Category Archives: Students and Interns

New Acquisitions Roundup- Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of The Ladder: A Lesbian Review

The Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture recently acquired 47 copies of The Ladder (1956-1972), more than doubling our run for a total of 79 issues of the publication spanning the years 1957 to 1972. We are especially excited about this opportunity to expand our holdings of this ground-breaking publication sixty years after the first issue was released.

The Ladder was the first nationally distributed lesbian periodical in the United States. Preceded only by a local Los Angeles newsletter titled Vice Versa, The Ladder began in October 1956 as the small publication of the group Daughters of Bilitis (DOB). The DOB was founded in 1955 in San Francisco as a social group for lesbians who wanted to avoid public scrutiny and the violence of bars that were often the target of police brutality. As their numbers grew, DOB chapters formed in cities across the country, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The DOB evolved into a highly influential lesbian activist organization providing a “feminine viewpoint,” educating women about “female homosexuality and positive self-image.” The DOB worked closely with groups that were primarily focused on gay men, such as the Mattachine Society and ONE, Inc.

Partners Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, the co-founders of DOB, both had educational backgrounds in journalism and worked as reporters. Lyon decided to publish The Ladder as a way to advertise the group—since they were forbidden from doing so in newspapers—as well as to spread awareness about social issues affecting the wider lesbian community. The mission statement of the DOB was printed inside every cover of the magazine:

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Note the use of the word “variant” instead of “lesbian,” which had a negative connotation in 1956.

According to some sources, the magazine was titled “The Ladder” to symbolize a way to escape the “well of loneliness,” a phrase popularized by Radclyffe Hall’s influential novel of the same name. The first issues featured a hand-drawn cover with two people standing beneath a ladder ascending into the clouds. There were only 175 original copies made of this issue, which were given to friends and mailed to professional women in the San Francisco telephone book and around the country. By 1957, the second year of publication, there were hundreds of subscribers on the mailing list, and the magazine was available on select newsstands in major cities. By the publication of its last issue in 1972, it had a subscription of over 4,000 worldwide. It is difficult to estimate total readership, however, because the issues were frequently shared and read aloud at gatherings.

Early content included information from DOB meetings, “Lesbiana” literature reviews, prose and poetry, social experiments, etiquette advice, community events, and reader responses. The editors avoided including any overtly sexual content, but quickly began rallying around political issues and publishing news about the Homophile movement.

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This appeal appeared on the back cover of many early issues.

The Ladder was published monthly from 1956-1970 and bi-monthly from 1971-72. Over that time span, the magazine underwent drastic changes. The first major transformations began after Barbara Gittings, DOB New York chapter president, became editor in 1963. Gittings added the subtitle, “A Lesbian Review” to the cover in 1964, signifying the word “lesbian” as something that was no longer unspeakable. She changed the magazine’s size and publication quality, increasing issues from 12-15 pages to 27 and moving from a mimeographed copy to professionally printed pages. Kay Tobin Lahusen, a photojournalist who was Gittings’ partner and assistant editor, began using photographs of lesbians, rather than the illustrations typical of past issues. Regardless of the changes in its appearance, The Ladder was issued in a brown paper covering for the duration of its existence.

The last issue was published in September, 1972. In 1975, Arno Press released a nine-volume compilation of The Ladder in hardback as part of their series “Lesbians and Gay Men in Society, History, and Literature.” The Ladder was a lifeline for those women who read it, providing one of the first formal spaces for lesbians to come together in dialogue and artistic expression. Today, it stands as an important artifact of 20th century lesbian and feminist movements and a valuable resource for scholarship.

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

The Apothecary Ledger of Hugh Mercer

Apothecary Shop: Engraving by Clemens Kohl featuring the interior of an apothecary shop. History of Medicine Picture File, History of Medicine Collections.
Engraving by Clemens Kohl featuring the interior of an apothecary shop. History of Medicine Picture File, 1523-2002, History of Medicine Collections.

Among the 20,000 books and 4,000 manuscripts that together comprise the History of Medicine Collections at Duke’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library—not to mention the collection’s hundreds of medical instruments and artifacts—is a large, leather-bound account ledger in folio kept by Hugh Mercer, an apothecary in Fredericksburg, Virginia, from 1771 to 1775.

Born in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1725, Mercer went on to study medicine at Marischal College, graduating in 1744 before taking up a post as an assistant surgeon in the army of Charles Edward Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie.

