Category Archives: RL Scholars

Profiles in Research: Dr. Jaime Cantrell on Southern Lesbian Literature

My current book project, Southern Sapphisms: Sexuality and Sociality in Literary Productions 1969-1997, considers how queer and feminist theories illuminate and complicate the intersections between canonical and obscure, queer and normative, and regional and national narratives in southern literary representations produced during a crucial but understudied period in the historical politicization of sexuality. The advent of New Southern Studies has focused almost exclusively on midcentury texts from the Southern Renascence, largely neglecting post-1970 queer literatures. At the same time, most scholarship in women’s and feminist studies continue to ignore the South, or worse, demonize the South as backward, parochial, and deeply homophobic. Southern Sapphisms argues that we cannot understand expressions of lesbianism and feminism in post-Stonewall era American literature without also understanding the explicitly southern dynamics of those writings—foregrounding the centrality of sexuality to the study of southern literature as well as the region’s defining role in the historiography of lesbian literature in the United States.

Vital archival work completed at the Sallie Bingham Center this past May strengthened my arguments about the formations of lesbian identity and community in the North Carolina lesbian-feminist journal Feminary (1969-1982). Feminary has been lauded by one scholar as “the source and backbone of contemporary Southern lesbian feminist theory,” due in part to the forum it provided for southern lesbians to voice their inimitable outlooks on race, regionality, and social justice[i]. At a local level, Feminary forged and grounded a community of Durham/Triangle feminists, lesbians, and women writing and printing as a collective. At a national level, I show how the women of this journal were actually inspired by the increasingly turbulent battles over civil rights in the South. This revelation upends prevailing notions that the Stonewall riots in New York were the watershed that changed lesbian and gay politics and culture in the nation. My work on Feminary recasts dominant national narratives about queer lives, histories, and activism in the region by illustrating how lesbian feminist politics gained their inspiration and momentum not only from Stonewall, but also from the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and massive resistance against civil rights and gay and lesbian rights in the South. Access to rare archival documents—only available at Duke University’s Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library—prove that Second Wave feminism and modern lesbian politics have extensive southern roots. To ignore the distinctly regional dynamics of those roots is to misunderstand the complexity of those movements across the nation and beyond.

eminary collective (left to right, top to bottom row): Helen Langa, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Eleanor Holland, Cris South, and Mab Segrest. Photo by Elena Freedom, 1982. From the Minnie Bruce Pratt Papers.
Feminary collective (left to right, top to bottom row): Helen Langa, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Eleanor Holland, Cris South, and Mab Segrest. Photo by Elena Freedom, 1982. From the Minnie Bruce Pratt Papers.

I am grateful for the support of the Mary Lily Research Grant, which enabled my research at the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture. I was able to consult materials from the Minnie Bruce Pratt Papers and the Dorothy Allison Papers, and was honored and humbled to use the Mab Segrest Papers.

Continue reading Profiles in Research: Dr. Jaime Cantrell on Southern Lesbian Literature

Profiles in Research: Georgina Colby and the Kathy Acker Papers

I was awarded a Mary Lily Research Grant in 2014 to travel to the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture to consult The Kathy Acker Papers. In April 2014 I carried out research in the archive for my book manuscript, Kathy Acker: Writing the Impossible, which is under contract with Edinburgh University Press.

Critics and scholars in the field of contemporary literature have largely understood Kathy Acker as a postmodern writer. My monograph challenges such readings of the writer and her works, paying close attention to the form of Acker’s experimental writings, as a means to position Acker and her work within a lineage of radical modernisms.

Consulting The Kathy Acker Papers, the extensive archive of Acker’s works housed at the Sallie Bingham Center, shaped my research in a number of ways. Most striking, and perhaps the aspect of the archive that has been most formative to my work, is what the archive revealed in terms of the materiality of Acker’s various manuscripts. The original manuscript of Acker’s early and most renowned work, Blood and Guts in High School (1978), is a lined notepad with text and image pasted onto the pages. It is a collage, an art object. The dream maps, which punctuate Blood and Guts in High School, are archived as separate framed objects. Dream Map Two is an artwork measuring 56 inches by 22 inches. Such archival discoveries enabled the development of my book. The monograph takes a specific work of Acker’s for each chapter as a means to explore six key experimental strategies in Acker’s oeuvre. A substantial knowledge of Acker’s avant-garde practices would not have been possible without the research carried out in the archive.

