infant mortality and promote fitter populations. However, they also reveal governmental eugenic efforts to objectively quantify and thus improve American health.
Examiners judged children under five years old on their measurements and proportions, mental and developmental states, vision and hearing, and physical development. These tests set government-determined averages as the standard by encouraging families to “produce” children who met or exceeded these ideals. Additionally, they served to cement the public health as existing in the realm of scientific medicine and the government, rather than in the home. These kinds of contests illustrate the complex relationship between eugenics, popular movements, and public health.
Thanks to a generous History of Medicine travel grant, my visit to the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library allowed me to conduct research to support my dissertation, “Measuring Health: The United States Sanitary Commission, Statistics, and American Public Health in the Nineteenth Century.” I examine the statistical work of the United States Sanitary Commission (USSC).
During the American Civil War, the USSC attempted to improve the health of the Union Army. The leaders of this organization understood their work as forwarding ideas about preventative medicine and improving sanitation. Yet with the entirety of the Union army at their disposal, the USSC also inspected and measured over one million soldiers and sailors. These records include tabulations not simply of height and weight, but also the distance between a man’s eyes, the size of his head, and angles of his face. The statisticians presented their findings in groups divided by race and education level, and, while they provided limited interpretation of these numbers, they were made available to the broader scientific and anthropologic communities. It was in their hands that these numbers defined medical standards for Americans and shaped the nature of American public health.
My project explores why these statistics were collected and how they were used, and, more broadly, the Commission’s public health legacy. By using these statistics as a starting point, I explore the ties between the USSC and changes in public health, and how research from a 19th century organization continues to impact later public health issues. These Better Baby Contests represent the Commission’s legacy of measuring the quality and usefulness of a human being and of using governmental authority to establish scientific authority.
Post contributed by Sara Kern, a Ph.D. candidate in History & Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Penn State University.
Oral histories are often fantastic, and fascinating, resources: first-hand accounts of lives and events, communities and histories, told with immediacy and giving a direct connection to the narrator, and thus to the story. They are rich and compelling, and are powerful tools in documenting those who are under-represented by the types of documentation traditionally found in archives. For these reasons, we were very excited to work on two recent oral history collections related to the local LGBTQI community: the Duke Alumni LGBTQ Oral Histories and the Rainbow Triangle Oral History Collection (RTOHC).
Both collections offer first-hand accounts of the LGBTQI experience at Duke and in the Triangle area. The Duke Alumni oral histories include individual Duke community members relating experiences from the 1970s through early 2000s, while the RTOHC materials come from individuals throughout the Triangle region and relate stories from the 1960s to the 2000s. As one can imagine, the stories in both document a large variety of experiences. Since some oral history subjects overlap in terms of years and environs covered, it is possible to compare multiple accounts of isolated, annual events like Blue Jeans Day; national crises like the AIDS epidemic; and ongoing struggles such as anti-LGBTQI persecution and community-building.
Similar to archival collections made up of paper and photographic-based materials, oral history collections pose significant challenges stemming from volume and format, as well as rights and content sensitivities. Close to 80 interviews are represented across these two collections. Interviews in the Alumni LGBTQ collections were conducted in 2015 and 2016 straight to digital recorders in formats supported by modern computing environments. Interviews conducted by the Rainbow Triangle Oral History project were conducted over a span of years in the 1990s and early 2000s on a variety of physical media and will require digital reformatting for use and preservation. Additionally, oral histories may have been recorded without the narrators giving explicit permission as to who can access the recordings, or under what circumstances, or what researchers can do with the information in the recording. Many projects and interviewers prepare forms for just this purpose, but not every form makes it into the archive with the recording. Finally, describing the contents, and the narrators, in ways that are sensitive to the narrator’s wishes, and concisely but accurately convey the topics covered in the recordings, can be complicated. Oral histories are often intensely personal and revelatory, and a wide range of subjects, persons, places, and events can be covered in a short period of time. We were lucky in that the alumni included either transcripts or interview summaries to aid in their description, and many of the RTOHC interviews included transcripts and/or biographical information.