With the Scots’ defeat at Culloden in 1746, Mercer fled to America, arriving in Philadelphia in 1747. Mercer settled in what is now Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, where he practiced medicine for eight years. During the Seven Years’ War, Mercer served in the British army, where he met and befriended Colonel George Washington. Following his service, Mercer resettled in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a decision no doubt influenced by Washington.

It was in Fredericksburg that Mercer, along with his business partner and fellow physician Ewen Clements, opened his apothecary shop. On May 28, 1771, in the Virginia Gazette, Mercer and Clements, “partners in the practice of physic and surgery,” announced that they had “opened a shop on the main street, opposite to Mr. Henry Mitchell’s store, furnished with a large assortment of drugs and medicines of the best quality, just imported from London; where Gentlemen of the profession and others may be supplied at easy rates, for ready money.” Together, Mercer and Clements compounded and dispensed medicines, diagnosed patients’ disorders, and prescribed and administered treatments.

The ledger kept by Mercer, which documents the history of his practice from 1771 to 1775, is a microcosm of the social and intellectual worlds of eighteenth-century Virginia. It contains entries for more than three hundred different accounts. Below each entry, Mercer meticulously documented his visits with patients, the medicines he dispensed, the treatments he prescribed, as well as the fees he charged.

An entry in Mercer’s ledger for the account of Colonel Fielding Lewis, a Fredericksburg merchant and George Washington’s brother-in-law.
An entry in Mercer’s ledger for the account of Colonel Fielding Lewis, a Fredericksburg merchant and George Washington’s brother-in-law. Click image to enlarge.

Among Mercer’s many patients were Mary Ball Washington, George Washington’s mother; Betty Washington Lewis, George Washington’s sister, and her husband Colonel Fielding Lewis; Thomas Ludwell Lee; John, Henry, and William Fitzhugh; and Mann Page. Mercer often noted the occupations of his patients, who ranged from merchants, planters, and gentlemen to tradesmen, schoolmasters, undertakers, and stage players. A number of women, many of them widows, kept their own accounts with Mercer. Also among Mercer’s patients were the enslaved men, women, and children whose visits were charged to their masters’ accounts.

Mercer kept a running index in the back of the ledger for each of his accounts.
Mercer kept a running index in the back of the ledger for each of his accounts. Click image to enlarge.

Mercer offered a range of treatments and services to his patients, from bleeding, purging, and pulling teeth to blistering, vomiting, and setting broken bones. He likewise dispensed a variety of compounds and medicines. These included saline mixtures, purging pills, febrifuge drops, liquid laudanum, balsam honey, magnesia, glauber salts, and stomach elixirs. In keeping with the medical science of his day, Mercer’s treatments were aimed at restoring the delicate balance of his patients’ four humors—black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood—and ensuring equilibrium among the body’s solids and fluids.

In all, Hugh Mercer’s ledger offers a unique window into the prevailing medical beliefs and practices of eighteenth-century Virginia society and represents only a sample of the Rubenstein Library’s rich collection in the history of medicine.

Post contributed by Thomas Gillan, Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern

The 1954 Firing of Max Wicker

Max Wicker
Max Wicker

The Duke University Archives recently received the Joseph Mitchell Papers on Max Wicker, a collection of letters, news clippings, and other documents that culminate in a 2006 paper, The 1954 Firing of Max Wicker and Two Other North Carolina Student Directors, Jimmy Ray and J.C. Herrin, by Duke alumnus Joseph Mitchell.

Max Wicker, a 1952 Duke Divinity School graduate, was president of Duke’s Baptist Student Union (BSU) in 1953. After graduation, he was hired to work at Duke by Jimmy Ray, secretary of the statewide BSU.

Later that year, Baptist student leaders began planning their annual BSU conference, to be held in November 1953. Ray invited Christian theologian Dr. Nels Ferré, a Congregationalist who taught at Vanderbilt University, to be the conference’s main speaker. But some on the N.C. Baptists’ general board had heard that one of Ferré’s books cast doubt on the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Ferré’s speech was canceled.

Cover of 1953 NC Baptist Student Union Convention program.
Cover of 1953 NC Baptist Student Union Convention program.

