Category Archives: Students and Interns

Meet the Staff: Reference Intern Ashley Rose Young

Ashley Rose Young, a doctoral student in History at Duke, is the Reference Intern at the Rubenstein Library.

Tell us about your academic background and interests.

Food and history have long been a part of my life.  My mother’s family owns a gourmet grocery food business in the city of Pittsburgh, and my father, a history teacher, instilled his passion for American history in me and my three brothers.  As a child, my summers were marked not by family vacations to Disney World, but by trips to historic sites such as Fort Ligonier, Gettysburg, and Colonial Williamsburg.

As a history major at Yale University, I was able to further explore my interests in a wide variety of courses ranging from Global Environmental History, to Ancient Egyptian History, to African American History Post-1865.  Two terms abroad at Regent’s Park College at Oxford University introduced me to the fascinating history of court culture in Early Modern Europe, the anthropological study of ancient Etruscan civilization, and the rise of the Baptist faith in America.  Perhaps one of the most pivotal moments in my undergraduate career was my Archives and Collections internship at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans, which inspired my senior thesis on the ethnic and racial imagery in postbellum cookbooks, “‘Cooking in the Old Creole Days’: An Exploration of Late 19th and Early 20th Century Creole Culture and Society Through the Study of Creole Cookbooks.”

As a PhD student at Duke University, I’ve sought to engage not only with the history department but also the Center for Documentary Studies, branching out into the study of oral histories.  I’ve partnered with the Southern Foodways Alliance to profile the nationally known Carrboro Farmers’ Market through oral histories—a project that illuminated the highly political, rich culture of alternative foodways in North Carolina.

In the fall of 2012, I began to immerse myself in debates and questions about the digital humanities, participating in the PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge as well as the HASTAC Scholars program. This community influenced my dissertation research in several ways. I am, for example, mapping the demographic data of food vendors and public markets in twentieth-century New Orleans to see where power was concentrated and how people survived outside of the commercial core.

My larger dissertation project, “Nourishing Networks: Provisioning Southern Cities in the Atlantic World” examines the history of New Orleans’ public market culture. Whereas scholars have tended to examine how markets functioned in a single city, my project situates places like the French Market within a global context. On both sides of the Atlantic, municipal governments developed local food systems that prioritized fair pricing, cleanliness, and the construction of modern market halls. This European-influenced public market culture was not unique to the American South; it existed in most major American port cities. As a result, vendors, consumers, and local officials across the U.S. forged a cohesive public market culture during the nineteenth century that has yet to be fully understood. Regional food cultures were not isolated. Rather, they were interconnected and—even more importantly—crucial to the development of a larger American culture.

What led you to working in libraries?

I have a passion for public scholarship in all of its iterations. Working at the library, brainstorming with researchers, helping them advance their dissertation projects while enriching my own work are all part of building a lively career. These daily interactions help me break down the barriers that exist between the academy and the public, thereby enriching both the Duke and Durham communities.

As an intern, how does your work at the Rubenstein influence your research and writing?

It’s a known adage that reading widely improves your academic projects. The same goes for researching. Working with materials that are “completely unrelated” to my dissertation helps me think of new ways in which to investigate the development of Creole communities and culture through diverse sources.

What does an average day at RL look like for you?

My days vary, which is wonderful. Typically, though, I help patrons with remote research. I also work the Reference Desk and the Circulation Desk. So, I am often the first face that a research sees when she walks into the Rubenstein or I am one of the two librarians who help her access materials once she heads into the Reading Room. Sometimes, I assist with or lead class visits to our library. This is always a real treat. I enjoy working with undergraduate students who I find some of the most inspiring scholars on campus.

What do you like best about your job? What excites you most?

Some of my favorite work involves helping students with independent research projects. As a culinary historian, I am always eager to work with students who are interested in our rare and historic cookbooks. Some of these students trickle into the library on their own and inquire about our collections. Most of the time, however, I meet students when classes make special visits to work with materials at the Rubenstein.

What might people find surprising about your job?

During one class visit, I taught students how to read medieval square notation from large, vellum songbooks. I even sang a few Gregorian chants for them and ended up sight singing alongside a music student. It was a delight to hear that ancient music come to life. It was haunting and also beautiful.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Our collections are so vast and our patrons’ interests so diverse that it is sometimes difficult to answer their specific questions or meet their particular needs. I strive to help our patrons to the best of my ability, but sometimes neither I nor our staff can help researchers find the materials or information necessary for their projects.

Do you have a favorite piece or collection at The Rubenstein? Why?