Image from manuscript for Blood and Guts in High  School by Kathy Acker
Image from manuscript for Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker

The Kathy Acker Papers also illuminated a related line of enquiry taken in my monograph: the importance of Acker’s early poetic practices to an understanding of her later prose experiments, which often dislimn the distinction between poetry and prose. The repository of unpublished poetic works provided rich material for the first chapter of my book, which explores Acker’s engagement with the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets in the 1970s. Acker’s unpublished poetry can be understood as both a significant autonomous body of work, and as juvenilia that was a catalyst for her later writing experiments. The box that houses these early works also contains typed conversations between Acker and her early mentor, the poet David Antin. Written under Acker’s early pseudonym, The Black Tarantula, these conversations point to the discourses that emerged between Acker and various writers and poets concerning the uses of language. In this 1974 text, ‘Interview With David Antin’, which reads in part, and perhaps intentionally, like a Socratic dialogue, Acker and Antin interrogate issues of language and certainty. Acker and Antin draw on their writing experiments, alongside a discussion of Wittgenstein’s On Certainty, as means to interrogate language and perception. Such materials are rich when read in conjunction with Acker’s poetry.

Reading the materials in the archive, letters, early drafts of published works, speeches, Acker’s teaching notes and notebooks on philosophy, as well as Acker’s handwritten annotations on various texts, and her invaluable collection of small press pamphlets, was illuminating. Numerous texts disclosed the self-conscious nature of Acker’s experiments. A number of early poetic experiments are entitled ‘Writing Asymmetrically’, and several notebooks gesture specifically to the influence of William Burroughs and Acker’s experiments with the cut-up technique. Other notebooks are streams of consciousness, and are evidently comprised of material that Acker then cut up for use in her experimental works. Most of Acker’s novels originated this way, as a set of handwritten notebooks.

KIC Image 0002
Image from manuscript for Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker

Archival research at the Sallie Bingham Center cultivated a rich understanding of the diversity of Acker’s experimental work and the writer’s remarkable lifetime achievements, many of which remain unpublished. The extent of the material and its uniqueness brought home the importance and centrality of the archive in the formation of knowledge regarding an experimental writer’s oeuvre. In the context of the female avant-garde writer, Acker stated that Gertrude Stein, as the progenitor of experimental women’s writing, is ‘the mother of us all.’ The remarkable experimentalism and the linguistic innovation of a great number of the texts that comprise The Kathy Acker Papers reveal Acker to succeed Stein as one of the most important experimental writers of the twentieth century.

Post contributed by Georgina Colby, Lecturer in Contemporary Literature, University of Westminster, UK.

 

Human Rights Archive Collection Sheds Light on 1983 Assassination of Peruvian Journalists

I am Carmen Valdivieso Hulbert, a New York-based journalist-filmmaker born in Peru. I am currently co-directing and producing Uchuraccay, an investigative, human rights documentary for my company, Quinoa Films Inc.

The documentary attempts to find answers related to the assassinations of eight journalists and their guide in 1983 in Uchuraccay, a hamlet in the Andes of Peru. The murders occurred amidst warfare between the Maoist group, Shining Path, and Peruvian military forces. As part of my investigation of the case, I found valuable material among the Coletta Youngers Papers at the Human Rights Archive in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Map of Peru showing location of Uchuraccay.
Map of Peru showing location of Uchuraccay.

In the process of this ten-year investigation, I have found a large amount of information which at first did not stand out due to the complexity of the case. In February 2015, I found a copy of the original report on the assassinations filed by the government-appointed investigative commission in March of 1983. The group was led by Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa. According to the commission’s findings, the villagers of Uchuraccay were the sole culprits of the murders. Furthermore, the report fails to cite any military presence in the area when the murders took place.

This report was based on testimony given to the commission by the military chief of Ayacucho, the capital city of Huamanga Province, where Uchuraccay is located. He stated that the last military flight to the area took place on Sunday, January 23, 1983. His testimony conflicts with information I found in an article published on January 27th of the same year in the leading newspaper, El Comercio. The article, based on information received from the same military headquarters, indicates that a group of military and police officials arrived in the area from Lima on January 26th. Around noon, the group visited Uchuraccay, among other areas. This was the very day that the journalists arrived in Uchuraccay and were allegedly murdered around 4 p.m.