Although these collections presented some complexities during processing, we were proud to work on preserving and providing access to these materials. Both collections are now available for use in the reading room.
Post contributed by Matthew Farrell, Digital Records Archivist, and Tracy Jackson, Technical Services Archivist for the Duke University Archives.
Please join the staff of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture for a Scholars’ Tea. Three recipients of Mary Lily Research Grants will present brief remarks about their research projects and allow time for conversation with library staff and other attendees. Light refreshments will be served.
Jason Ezell, Ph.D. candidate, American Studies, University of Maryland, “Queer Shoulders: The Poetics of Radical Faerie Cultural Formation in Appalachia”
Margaret Galvan, Ph.D. candidate, English, The Graduate Center, CUNY, “In Visible Archives of the 1980s: Feminist Politics & Queer Platforms”
Yung-Hsing Wu, associate professor, English, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, “Closely, Consciously Reading Feminism”
At the University Archives, we work hard to dispel the stereotype that we are merely reactive documenters of Duke’s history, that we wait to receive evidence of activity reflected in the records of the offices, organizations, and bodies that donate or transfer materials to us. We pursue student organizations‘ materials and meet regularly with representatives from both transitory and permanent bodies active in the Duke community. Since 2010, we have selectively crawled websites related to Duke.
The recent activism on campus has given us the opportunity to try new methods of documentation. Students and protesters disseminated much of the information related to the Allen Building Sit-In staged by Duke Students & Workers in Solidarity (DSWS) and ongoing tenting on the Abele Quad on Twitter, Instagram, and other web platforms. The Chronicle published a lot of coverage in print issues of the paper, but created multimedia presentations online and on Twitter. What follows are some of the methods we used to approach capturing online materials related to student activism, brief summaries of how well we did, and some early thoughts on what our responsibilities are with respect to access and re-use of this material.
We used three tools to primarily collect web materials, each with its own strengths. The Rubenstein Library subscribes to the Internet Archive’s Archive-It web crawler, which allows us to execute captures of web pages. I wrote about our broader efforts around Archive-It and Duke History last year on this blog. Archive-It is best suited for more static websites, and is less effective at capturing dynamic conversations. For the recent student activism, Archive-It came in handy when capturing the website of the DSWS, as well as the ongoing, related criticism of campus culture at Duke by the #DukeEnrage collaborative.
Archive-It has some capability for capturing Twitter, but it’s Twitter as viewed on Twitter.com: it’s a flat presentation of a Twitter feed or search. Here is a comparison of a tweet presented by Twitter, and what it looks like in its raw form.
This lack of flexibility influenced our decision to look elsewhere for capturing Twitter. We settled on two applications: Social Feed Manager and Twitter Archive Google Spreadsheet (TAGS). Both tools, once configured, query the Twitter API, retrieve tweets in their native form, and do some level of processing on them. Social Feed Manager stores tweets and allows the user to export them as a CSV or Excel file for offline storage. TAGS parses tweets into a Google Sheet, which can be downloaded for offline storage. For logistical reasons, we chose to use Social Feed Manager in the rare occasion of attempting to capture the tweets of an entire account—in this case, the @dsws2016 account.
We used TAGS to crawl hashtags. Since November, we had been capturing tweets related to #DukeEnrage, #DUBetter, and #DukeYouAreGuilty. Once the Allen Building Sit-in began, we added #DismantleDukePlantation and #DukeOccupation2016. Most of these were relatively low-use hashtags, with one exception: use appears to have coalesced around #DismantleDukePlantation, resulting in around 7000 unique tweets from the week of the sit-in, and another 2000 from the time since.
This work is still ongoing. So far, I think of our efforts as a modest success. The web, and especially social media, is ephemeral (although, oddly and wonderfully, aspects of the web we thought would disappear have persisted). That said, these efforts represent only one or two angles into the online conversation. Newer platforms like Yik Yak and Snapchat are either location based or expose content only temporarily. The tools available to capture Instagram are not as developed as those for Twitter. We cannot, nor do we want to, capture everything.