I enjoy working with the Nicole Di Bona Peterson Collection of Advertising Cookbooks, 1850s-2000s (especially the nineteenth-century cookbooks). They are fragile, ephemeral, precious, and fascinating. American taste is something that has changed over time. So, some of the recipes seem a bit “strange.” Our staff, though, enjoys diving into the messy history of historic cooking and many of us have blogged about our experiences on the Rubenstein Test Kitchen series (which I highly recommend that you check out).

Where can you be found when you’re not working?

When I’m not working, I like to walk through the Duke Gardens. This time of year, they are stunning. I love how pools of sunlight collect in the tulips. A quick jaunt through the garden helps me get centered and ready to revise my most recent dissertation chapter.

What book is on your nightstand/in your carryall right now?

I am reading two books at the moment. The first is Jason Gay’s Little Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living. The other is a book of poems titled, Self Portrait as Joseph Cornell, by Ken Taylor, a local poet who lives in Pittsboro.

Interview conducted and edited by Katrina Martin.

Nkisi Nkondi in the History of Medicine Collections

As the Josiah Charles Trent Intern for the History of Medicine Collections, I have the opportunity to work with closely with a number of rare books, manuscripts and artifacts spanning hundreds of years and several continents. Because I’m here for a brief period of time, I’ve had to immerse myself in the materials in order to become familiar with them. While learning about the breadth and depth of the collections, one item in particular stood out to me: the nkisi nkondi figure in the History of Medicine artifacts collection.

photograph of nkisin kondi sculpture

Nkisi nkondi figures come from the Kongo people, a Bantu ethnic group located in the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo. Nkisi are spirits or objects that spirits inhabit, and nkondi are an aggressive subclass of nkisi that are used to punish wrongdoing and enforce oaths.

The figures were created collaboratively between sculptors and spiritual specialists called nganga. The wooden figure would be carved by the sculptor, and they could range in size from less than a foot tall, like the figure in the Trent Collection, to lifesize. The sculptor would create a cavity in the head or stomach, which then would be packed with materials chosen for their spiritual significance, such as dirt from an ancestor’s grave. The cavity would then be covered by a mirror or glass, which was believed to allow the spirit to peer through into our world. The figures were often created at the edge of a village because it was the borders and entrances that needed to be protected from outside harm.

The nails in the figure indicate the number of times the spirit was invoked. The spirit would then hunt down wrongdoers, such as thieves or an oath breaker. Nkisi nkondi were used publicly by entire villages and tribal leaders and were intended to protect the innocent. Use by an individual for private gain was considered to be witchcraft.

Although nkisi nkondi figures have been made since at least the sixteenth century, the nailed figures which are predominantly found in western collections were most likely made in the northern region of the Kongo cultural area during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Prior to the availability of nails, nganga would invoke the spirit through other means such as banging two figures together.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, colonizers from Belgium, France, and Portugal viewed the figures as weapons of resistance. Missionaries removed them through coercion, or force if necessary, in an effort to remove what was seen as their pagan influence over villagers. Most figures found in western collections were removed during this time period. Because of this history, provenance of the figures can prove to be elusive. Today, the beliefs that underlie these figures still exist, but they no longer take these elaborate forms.

exhibit case with items including nkisi nkondi sculpture

The nkisi nkondi figure is currently on display in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room as part of an exhibit celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the collection’s arrival at Duke University, which will be up through the end of June.

Post contributed by Amelia Holmes, Josiah Charles Trent Intern for the History of Medicine Collections

Learning About Home, Away from Home: A Student Assistant in the Radio Haiti Archive

The international media has long presented a distorted image of Haiti, one that leaves out the multiplicity of our people, exoticizes our culture, and depicts poverty as universal, without context or history. Haiti is labeled the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, a country teeming with chaos and suffering, the eternal recipient of foreign aid.

One of my tasks at the Radio Haiti archives is to help process the hefty stacks of US newspapers collected by Jean Dominique and Michèle Montas during their 1980-1986 and 1991-1994 exiles in New York. Often, I had to keep myself from being distracted by sensationalist headlines in order to get through the newspaper clippings that had yet to be sorted. Every so often, however, I would come across something so startling that I would have to pause to absorb the shock.  How could such things be published in supposedly unbiased sources of international news?  It disturbed me that people with limited knowledge could make derogatory claims that would have permanent effects on people’s understanding of Haiti’s place in the world.