The discrepancy only hit me after I found and read the investigative report this past February. Had I not found this particular document in the Coletta Youngers Papers, it would have taken me longer to connect the dots.

A friend I met on my last trip to Lima in January of 2014 had mentioned that Javier Azcue, the journalist who wrote the story in El Comercio, had told him about the importance of that visit, and that no journalist had taken note of it. I was not sure what he was referring to until I re-read the official report at the Rubenstein.

On January 30, 1983, the date of the exhumation of the eight journalists’ bodies, villagers in Uchuraccay told a journalist who spoke Quechua, one of the main Peruvian indigenous languages, that the soldiers had told them to kill any stranger who arrived in the community on foot, and that they should remove their eyes and cut out their tongues while they were still alive. Apparently that did not happen, as indicated by the newspapers clippings I found among the Coletta Youngers Papers. While at the Rubenstein, I found some enlarged newspapers clippings of La Republica that showed close-up photos taken the day the bodies were exhumed. The photographs show the faces of five of the eight murdered journalists. As gruesome as these images are, they show two of the journalists with eyes half-closed and intact, and three with their eyes closed but without signs of having been removed, as some of the villagers had previously stated.

Photocopy of article from La Republica. From the Coletta Youngers Papers.
Photocopy of article from La Republica. From the Coletta Youngers Papers.

Previously I had only heard the recordings of the villagers’ testimonies in their native Quechua, along with a transcript translated into Spanish. I was therefore able to recognize one of the villager’s photo and name in the newspaper clipping.

Post contributed by Carmen Valdivieso Hulbert, Rubenstein Library researcher, journalist, and filmmaker.

A Vernacular Science of Crime

Phrenological bust from the commonplace book of  E. Bradford Todd.
Phrenological bust from the commonplace book of E. Bradford Todd.

 

The image above, taken from the commonplace book of E. Bradford Todd (found in the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library), is representative of a popular view of the science of phrenology. Seen today on ironic posters and T-shirts, as well as modern ceramic reproductions, the phrenological bust has come to serve as metonym for the entire science of phrenology. The image persists, but so too do misconceptions about the nature of this peculiar nineteenth-century science, which proposed to articulate and even predict the character of an individual based on the shape of the skull.

Phrenology was attractive to the masses and inspired writing of all kinds, from diary entries to letters, as well as published texts and broadsides. E. Bradford Todd, as shown above, recorded the phrenological doctrine – complete with his own sketches – into his commonplace book in mid-nineteenth-century America. Eugene Marshall, a schoolteacher in 1851 in Rhode Island, went to see a phrenological lecture and resolved to study the science, a project he took on with such zeal that he eventually attempted to phrenologize himself. Writing in 1823 when the science was still young, another individual gossiped to a friend via letter that a mutual acquaintance was looking for a wife “with all the proper bumps on her head for he is a great believer [of phrenology]” (Eliza K. Nelson papers).   As seen in these letters and diaries from Duke University’s Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, from its earliest introduction, phrenology captured the mind of the public and promised solutions to life’s problems, both great and small, not least of which was the problem of crime.

With generous assistance from the History of Medicine travel grant, I recently visited the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to conduct research in support of my dissertation, “Criminal Minds: Law, Medicine, and the Phrenological Impulse in America, 1830-1890.” My research takes a serious look at the “pseudoscience” of phrenology and considers the ways in which it was viewed as truthful, scientific, and useful to nineteenth-century individuals. In particular, I examine how phrenology, at the beginning of the century, came to be viewed as a valuable possibility for crafting a criminal science avant la letter, more than half a century before the introduction of Cesare Lombroso’s positivist criminology that would later be considered the birth of modern criminology.

Phrenologists wrote early and often about the problem of crime, which was drawing attention from all corners in the nineteenth century. The growth of cities and urbanization, the increasing rapidity and ease of movement of peoples within and between countries, and the rise of mass media that made sensational stories about murder and theft national (and international) news – all of these nineteenth-century trends combined to render crime a particularly fraught problem. Yet well before “criminology” had been introduced, phrenologists and other enthusiasts were considering the ways in which this new science could be used to help solve crime.