The general board then began an investigation of the programs and leadership in the Baptist Student Union throughout the state—as TIME magazine’s April 12, 1954 issue put it, “digging into charges that the Baptist student pastors have been guiding their young congregations independent of regular church supervision.” By 1954, the board had scheduled a hearing for three student leaders—Ray, 39; Wicker, 29; and J. C. Herrin, 39, the secretary of the UNC-Chapel Hill BSU chapter.

Letter from James T. Cleland to Max Wicker, April 14, 1954
Letter from James T. Cleland, then Professor of Preaching at the Divinity School, to Max Wicker, April 14, 1954

The hearing lasted six hours, ending just after midnight on March 31, 1954. Wicker delivered a three-page statement to the board explaining his faith. (TIME magazine quoted him as saying to the board, “I do not deny the virgin birth, and I do not affirm it. My mind is still open.”) In the end, the board dismissed the three leaders from their jobs with the BSU. According to TIME, students at the meeting dissented, but “most of the 500 Southern Baptists present thought that the board was right, and that the young ministers were too ‘interdenominational’ for comfort.” The results of the hearing appeared in front-page stories in newspapers around the state.

Letter from John A. Ellis to Max Wicker, March 31, 1954
Letter from John A. Ellis to Max Wicker, March 31, 1954

After the BSU dismissed him, Wicker continued at Duke—where he remained employed—for a few months as a chaplain, then resigned and became a Methodist minister.

Joseph Mitchell had met Wicker while they were both at Duke Divinity School. (Mitchell graduated in 1953, and later returned to Duke for his doctorate in religion in the 1960s.) Mitchell was also a Methodist minister. After he and his wife Norma retired, they moved to Durham in 2001. There, they lived near Wicker and his wife Ann, and Mitchell began researching the nearly 50-year-old case of his friend’s dismissal to tell his story.

The Joseph Mitchell Papers on Max Wicker are open for research.

See: “Baptist Dismissals,” in TIME magazine’s “Religion” section, April 12, 1954. 

Contributed by Erin Ryan, Drill Intern for the Duke University Archives.

 

A Delicate Balance: Understanding the Four Humors.

During my tenure as the Research Services Graduate Intern at the Rubenstein Library, I had the great fortune of exploring the fascinating history of the four humors, a topic that is far afield from my doctoral research on the culinary history of New Orleans. Setting aside my copy La Cuisine Creole, I picked up a first edition of Henry Peacham’s Minerva Britanna (1612) and paged through whimsical woodcuts that featured long swordsmen, lions, and laurelled lutenists. Although New Orleans’ history is bedazzled by myth, that of the four humors seems surreal, emerging out of a world occupied by dragons and vengeful gods. What resulted from my foray into this cosmos is a new exhibit in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room, entitled, “A Delicate Balance: Understanding the Four Humors.”

photo of "A Delicate Balance" exhibit
A Delicate Balance: Understanding the Four Humors, Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Photo credit: Ashley Rose Young.

The four humors were a means of analyzing a person’s disposition as well as her physical, mental, and emotional health. Within this belief system, every person had a unique humoral composition that shaped her behavior, appearance, and interactions with the broader world. Visualized as bodily fluids whose levels were constantly in flux, Hippocrates named the four humors black bile, phlegm, yellow bile, and blood. Each humor was paired with one of the four elements of earth, water, fire, and air and was assigned qualities of cold, moist, dry, and hot. Their influence on the body changed with external factors like the time of day, the season of the year, and the age of a person.

The origins of this medical philosophy and practice are attributed to the Indian Ayurveda system of medicine as well as ancient Greek, Roman, and Islamic physicians. This holistic approach to human health was pervasive in the Medieval and Early Modern periods and remained a common means of assessing and treating the human body until major advancements transformed medical practices in the mid-nineteenth century.

Prior to these innovations, medical practitioners sought to help ailing patients by restoring the delicate balance of the humors and did so through techniques such as bloodletting and herbal remedies. The new exhibit features a bloodletting fleam that a physician would have used to lance open a vein to remove excess blood from the body so as to bring equilibrium to a patient’s internal fluids. In the United States, doctors employed bloodletting through the Civil War to treat soldiers suffering from infection and fever.