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Over 700 miles from Miami, but several centuries away.” Miami News, 1981
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In which the New York Times describes the refugee camp at Guantanamo Bay as an “oasis” – November 1991

 

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Haiti, “Land of Fear and Death”, New York Post, 1991

When I came to Duke as a freshman, I had preconceived ideas of the struggles I would face, but a challenge to my identity as a Haitian was not one of them. Whenever I would tell people I was from Haiti, I would get skeptical gazes or looks of astonishment followed by remarks like “Haiti! Where in Haiti? Both your parents are from Haiti? Are they doctors working in Haiti?”, so that I could further validate the incongruence between my appearance and my claim. When I noticed a trend in these reactions, I began to reflect and question my origin and actually felt shaken when a simple “Yes, I’m Haitian” was not enough. I was not oblivious to the fact that I did not look like the “average Haitian”; I grew up very aware of this fact. It did not come as a surprise that I would be met with these reactions upon introducing myself, but as I thought about it, I began to uncover truths about my position in Haitian society that were difficult for me to accept. It was extremely uncomfortable to face the fact that I did not belong to the Haitian majority, but to a very small elite minority, because it confirmed the existence of the chasm between the two groups that I had observed my whole life but never fully come to terms with.

Never before had this difference invalidated my sense of belonging. My insecurity persisted, however, because it stemmed from the possibility that my sense of belonging was laced with ignorance.  Could I truly claim to be part of a group whose struggle I never had to fully share? There is an undeniable and deep-seated social-class hierarchy in Haiti that often corresponds with the pigmentation of one’s skin. After Haiti won its independence, the first republic to emerge from a large-scale rebellion by enslaved people, conflict arose between Black Haitians and Haitians of mixed race, a division that remains to this day. Since Haiti’s birth as a free nation, its image has been vastly shaped by the outside world’s interpretations; the international media rarely depicts Haitians looking like me. Yet to claim skin color alone as the defining factor of Haitian identity would undermine my lived experience: if I am not Haitian, what am I?

Each time I left Duke and returned to the bubble of elite Port-au-Prince, the social system there seemed more and more problematic, one in which the rich and poor live side by side but are worlds apart. There were people who blatantly proclaimed that the divide between rich and poor was inevitable and necessary, and those who claimed that we were all “one nation” despite the inequality. No matter how idealistic and deceptively unifying it sounded to claim that all of us are one despite our social class and backgrounds, I felt it unfair to ignore the differences in our experiences as Haitians. Overlooking the divide leads to a form of hypocritical erasure, one that disregards the oppressive elitist perception projected onto one group by another.  Denying the complex situation of social class in Haiti belittles the suffering of many and excuses the powerful for their contribution to this disparity. Though I’d often heard criticism of the “savior complex” of foreign aid workers in Haiti, I found it within our walls in air of superiority held by those overlooking the masses, who believed that the poor were the reason for the deprived state of the country today.

After my second summer at home, I returned to Duke as a junior and began to work as an assistant on the Radio Haiti project. In order to better understand the station’s work and legacy, I watched The Agronomist, the documentary about Jean Dominique and Radio Haiti. I had to pause the movie several times to collect my racing thoughts and feelings. I felt deep pain and nostalgia: what the film showed was at once so familiar and so foreign. I was angry that I had never heard many of these stories, that I had grown up among those same landmarks and never understood the events that had unfolded there not long before.

A veil lifted for me when I learned about the work of Radio Haiti, impacting how I thought about home. I heard uncompromised truth verbalized, one I had struggled to define and speak out myself. I discovered a way of thinking that seemed fair and just. I felt disappointed about the state of oblivion I had lived in for so long, as I was learning about events that my parents and grandparents had lived through, yet never spoken about within our household. The silence felt like an injustice to the lives taken and the history that left the nation the way it is today. Radio Haiti brought the truth to light and never compromised their mission to uphold this truth, even in the face of violence and intimidation. It brought me solace, and gave me the strength to challenge the perceptions that had been passed on to me and quieted the anxiety that told me that there was no place for those who contradicted and challenged the system. To see members of the mixed-race elite who choose to align themselves with the struggles of the urban and rural poor gave me courage to follow their steps. It instilled in me a desire and sense of responsibility to actively connect with the history of my homeland if I am to bear the title of being Haitian.

Post contributed by Krystelle Rocourt (Trinity ’17), student assistant for the Radio Haiti Archive project

A Bitter Look at the Sweet History of Brown Sugar

Amari Victoria Stokes was a student in Kelly Alexander’s Our Culinary Cultures course offered in the Fall 2015 semester in the Center for Documentary Studies. Utilizing Rubenstein Library resources, students in the class were asked to explore the history of a culinary ingredient of their choice, find a recipe that exemplified their chosen ingredient, and prepare it for the class. The following is Amari’s research paper submitted for the class.