While it was primarily intellectuals and professional phrenologists operating within a narrow orbit who ruminated on the potential of phrenology with regard to the criminal problem, we can also find glimpses of the reception of these ideas in the records of non-phrenologists who encountered the science. For example, in the diary of Jane Roberts, a British author, she records a trip on January 6, 1837, to visit a phrenologist in London, Dr. DeVille, with her friend Mrs. Phillips, Lord Byron’s daughter. During this visit, both received phrenological readings by DeVille, but they also heard a long discourse from him about the truth of the science. Interestingly, the examples DeVille chooses to illustrate and prove the science are linked directly to bad behavior and crime, explaining that attention to the developments of the mind (as read in the skull) can serve to prevent or cure evil propensities. He illustrates this claim with two examples: one story in which he identified two robbers before the fact, and a second where a father brings his son in to see DeVille, before he eventually is sent to prison for his crimes. Miss Roberts was impressed by these stories, and resolved to visit him again.

Whether or not Miss Roberts repeated her pilgrimage to the phrenologist’s office, this interaction is representative of the ways in which phrenological ideas about crime entered into vernacular culture. Phrenologists framed their enterprise as a solution to one of the era’s most pressing problems, in part to sell their services to individuals like Miss Roberts. Yet, as I argue, phrenology also made a clear claim attempted to predict and explain the behavior of criminals, and in so doing signaled the development of a new science of crime.

Courtney Thompson is a PhD candidate in the History of Science and Medicine Program, History, at Yale University

 

 

 

Researching Black Health in the South

It was a great pleasure to conduct research at the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke. As a recipient of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture travel grant, I looked forward to exploring the Library’s holdings that would advance my understanding of black women’s history.

National Negro Health News. From the Alliance for Guidance of Rural Youth Records.
National Negro Health News, Vol. 6, no. 3. From the Alliance for Guidance of Rural Youth Records.

My dissertation project, “Mind, Soul, Body, and Race: Black Women’s Physical Culture, 1900-1939,” investigates the structural barriers to health and fitness for black women and the ways in which they circumvented those barriers and engaged in the physical culture movement. I examine how black women used purposeful exercise to create a new, fit vision of black womanhood that had implications for public health, recreation, and ideas of beauty, citizenship, and racial uplift. As a national project, I want to capture how Southern women, who had even less resources and access to physical culture, participated in the movement.

A significant portion of my dissertation discusses the state of black health and the Library proved to be a valuable repository for exploring the public health aspects of black southern history. The archivists were informed and genuinely interested in assisting researchers and with their help; I consulted about a half a dozen collections in all including the African American Photo Collection, the Alliance for Guidance of Rural Youth records, and the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company archives.

One of the most useful collections was the Alliance for Guidance of Rural Youth. Although the Alliance was primarily a vocational guidance service organization, it sought to address several issues affecting poor, rural young people in the first half of the twentieth century including health issues. I found several documents from the collection related to health campaigns and the barriers to health for black people in the South. For example, a note in the 1934 National Conference on Negro Education proceedings indicated that “environmental rather than racial factors” compromised black health including low income, insufficient housing, and limited access to hospitals, preventive care, and recreational facilities. As it relates to black women’s health, the collection describes some of the difficulties black women had in accessing health information and clinics for their obstetric needs. The collection also contains sources on black unemployment, the black nursing profession, diet and malnutrition, and leisure during the New Deal era.

Additional records at the Library on black health in the twentieth century include William J. Covington’s physician account books and the thesis, Black Health in Segregated Durham.

Post contributed by Ava Purkiss, PhD candidate, University of Texas at Austin and 2012-2013 Franklin Travel Grant recipient.

The Martin Shubik Papers: From Early Game Theory to the Strategic Analysis of War

Martin Shubik, from the Yale Dept. of Economics webpage.

As research fellows at Duke’s Center for the History of Political Economy, this summer we processed the papers of Martin Shubik, emeritus professor of mathematical institutional economics at Yale University. By arranging and describing Shubik’s life-long correspondence, his class notes from the time of his graduate training at Princeton in the late 1940s, files of professional engagements, as well as materials related to nearly all of his published works, we had the chance to get an overview of Shubik’s distinguished career as an academic and a practicing economist during an important historical period encompassing the Cold War years in the United States.

While Shubik was born in New York City in 1926, he received his early education in England. After moving to Canada, he graduated with a B.A. in mathematics and subsequently with an M.A. in political economy from the University of Toronto in 1947. Equipped with this background, Shubik arrived at Princeton University in 1949, where the archival record begins. He received a Ph.D. in economics in 1953 under the supervision of Oskar Morgenstern, one of the founding fathers of game theory. The influence of his supervisor becomes apparent in Shubik’s collection, not only through the class notes Shubik took of Morgenstern’s lectures and in the correspondence with him throughout the years, but also indirectly through Shubik’s life-long contributions to game theory and its application to economic problems. And, like Morgenstern, Shubik frequently voiced a critical attitude towards purely theoretical work.