There are also questions of ethics and access. We received (enthusiastic, as it happens) permission from students associated with DSWS to capture their Twitter feed*. It would be impossible to seek permission from each individual Twitter user who tweeted using #DismantleDukePlantation. Although everything we targeted is still currently available through Twitter, the users who created it likely did not expect it to be re-contextualized—even if they fully understood the terms of service they clicked through when they signed up for the service. Twitter would frown upon us releasing material we captured through the API on the open web. For the time being, we tentatively plan on making the Twitter content available in our reading room, though we would need to consider anonymizing the data first.
This is by far not the only arm of our effort in documenting recent and ongoing student activism on campus. We fully expect for administrative records from relevant University offices to be transferred to the University Archives. We have been in touch with classes interested in further documenting the student voices involved. Selectively capturing Twitter and crawling static web pages allows us to capture student activists and their activities in the moment
* A former University Archives student worker, responsible for outreach in DSWS, granted UA explicit permission to capture the group’s Twitter and Facebook content.
Post contributed by Matthew Farrell, Digital Records Archivist.
Having access to Duke’s collection was an incredible experience. I treated it like a short artist residency. I set up my lights, a pop-up tent, my camera and a tripod in a study room within the library. Every morning, a cart was wheeled in with OB/GYN tools, anatomy text books and glass slides. It was exciting (and a little nerve-wracking), opening up boxes and not knowing their contents. For some items, I felt I was discovering the files for the first time. In a way I was: besides the archivists who received and catalogued them, some of the items had never been requested. I often felt as though I were in the medical field—donning nitrile gloves, carefully removing the items from their boxes, gently lying them down on the fabric of my pop-up lighting tent, careful not to harm them in any way. I found myself photographing them as abstractions or as jewelry, a style of cataloguing unlike other projects I have photographed.
My work focuses on historical and contemporary women’s lives and I am particularly interested in the past’s technology and how it relates to today. I have previously done photographic projects on antique vibrators, social media and the practice of keeping a commonplace book and with this project, the history of labor and delivery technology. While the process of getting pregnant has changed with IVF and the location of delivery may have changed, the actual process of delivery has not changed. Although American society emphasizes new products & experiences, and the medical world uses recent technology & procedures, women continue to deliver only one of two ways—vaginally or via Cesarean section. Prior to my arrival at Duke, I assumed the tools used in labor and delivery were harmful to the infants and delivering women. I also wondered how deadly labor actually was—in fictionalized accounts in both books and screen, no female who delivered a newborn ever lived, and seldom the child. I expected antique tools to be brutal and different in appearance than today. It surprised me that many of the tools I photographed resembled contemporary tools, only with time’s effect through rust or evident aging.
My research at Duke is the beginning of both my project and into further research on the history of the OB/GYN tools and their uses. Although in its early stages, I plan to study these tools’ history, as well as their use & influence today. The final images may be printed as slides, emulating turn of the twentieth century magic-lantern plates or late-twentieth century educational slide shows. Whatever form these images take, I was particularly inspired by the anatomical lift-the flap books & broad sides and will create an artist book influenced by these interactive educational guides. I look forward to sharing future developments of this project. Thank you to everyone at Duke University’s Rubenstein Library for their assistance during my stay.
Post contributed by History of Medicine Travel Grant recipient Lindsey Beal. Beal is a photo-based artist and professor in Providence, Rhode Island. Her work and further information can be found at lindseybeal.com.
In the University Archives, we have seen a few time capsules in our day. More often than not, they end up being a bit of a letdown. Newspaper has crumbled, cloth has mildewed, and time has taken its toll on these relics of the past. This year, however, we were fortunate enough to be the recipients of a time capsule that, while modest from the outside, has preserved its remarkable contents in mint condition.