Ginger DropsTwo eggs well beaten, one-cup brown sugar, two teaspoons ginger, one-cup N.O. molasses (boiled), one-teaspoon baking soda, flour to roll out. Mix in the order given. I poured the molasses into a pot and watched small bubbles form and subsequently burst as the dark liquid began to heat. As the molasses boiled on the stove, I started mixing the ingredients in the order specified in the recipe. After the eggs had been beaten furiously with my new silver whisk, I began to measure the brown sugar for what I hoped would be a delicious dessert.

Sticky and compact, I remember struggling to handle this strange sugar during family barbeques as we seasoned our meat. As I thought about it, I realized besides an occasional pineapple upside down cake, outside of barbeque, I couldn’t recall ever having used brown sugar. Why was that, I asked?

The story of brown sugar begins, unsurprisingly, with the story of sugar. Sugars are natural ingredients found in most plants but what we have come to known as sugar is often extracted from sugarcane and sugar beets. Sugar cane, from the genus Saccharum, was originally cultivated in tropical climates in South and Southeast Asia.1 Neither should it be a surprise that the road from brown sugar to white sugar looks very much like the roads taken to get to white bread, white flour, and white cotton. All have similar histories where the unnatural but white version is preferred or is seen as a higher quality than the browner, natural varieties.2

Three hundred years after being introduced to Europeans by Christopher Columbus in 1492,3 by the 19th Century, sugar was considered a necessity.4 This evolution of taste and demand for sugar had major economic and social implications for the entire world. As a result of this demand, tropical islands were colonized and sugarcane plantations began ‘cropping up’ in record numbers. Consequently, the demand for cheap labor to assist in the labor-intensive cultivation and processing of sugarcane contributed greatly to the transatlantic slave trade, which displaced many African peoples.5

As I turned down the heat on the molasses to allow it simmer, I carefully added ground ginger. Watching the ginger disappear into the creamy brown concoction, I thought back to my ancestors. It wouldn’t surprise me if at some point in history one of them had made the same treat for her master’s children while her own children toiled in the hot sun picking cotton or harvesting sugarcane.

Continue reading A Bitter Look at the Sweet History of Brown Sugar

ASDU’s Task Force on Black-White Relations

For the past few months, I have been processing the records of the Associated Students of Duke University, Duke’s student government organization from 1967 to 1993. One of the most interesting aspects of working on this collection has been the opportunity to learn about student life in the 1970s and 1980s. In the past year, the Duke community has grappled with questions of diversity and inclusion on campus, issues that were also explored by past Duke students.

In March 1967, the Men’s Student Government Association and Woman’s Student Government Association were replaced by the Associated Students of Duke University, which represented the entire student body. ASDU was led by an elected President, an appointed Executive Committee, and a Legislature composed of representatives from campus living groups. ASDU had a number of responsibilities, including managing student organizations and creating initiatives designed to improve student life at Duke. They also sent representatives to important university committees such as the Academic Council and the Residence Life Council. ASDU also formed a number of internal committees and task forces to study aspects of student life at Duke including housing, dining, and academic issues.

In the fall of 1981, ASDU created the Task Force on Black-White Relations to study the racial climate among undergraduate students at Duke. ASDU was concerned that while desegregation had removed many of the visible signs of racism, inequality still existed on campus. The Task Force on Black-White Relations was led by Trinity student Shep Moyle, who would be elected President of ASDU in 1982 (and is now President of the Duke Alumni Association’s Board of Directors). The Task Force consisted of seven students, including Mark Jones, the president of the Black Students Association.

Ad for October 28, 1981 Open Forum on Black/White Relations. From the Duke Chronicle, October 27, 1981.
Ad for October 28, 1981 Open Forum on Black/White Relations. From the Duke Chronicle, October 27, 1981.

The committee held a series of public forums in the fall of 1981, which gave students the opportunity to voice their opinions. After the forums, Moyle wrote, “there was an ignorance, an apathy, even a hatred between the races on campus. This is a situation we must rectify. Whites misunderstand the black community’s actions and the blacks misunderstand the white’s [sic] reactions in return. A vicious circle that merely separates the groups even further.” The forums solidified the committee’s impression that actions must be taken to improve race relations on campus.

The Task Force developed a set of recommendations they believed would improve the campus climate. The official committee report of the Task Force on Black-White relations was published in February 1982. The findings of the task force mirrored many diversity concerns that continue to be raised today including enrollment numbers, a lack of faculty of color, and unequal treatment by campus authorities.

In the report, the Task Force wrote that the number of African-American students at Duke was unacceptably low. Their analysis found that over the previous few years, the overall percentage of African-American students at Duke had decreased. The report called for the Duke Admissions department to increase outreach, advertising, and financial aid opportunities for minority applicants. They recommended a 50% increase in the number of minority students for the class of 1986 and a 15% increase for the classes of 1987 and 1988.