Shubik’s collection is a treasure-house of primary resources on economics, especially for researchers interested in the early years of game theory. Shubik was part of an inspiring group of students during his stay at Princeton, including Harold Kuhn, John McCarthy, John Milnor, John Nash (Nobel Prize, 1994), Norman Shapiro, and Lloyd Shapley (Nobel Prize, 2012), who were pioneers in the field of game theory and would continue to shape the history of American mathematical economics during the second half of the 20th century. Innumerable drafts of Shubik’s collaborative works, often accompanied by correspondence and research notes by his co-authors, afford an inspiring set of resources evoking that historical period. The collection contains Shubik’s and Shapley’s drafts and notes on their joint works on game theory, from their early papers in the 1950s to their collaboration during the 1970s at the RAND corporation. The collection also allows for personal glimpses into Shubik’s life. For example, Shubik’s life-long friendship and professional collaboration with Shapley is reflected in the extensive correspondence throughout their academic careers. Similarly, Shubik’s exchanges with Nash (sometimes through humorous cards and joke letters) offer a unique source for historians interested in the early years of game theory and the history of modern economics.

While Shubik made fundamental contributions to mathematical economics, the collection shows that his interests were not confined to academia. Very early in his career, he took on consultancy positions for companies including General Electric and the Watson Research Lab of IBM. He also took on research and teaching responsibilities outside of the U.S., participating in projects such as the Cowles Commission’s research on simulation modeling in Latin America. The collection also contains a large amount of correspondence, trip reports, memoranda, and conference invitations that reflect Shubik’s professional development as an expert in the strategic analysis of warfare. More generally, the material reflects not only the increasing use of mathematical methods in American economics during the Postwar period, but also affords insights into the actual application of those new theoretical tools to specific problems that economists were concerned with during that time, and the institutional context within which those undertakings were embedded.

The papers of Martin Shubik reveal the mosaic of the career of an exceptional and multi-faceted economist during a highly charged professional and political climate, and the degree to which the field of economics is built on collaborative research. In short, it is a must for any historian interested in the origins of modern economics.

Post contributed by Catherine Herfeld and Danilo Silva, research fellows at Duke’s Center for the History of Political Economy.

 

Reminder: The Rubenstein Library is closed until Jan. 7!

The Spiritual is Political

With generous assistance from a 2012 Mary Lily Research Grant, I visited the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture this past summer to conduct research for my dissertation, “The Spiritual is Political: How the Southern Baptist Convention Debated Feminism and Found the New Right.”

I focused primarily on records in the Resource Center for Women in Ministry in the South collection.  The Resource Center was founded by Jeanette Stokes in 1977 to provide support for women who were in ministerial leadership roles.  Its extensive archival records at Duke University include back issues of its publication, “South of the Garden,” materials from its annual “Women in Ministry in North Carolina” conferences, and the newsletters and paraphernalia of affiliated religious organizations.

newsletter image
Illustration from the “Southern Baptists for Family and Equal Rights” newsletter. From the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South records.

In my examination of the Resource Center files, I came across an interesting collection of newsletters for Southern Baptists in North Carolina who supported feminism in the 1970s and 1980s.  These newsletters were produced by “Southern Baptists for the Family and Equal Rights,” or SBFER, an organization formed in 1981 to create support for the Equal Rights Amendment and issues related to women’s health and welfare in the North Carolina Baptist Convention and in state politics.SBFER was short-lived, lasting less than five years. Though it failed to attract considerable support in the national denomination, it enjoyed limited success as a local organization.  After its efforts to promote the ERA in the state were unsuccessful and the deadline for ERA ratification came and went, the organization turned its focus to women’s ordination and other expressions of feminism in the Southern Baptist Convention.  After 1985, however, the organization began to decline as it became clear that the denomination was not returning to a moderate course.The SBFER’s newsletters are crucial for my dissertation as they provide evidence of grassroots feminism within the Southern Baptist Convention at a time when the denomination was reversing course on many issues regarding gender equality, in full retreat from moderate positions it had taken in the 1970s.  These materials from the early 1980s reveal strong dissenting views, which complicate the narrative of the Southern Baptist Convention’s right turn on social issues.  SBFER aimed to throw a wrench in the plans of the denomination’s new conservative leaders. And while they were unable to stop the Southern Baptist Convention from aligning itself with the Religious Right, they did succeed in keeping women’s issues part of denominational dialogue in the 1980s.