The time capsule was laid in the cornerstone of the Washington Duke Hotel in 1924. The hotel was the first to be built in Durham, and was the product of a fundraising campaign by many leaders of industry and other interested parties, including Duke University administrators. The hotel was a glamorous destination for many years, but by the 1970s the gleam had faded. In 1975, the hotel was imploded. The site today is a plaza, best known for its bull statue.
Someone thoughtful apparently removed the time capsule, and many years later delivered it to the new Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club, adjacent to Duke’s West Campus. The staff of the Washington Duke Inn kindly took care of this time capsule until this year, when it was gifted to the University Archives, and we have an opportunity for the first time to highlight this fascinating collection in a new exhibit, on display outside the Biddle Rare Book Room.
The time capsule itself appears to be made from recycled printing plates, and was soldered by hand. Inside were examples of the products produced in Durham in 1924: cigarettes, tobacco bags, cotton cloth, hosiery, and socks. Also included were a photo of John Buchanan, the Chairman of the Executive Committee tasked with raising funds for the venture, and a photo Washington Duke, the hotel’s namesake. A key, possibly added to the time capsule many years later, is a reminder that this was a hotel from another era—no key cards here! A prospectus for the dazzling new hotel promises, “that Durham will have a real civic, social, and commercial center, for around the new Hotel will radiate every big function that transpires in our city.”
The exhibit will be on display outside the Biddle Rare Book Room until mid-June and is available during the general library’s open hours.
Post contributed by Val Gillispie, Duke University Archivist.
We’ll be setting up a pop-up zine library and teaching people how to make mini-zines. (If you can’t make the festival, you can still download and make your own copy of the Bingham Center’s minizine! Instructions on how to fold it are included.)
The Bingham Center holds over 6,000 zines dating from the early-1990’s through the present, by women, girls, queer and trans identified people. Our collections are always open to the public, but this is a fun way to browse a few highlights while getting a chance to start your own collection with creative zines from local, national, and international writers and artists.
Sometimes you set out to write a pleasant blog post about a turn-of-the-last-century Trinity College student’s short stories and end up correcting a moment of Duke University history you didn’t even realize needed correcting.
Lifelong Durham resident Lizzie F. Burch was a member of Trinity College’s Class of 1900. The Rubenstein Library has a collection of papers from Burch’s school days, so I took a look through them, hoping to learn more about life at Trinity College a few years after its relocation to Durham. Burch died in 1945, and it’s lovely to know that she took such good care of the essays she wrote and the notes she took in her Trinity College classes for over forty years.
Browsing through the papers and short stories written for her English classes, I came across an essay from her 1898 sophomore English class titled “The Anne Roney Plot.” This plot was a small garden at the end of Trinity College’s entrance drive, just in front of the Washington Duke Building (the college’s main building, which burned down in 1911; it sat roughly where East Duke Building is now).
The plot contained a tiered fountain, given to Trinity College by Anne Roney, aunt to Mary, Benjamin, and James Buchanan Duke. If you’ve visited the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in the past few years, you may have seen the fountain at the center of the Gardens’ Mary Duke Biddle Rose Garden; it was moved from East Campus in 2011.
Here’s Lizzie Burch’s essay on the plot and its fountain.
Funny thing is, the University Archives is on record as stating that the fountain was donated and placed in front of the Washington Duke Building in 1901.
There’s a good reason we made our initial claim. Back then, Trinity College included information about major gifts given to the college in the annual academic bulletins. The bulletin released in Spring 1901 includes the first mention of Anne Roney’s gift to the campus:
But this doesn’t quite jibe with our friend Lizzie’s essay, so we turned to the Office of University Development’s records, which contain accounts—in several very detailed and very heavy ledgers—of long-ago gifts to the college.
The ledgers directed us to the May 1897 issue of the Trinity Archive (yep, the ancestor of the current Archive), where we found the following paragraph in an article titled “Growth of the College during the Year”:
So, 1897 it is. We very humbly stand corrected. Sometimes our sources are unclear, incomplete, or just plain wrong, and we are always glad to be able to revise and clarify, even if it means admitting our own mistakes!
Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University