The report also indicated that the university needed to increase hiring of minority faculty and staff, stating that eight African-American faculty members out of 350 total faculty was “appalling”. The Task Force suggested that the university launch a nationwide search for talented African-American faculty members and provide incentives that would attract them to Duke.

Additionally, the task force also accused Campus Police of stopping African-American students without just cause because of their race and called for race to be included in the core curriculum and for readings on race relations to be mandatory in freshman classes.

Notes from the Task Force on Black-White Relations. From the ASDU Records.
Notes from the Task Force on Black-White Relations. From the ASDU Records.

University officials had a mixed response to the report, refuting the claims of biased behavior by the admissions and public safety departments. They also claimed that while the report raised a number of important points, many of the proposed solutions would be unrealistic or too difficult to implement. However, the administration promised to utilize the findings of the report in future decisions. Chancellor Kenneth Pye added, “The report shows a recognition of what is a real problem on campus. I think it is an important addition and a valuable step forward.”

It was interesting to compare the findings of the Task Force on Black-White Relations to current discussions on diversity to see what changes have occurred and which issues continue to be raised. Once reprocessing is finished on this collection, researchers will be able to review the Task Force’s documentation themselves—perhaps as a way to bring these past perspectives to bear on our current discussions. (In the interim, a copy of the final report may be found in box 5 of the Office of Minority Affairs Records.)

Post contributed by Elizabeth Hannigan, Isobel Craven Drill Intern for the Duke University Archives and student at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science.

“From Sit-Ins to Hashtags” on Display at Perkins Library

Culture Clash is a series of exhibits, created by the Center for Multicultural Affairs (CMA), traditionally hosted in the Alcove outside of the CMA Lounge. Culture Clash aims to provide multicultural and social justice education to build and/or strengthen bridges between different communities at Duke and beyond. The exhibit provides members of the Duke community and guests of the CMA the opportunity to explore the intricacies of the human experience with the focus on building sustainable, authentic, and healthy relationships and communities.

This year’s culture clash, which is on display through February 1st, 2016 at Perkins Library’s Campus Club Wall, is entitled “From Sit-Ins to Hashtags”. The exhibit explores the patterns of student social justice work and activism both at Duke and beyond throughout history. The photos depict different trends and styles of activism in the different decades.

Students protest in favor of the Black Faculty Initiative, April 1988.
Students show support for the Black Faculty Initiative, April 1988.

Curating Culture Clash has been a wonderful learning experience. I have a new appreciation for museums and exhibits; until now I never really realized how much thought and effort goes into a project of this nature. From beginning to end, this project has been about learning. The research aspect of the project was fairly intuitive because here at Duke we are always doing research. Finding movements to document and represent wasn’t overly challenging. Even finding an equal representation of photos from each decade was a fairly smooth process due to the help of the University Archives.

The challenge in this project came with deciding on how to visually present all of the photos. Juggling some 70 odd photos and 19 photo frames and 126 square feet of wall space was an experience. For me especially, I struggle with visualizing; I need something concrete to look at. The later part of the curation process involved a lot of cutting paper models and trying to learn how to visualize the small picture within the big picture. However, teamwork makes the dream work here at the Center. As a team, we made all the pieces come together in the end. We are very happy with the final outcome of the project.

We hope that from this exhibit students can understand how student social justice work has transpired in the past, and perhaps find inspiration to be an advocate for a cause that moves them.

We would like to give a special thanks to Margaret Brown, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation Exhibits Coordinator, and Amy McDonald, Assistant University Archivist, for all of their help throughout the curation process.

Related Resources:

Post contributed by Vanessa Lusa, Class of 2018 and Center for Multicultural Affairs Student FACE.

Hoppin’ John (1847) – Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen

As much myth as morsel, the traditional southern dish of black-eyed peas, long-grain rice and salt pork–known as Hoppin’ John—has long been associated with good fortune when eaten on the first day of the new year.

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With January 1st fast approaching, I thought I would use the test-kitchen blog to try out the earliest known published recipe for Hoppin’ John, which comes from Sarah Rutledge’s The Carolina Housewife, originally published in 1847.