Post contributed by Laura J. Foxworth, Ph.D. candidate,  University of South Carolina, Department of History.

A Thoroughly Forgotten Duke Figure

Trinity College Faculty, 1878-1879
Trinity College faculty for the 1878-1879 academic year. Lemuel Johnson is seated to the right of President Braxton Craven.

LEMUEL JOHNSON (15 January 1828 – 29 April 1900) taught for more than thirty years the entire mathematics curriculum at Trinity College when it was a fledgling institution located in Randolph County, North Carolina.

Though there is no present building or other monument to his name at Duke, the Rubenstein Library holds in various collections a small memorial to this pioneer faculty member in the form of four manuscript letters, a mathematics primer that was widely distributed during the Civil War era, a carte de visite of him and another of the Trinity faculty of the late 1870s, and an 1887 map of Durham County printed from his own manuscript map, the first published presentation of the bounds of this county after its formation in 1881 from sections of Orange, Wake, and Granville.

He was the second graduate of Normal College, Trinity’s predecessor, when it was a very humble institution situated in a rural, red clay, Quaker-Methodist corner of the Carolina piedmont. There, beginning in 1852, he taught courses in arithmetic, mensuration, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus as well as performing the duties of college treasurer, librarian, and first president of the Trinity College alumni association.

Among his most memorable achievements as an educator was his tutoring of the gifted Giles sisters, every evening in his parlor after a full day of classroom teaching. Mary Z. Giles, Persis P. Giles, and Theresa Giles were graduated with the Trinity class of 1878 (although segregated into a “Ladies” column with less than full membership), an event that the Wilmington Morning Star reported as “unprecedented in the history of North Carolina colleges.” Indeed, the celebrated Sallie Walker Stockard, early historian of Alamance county and first female matriculate at the University of North Carolina, received her diploma in Chapel Hill in 1898.

In the last years of his life, Professor Johnson supported himself through hard times by teaching in rural high schools and by working intermittently as a civil engineer, and his maps of Randolph and Davidson counties are available online via the NC Maps site.

Post contributed by David Southern, Rubenstein Library researcher and Managing Editor for the Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle at the Duke University Press.

Representing Bodies: Ivory Manikins

In researching changes in the representation of female bodies in Northern Europe, I noticed that ivory manikins (meaning “little men,” though usually female) portray  a changing trend away from the easily available prints of the female anatomy in the  sixteenth century toward more formal depictions, displayed only for demonstration. Little is known about the manikins themselves in terms of their origins, but stylistic and material differences may provide much needed information in terms of who made these models and the ways in which they were used by others.

In my travels, I found that the History of Medicine Trent Collection’s set of anatomical ivories is one of Duke’s—and America’s—great treasures. Normally they are stored in a glass viewing case in the Trent Room, but looking closely at them, they hold much more than one might expect.

An ivory anatomical model carved into the lid of a hinged box
An ivory anatomical model carved into the lid of a hinged box

One object in particular caught me by surprise. It is a manikin carved meticulously into the lid of an ivory box. It is not a unique example, as it is quite similar to other objects—one in the Trent Collection and the other in Dusseldorf. Opening the box is precarious because, as with the other manikins, the torso is easily removed (though, luckily, the individually carved organs have been glued down).

The model open, showing individually carved ivory pieces inside.
The model open, showing individually carved ivory pieces inside.

The manikin itself, however, is only one of the object’s curious features. When the lid is lifted, an exquisitely small painting is revealed on its underside.

The underside of the box’s lid, showing an image. The paint is chipped in the corner and around two wooden pieces that act as sockets for the ivory pegs securing the torso.

In this strange scene a nude woman and a well-clothed gentleman dine unabashedly before an open plaza where others go about their normal errands. The presumed courtesan shares many similarities with her counterpart on the box, who is likewise unclothed and recumbent, clutching a sheet with her left hand. Figures of this kind are often seen in artisanal ivory works, but this particular object invokes intriguing questions as to how the fine arts relate to the anatomical sciences and historical representations of women.