Bloodletting fleam
Three-blade folding fleam with brass shield, 18th or 19th century, Dr. Callaway Collection Artifacts, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Consumption also played a major role in balancing the four humors. Throughout Early Modern Europe, for example, physicians kept gardens with plants that were assigned to a particular humor. They believed that patients could restore their bodies to full health by consuming carefully crafted herbal remedies comprised of stems, leaves, fruits, and nuts. Practitioners organized gardens to represent the potency of medicinal plants. Some of these historic gardens still exist today. The circular Minerva Garden in Salerno Italy, for example, is divided into four quadrants representing the four humors with the most potent plant life at the center of the garden. This garden is a physical embodiment of the healing powers ascribed to plants within the humoralist system.

Minerva Garden, Salerno Italy.
Minerva Garden, Salerno Italy. Photo credit: Ashley Rose Young.

In the next few weeks, I encourage you to visit the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room on the first floor of the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library so as to glimpse into the rich history of the four humors and their impact on medical practices in the Early Modern period through today.

Ashley Rose Young, curator of "A Delicate Balance" exhibit, giving an exhibit talk in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room
Ashley Rose Young, curator of “A Delicate Balance” exhibit, giving an exhibit talk in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Photo credit: Jennifer Scott.

 

Post contributed by Ashley Rose Young, a Ph.D. candidate in History at Duke University and the Business History Graduate Intern at the Hartman Center.

The Asbury Park July 1970 Riots

The John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture recently acquired the Joseph F. Mattice Papers. Mattice was a native of Asbury Park who served as a lawyer, city council member, and district court judge prior to being elected mayor of Asbury Park, New Jersey in 1969. Mattice was mayor during the Asbury Park July 1970 riots and the collection contains a bevy of material related to the riots including letters from concerned citizens, business people, news clippings, and hate speech.

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One of the many examples of Hate Speech Mattice received in response of the riots, rather than trying to determine the cause of the riots and work towards a peaceful resolution, many blamed the rioters and wanted them silenced.

So how did Asbury Park become ground zero for riots from July 4th, 1970 to July 10th, 1970? This story began way before 1970. The first wave of the Great Migration brought African Americans from the South to Asbury Park for better opportunities. Historically, Asbury Park was a resort town that recruited African Americans to work in the resort industry.

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Associated Press article about the history of Asbury Park

At the time of the riots, Asbury Park was a town of 17,000, 30% of which were African-American. The town’s population increased to 80,000 with summer vacationers. The Great Depression, followed by World War II, caused the resort industry in Asbury Park to change dramatically to keep up with the times.  The fancy resort stays gave way to weekend vacationers. The community maintained a steady resort community, but jobs at the resorts were frequently outsourced to white youth in the surrounding areas instead of local African American youth, which caused frustration in the community.

On the evening of Saturday July 4, 1970 all of the tension due to the lack of jobs, recreational opportunities, and decent living conditions came to a head.

  • By Monday July 6th, Mayor Mattice ordered a curfew. Surrounding local police as well as New Jersey state police were summoned and brought in via trucks by the National Guard.
  • Tuesday July 7, 1970: African American community representatives presented a list of twenty demands to city officials including better housing conditions as many were infested with rats.
  • Wednesday July 8, 1970: City officials, representatives of New Jersey Governor Cahill, and the African American community met in a closed conference. Governor Cahill completed a brief tour via vehicle then requested President Nixon to declare the city a major disaster area after the disorders (as the riots were called) were over.
  • Friday July 10, 1970: marked the last day of rioting. The state troopers were removed from the West Side but remained on patrol of other sections of the city. Mattice and city council had a productive meeting with West Side residents to discuss demands.

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In the end, over 180 people, including 15 state troopers were injured, and the shopping district of the west side neighborhood of Asbury Park was destroyed. Police made 167 arrests. Many West side residents were displaced from their homes, and the neighborhood was still in disarray five years after the riots. There was an estimated $4,000,000 in damage, and an additional $1,600,000 spent on cleanup costs.

The riots brought national attention to Asbury Park, New Jersey. However, Asbury Park was just one of many cities across the United States that experienced riots within the late 60s- early 70s period. The same issues: lack of job opportunities and unfit housing were prevalent for many African Americans.  The riots forced America to look at the inequalities, acknowledge them and work towards making things better.

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Letter from a concerned citizen from Toledo, Ohio

The Joseph F. Mattice papers give an insider view into the riots and this period in general.   The collection is a vital research tool that allows the reader to make their own interpretation of this historical event.

Post contributed by Charmaine Bonner, SNCC Collections Intern. 

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.

The Voices of Change project was made possible through a generous grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.

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.