Book Title Page

But like any good legume dish, half of the work lies in letting the beans soak, so before I get into the recipe itself, I want to spend a little time soaking up the aura of this deceptively simple meal.

soaking beans

Google the term Hoppin’ John, with or without the conspicuous g-deletion, and you’ll find a veritable cottage industry of food historians contemplating its finer points. While rice and pork are essential features of Hoppin’ John, most commentators center their accounts on the black-eyed pea, known variously as the cow pea, crowder pea and southern pea. Native to West Africa, the black eyed-pea was cultivated throughout the ancient world, from Greece and Rome to the Middle East and Asia. The durability of the dried African bean made it a prime provision aboard the transatlantic slave ship. The hardiness of the plant and its resistance to heat made it a staple crop on southern plantations, where it became a cheap and reliable means of feeding slaves and livestock. Poor whites across the south embraced the food, and in time, it eventually appeared on the table of southern planters, where it was received as a “very nutritious” and “quite healthy” alternative to the English field pea. Despite attempts on the part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand the crop beyond the Mason-Dixon line after WWI, the food has remained part of the often-caricatured culture of the American South.

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And this is to say nothing about the black-eyed pea as prosperity charm or the twisted narrative behind the name Hoppin’ John. In the context of ancient Greece and Egypt, beans were said to possess the spiritual energy of the dead. Whether or not this has any bearing on the America tradition of eating black-eyed peas for good luck is impossible to know. A popular theory as to why the food must be eaten on New Year’s Day revolves around the supposed resemblance of the spotted pods to coins. Similar theories hold that collard greens, often served alongside black-eyed peas, represented paper money. Having grown up in a Tennessee household that regularly consumed black-eyed peas, I called my mother and asked her what she thought. Timid when questioned, she only said: “On New Year’s Day, it didn’t matter what else you had, as long as you had black-eyed peas.” She has a point. It makes sense for the working poor and enslaved to project mythical powers onto the foodstuff that was a ubiquitous part of their everyday lives. When life seems little more than a series of uncontrollable events, strung together by forced migration, famine and persecution, you don’t want to leave matters of good fortune to chance. Or as my mother says, “You don’t go borrowing problems.”

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As for the name Hoppin’ John, there is no definitive etymology. Some researchers focus on the semantic meaning of the term, suggesting that it grew out of a folk idiom for inviting a neighbor to dinner, i.e. Hop in John. Others focus on the phonetic properties of the term, insisting that it is an English appropriation of either a French-Haitian name for the pigeon pea (pois à pigeon) or the Arabic name for a similar dish of beans and rice (bahatta kachang). For me, I think the mystery of the name points back to that essential feature of vernacular culture that Richard Wright proposes in his essay “The Literature of the Negro in the United States,” where he describes black folklore and folkways as “The Form of Things Unknown.” By positing unknowing and mystery as the basis of vernacular culture, one is able to entertain various, competing theories while maintaining a healthy respect for the hermetic resistance of anonymous practices.

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These various theories were debated in real-time as Ashley Young (Duke, History PhD) and Lin Ong (Duke, Marketing Strategy PhD) helped me bring Rutledge’s recipe for Hoppin’ John to life.

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The original recipe is short on details. Here it is in its entirety:

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Given the ambiguity of the description and the dramatic changes affecting cultivation and cooking practices, the recipe requires a certain amount of creativity. The cowpeas that Rutledge mentions are prevalent in most parts of the rural south, but I could not find a local store in Durham that carried them in December, so I settled for the black-eyed cousin. As for the rice, I went with Luquire Family Food’s Long Grain Rice on the suggestion of Ashley, a food historian with an eye for unpolished grains. Instead of the standard cured bacon, I decided to go with a medley of swine. A hamhock would provide ample seasoning and flavor, while pieces of pork belly would give a little meat for the actual dish. Lin made the important point that the pork belly would probably take on an unappealing texture if cooked in the boiling stew. So we sliced the pound of pork belly into 1-inch cubes and pan-fried the cubes, adding them (along with a spoonful of the rendering) to the dish at the end.

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To speed up the cooking time, I soaked the pint of beans by bringing them to boil in a quart of water, letting them boil for a minute and then leaving them to cool for an hour. We then transferred the beans into a new pot with a fresh quart of water and the hamhock. We brought the stew to a boil and then let it simmer for close to an hour. While the beans were cooking, we washed the rice, making sure to remove all pieces of gravel, as per Rutledge’s slightly outdated instructions. With no objective way of determining when the beans were “half-boiled,” we settled on an hour. In that amount of time there was still enough water in the pot to cook the rice. But this seems totally arbitrary. If you like mushy beans (which I do), don’t be afraid of cooking them longer. You can always add more water when it comes time to cook the rice.

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IMG_0471Instead of just placing sprigs of mint on top like a garnish, we decided to slice them into shreds to help bring out the flavor. The experiment paid off. The sharp soprano sweetness of the herb cut against the walking bass notes of the simple grain and savory fat. The end result was a meal that made us feel plenty lucky, if only to have leftovers to go around.