Post contributed by Cali Buckley, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Art History, Penn State University

old film | new music

Click to enlarge.

Tonight and on December 6th, the Duke New Music Ensemble will be performing new compositions written as soundtracks for films from the Rubenstein Library’s collections. We asked the dnme composers to tell us a little bit about the films they chose and how they inspired their compositions. For more details about the performances, visit the group’s Facebook page or click the poster at right to enlarge it.

David Kirkland Garner

The video I chose to use is from H. Lee Water’s “Spindale ’37” film (from the H. Lee Waters Film Collection). I chose the portions of the video having to do with the factory for Yelton’s Flour, opening with footage of the flour refining process from inside the building then turning to the procession of workers leaving the factory at the end of the day. The music I wrote is not meant to be closely synced with the video. Rather, it creates a singular mood for the film images. The music is created in two parts: a repeating groove in the keyboard, bass and 3 banjos and a slowly unfolding melody in the other instruments. At the beginning and end of the piece the ensemble uses percussion instruments to imitate the sounds of summer in rural North Carolina.

Jamie Keesecker

Margolin’s 1965 Hawaii film footage (from the Morris and Dorothy Margolin Film Collection) presents a challenge in that almost every moment captured in the footage comes from a performance that was originally accompanied by music, and the musicians themselves can be seen throughout most of the film. Seeing the musicians strumming guitars and ukeleles in unison is one of the aspects that attracted me to this film. But rather than attempting to recreate the music that would have originally accompanied the images in the video, I have written music that is merely meant to represent my own reactions to seeing the film. At the same time, I have chosen to write for a consort of mostly plucked string instruments similar to those depicted in the video. Musical gestures are at times intended to be synchronized with the musicians on film, and other times not, just as the musical material itself contains hints of Hawaiian tropes while remaining, on the whole, quite different from what would actually have been played by the musicians on film.

D. Edward Davis

My archival footage is of a student protest that occurred at Duke University in 1969 (from the Radio TV Services Records). Despite the “homemade” image quality (or perhaps because of it), the images capture the drama of the protesters in action, with the cameraman acting as a participant and not a spectator. I’m drawn to this film because of its connection with the University’s history, and I tried to mirror the intensity but also the sinister beauty of these images with my music. As students are presently (Nov 2011) involved in “Occupying Duke” in the same physical location as the 1969 protests, I love how the film has both a distant timeless quality and a captivating immediacy. Thanks to the staff of the Archives for preserving this footage and also for making it accessible to researchers and artists.

Vladimir Smirnov

The video I chose was footage of traveling down a river (the Chao Phraya, I presume?) in Bangkok from a collection of travel footage by former Duke Professor Margolin (from the Morris and Dorothy Margolin Film Collection). I myself have never traveled to Thailand, and the video drew me in with its images of a very exotic world and with its slow hypnotic pace. I tried to create a musical atmosphere that the video suggested to me with very gentle and exotic sounds—muted piano, bowed vibes, slow swells on the guitar and bass, flute that is sung into at the same time as it’s played, banjo, and very sparse strings. I didn’t really think too much that I was working with archive film when writing, I just focused on the images and atmosphere.

Kenneth David Stewart

The footage I selected is of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens from 1937 (from the Radio TV Services Records). What moves me about this footage is how striking the color of the flowers appears as captured by the Kodachrome film. It is interesting how this footage from 1937 is just two years after Kodak made this kind of film commercially available—in fact, the famous color scenes in the Wizard of Oz were shot with this same film. This captured color, to me, almost has its own texture independent of the hue itself.

The written music for the instruments is based on the live ensemble playing the role of three choirs simultaneously ‘singing’ different music, but at the same time each contributing to a larger, composite texture. In addition to this, there is an electronic track with supporting harmony and the sounds of a typical journey in the rain from my home to the Biddle Music Building recorded onto microcassette.

The process used to construct the visual narrative is based on whether the camera shot is close to the flowers themselves or farther, panning across the gardens. At the same time a ‘chord progression’ of color directs the footage from yellow to orange to red to pink to white to ivory and back to yellow again to repeat the cycle. None of these textures are more important than another and in this way, the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

My mother, a former professional horticulturalist, instilled in me a love of plants and flowers at a young age. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my mother and I outside planting flowers and vegetables in our family garden. This piece is dedicated to her.

Post contributed by the members of the Duke New Music Ensemble.