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Notes

One could spend an entire day reading through the many, thoughtfully composed online histories of Hoppin’ John.  Most of the points made in these posts can be traced back to two works.

Miller, Adrian. Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2013.

Hess, Karen. The Carolina Rice Kitchen: The African Connection. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998.

Post contributed by Pete Moore, Intern for the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History 

Born to Belonging: the Mab Segrest Papers

For the past few months, I have had the pleasure of processing the papers of Dr. Mab Segrest, a leading feminist writer, activist, scholar, and speaker, who has traveled the United States and around the world fighting for social justice. Her papers are a foundational collection for the Sallie Bingham Center and a valuable resource for the study of feminism, race, class, sexuality, and gender, as well as literary theory and social movement history.

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Mab Segrest in her home in Durham, circa 1978-80

Filling 124 boxes and spanning from 1889 to the present, the materials document many aspects of Dr. Segrest’s personal and professional history.  In the series related to her family, there are a variety of valuable materials, including correspondence from the Panama Canal, Civil War portraits, and artifacts from her childhood in Tuskegee, Alabama.  Professional materials include everything from correspondence, teaching files, and organizational records to drafts and research materials from her most famous published works, Memoir of a Race Traitor (1994) and My Mama’s Dead Squirrel (1985).

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Mab Segrest circa 1979

The largest section of the papers document Dr. Segrest’s wide-ranging activism, especially her work with North Carolinians Against Racist and Religious Violence (NCARRV), a public interest organization she co-founded in 1983 that rallied citizens against an epidemic of hate violence in this state. NCARRV files contain public communications as well as materials documenting strategy for on-the-ground activism in which she played a central role.

Dr. Segrest’s papers are a great testament to her long-standing commitment to education. Her teaching career started in 1971 when she accepted a position at Campbell University while working on her Ph.D. dissertation (earned at Duke University in 1979). Dr. Segrest has also taught courses at UNC Chapel Hill and Duke. She taught at Connecticut College from 2002 to 2014 where she was the Fuller-Maathai Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies. Most recently Dr. Segrest has taught at both Emory University and Georgia College while researching the history of Georgia’s state mental hospital in Milledgeville.

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Mab Segrest, feminist activist, writer, speaker, and educator

There is a good deal of connection among the different dimensions of this collection. In particular, it is impossible to separate Dr. Segrest’s work as an activist from her many academic accomplishments as these parts of her life have informed and shaped one another.  When processing a person’s papers, it is impossible not to feel connected to them in some sense.  I’m moved by Dr. Segrest’s enormous resolve and courage, and my time with her papers has increased my appreciation of her work and her dedication to activism and social justice.

The Mab Segrest Papers are an incredibly deep and rich resource within the Bingham Center and the Rubenstein Library. It has been a privilege to work with this collection and it is exciting to imagine the scores of students, scholars, and others whose work will be informed by these materials.

Post contributed by Rachel Sanders, intern for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture. 

Boston Apple Pudding (1823) – Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen


IMG_3277The Cook’s Oracle
was a bestseller when it was first published in 1817. Its author, William Kitchiner (1775-1827), was a household name in England at the time, and was known for being an atypical host to his dinner guests – he prepared the food rather than his staff and even did the cleaning up as well. In addition to being an avid cook and successful cookbook author, Kitchiner was also an optician and inventor of telescopes, which perhaps explains why this particular cookbook is in the History of Medicine Collections here at Duke.

In the United Kingdom, the origin of the potato chip is attributed to Kitchiner, with The Cook’s Oracle including the earliest known recipe. The recipe, “Potatoes fried in Slices or Shavings,” instructs readers to “peel large potatoes, slice them about a quarter of an inch thick, or cut them in shavings round and round, as you would peel a lemon; dry them well in a clean cloth, and fry them in lard or dripping.”

Other notable entries include eleven recipes for ketchup – including two types each for walnut, mushroom, and tomato ketchups – and the recipe for wow-wow sauce, which is parodied (though retains the same name) in the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett.  [Ed. note: Earlier this year, one of our cooks made Kitchiner’s Shin of Beef Stewed with Wow Wow sauce, complete with mushroom ketchup.]

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Looking through our copy of The Cook’s Oracle, I was drawn to the recipe for Boston Apple Pudding. It seemed like a simple recipe, and I was curious to know what apple pudding would be like.

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As I was gathering ingredients, some things were unclear. How does one determine what constitutes “one dozen and a half good Apples”? I ended up buying a five pound bag of apples and peeling all of them with the help of a friend.

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photo 3The apples actually cooked down pretty quickly – it probably took less than thirty minutes in total. I didn’t know what “moist sugar” is, but it turns out it is actually a thing. Because we already had brown sugar, that’s what I used to sweeten the apples.

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Next, it was time to strain the apples through a hair sieve. You can see a hair sieve at the British Museum here – but as it turns out, I don’t have one! We first tried to pass the apples through a fine-mesh sieve, to no success. Next we went out and bought some cheesecloth to try and pass it through that. Again, no luck! Finally, I used my colander to press the apples through.

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photo 6We mixed in the butter, eggs, and lemon zest. For the crust, I used a sheet of puff pastry, but since puff pastry is square, I used some of the other sheet of puff pastry to fill in the missing pieces. As you can see below, it ended up looking like a giant flower!photo 7

The recipe only says to bake for 30 minutes, so this part required a little finagling. First, I set the oven to 350 degrees and baked for 30 minutes, but the pudding didn’t seem to be setting up, so I added on another ten minutes. It was really unclear what the final product would be like, but even after an additional ten minutes, it still didn’t seem quite right. At this point, I turned off the oven, propped the door open with a large slotted spoon, and left it for a final fifteen minutes. At this point, I was worried about burning the crust, so I accepted the pie as is.

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The final pudding was really interesting. It wasn’t quite what I think of as a pudding, but it definitely wasn’t a pie either. The crust added a nice variety to the texture, and the apples had a really robust flavor – cooking them with the lemon peel really made a difference.

To see this recipe and others in The Cook’s Oracle, the book can be found in our catalog here.

Post contributed by Amelia Holmes, History of Medicine Collections Intern

 

 

Seeing a bit of home while far away: discoveries in the World War II Propaganda Leaflets

Working in an archive, you can come across a lot of exciting material and constantly learn something new. When the Rubenstein recently augmented its collection of World War II propaganda leaflets, we took the occasion to reorganize the whole collection. The collection now contains about 270 leaflets as well as some examples of propaganda magazines (most of the non-English documents include English translations). The material was disseminated between 1941 and 1945 with the aim of damaging enemy morale and sustaining the morale of the occupied countries. The collection includes examples of German and Japanese propaganda, aimed at Allied soldiers. Included also are German-language leaflets that were dropped over Germany by a clandestine British intelligence body—the Political Warfare Executive (PWE)—, as well as French-language leaflets, prepared by the French exile government in London and dropped over Vichy France (calling on the French population to not collaborate with the German occupiers or the Vichy regime).

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Leaflet with text in Tok Pisi

A large portion of the leaflets were aimed at the Pacific area and dropped by the Psychological Warfare Branch of the U.S. Army Forces. Most of them area are in Japanese. Some of them, however, are written in less well-known languages like Tok Pisin and Burmese.  A creole language spoken throughout Papa New Guinea, Tok Pisin is commonly known in English as New Guinean Pidgin or Melanesian Pidgin. By trying to identify the languages of the leaflets, I learned that the New Guinea Campaign from 1942 to 1945 was one of the major military campaigns in the Pacific War and that leaflets in Tok Pisin—the most widely spoken language in New Guinea—were dropped by the Allies in order to encourage the population not to collaborate with the enemy. Likewise, material in Burmese was dropped over Burma (since 1989 Myanmar) in 1944 and 1945 during the Burma Campaign—the Allies’s fight against the Empire of Japan, which was supported to some degree by Thailand, the Burmese Independent Army, and the Indian National Army.

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Leaflet in Burmese dropped during the Burma Campaign, 1944-1945

 

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Leaflet in Burmese (back)

Finally, one might discover personal connections and be reminded of very familiar places, even when far from home. I am from Kiel, the capital of the state of Schleswig-Holstein in northern Germany. I spent many vacations and weekends in Laboe, a little town at the coast of the Baltic Sea, right at the outskirts of Kiel. Kiel/Laboe was one of the main naval bases and is the location of the Laboe Naval Memorial, a memorial for the deaf of World War I built from 1927 to 1936. As such, it was a natural target for propaganda against the German marine like the leaflet found in our collection shows. Imagine my surprise to see a leaflet showing such a familiar sight while processing!  The naval memorial still stands today and attracts many tourists (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laboe_Naval_Memorial).

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Leaflet depicting Laboe Naval Memorial (front)
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Leaflet depicting Laboe Naval Memorial (back)

If you want to know more about this collection, visit the collection guide: http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/wwiiprop/.

Post contributed by Sandra Niethardt, Rubenstein Tech Services intern and graduate student in Germanic Languages & Literature.