There’s no denying it: we love the Edwin and Terry Murray Comic Book Collection. The product of 40+ years of collecting by Edwin L. and Terry A. Murray, the Murray Comic Book Collection has far-reaching holdings, from mainstays like DC to smaller publishers like Pacific Comics. It has an enormous volume of materials–almost 290 linear feet, or nearly the height of the Statue of Liberty from the ground to torch (305 feet)![i] And it’s very comprehensive: to quote our finding aid, the Marvel series contains “near-complete runs of Avengers, Captain America, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Incredible Hulk, Punisher, Spider-Man, Thor, and X-Men.”
The Murray Comic Book Collection has been good to us, providing us with ample opportunities to use its holdings for instruction sessions, reference questions, research, and even blog posts. We want to be good to it, too. With the spirit of the New Year at our backs, we’re embarking on a project to reprocess the titles in the collection as serials. Thus, beginning March 1st, 2016, the Edwin and Terry Murray Comic Book Collection will be closed to researcher use.
You may now be wondering: what’s a serial?
A serial “is a resource issued in successive parts, usually bearing numbering, that has no predetermined conclusion.”[i] When you look at that definition, it’s obvious that many comics are serials. A quick browse of our finding aid shows our comic titles are often issued in successive parts (see the numbering of Sensation Comics below), and there are some that are still going strong after decades of issues. In fact, the Rubenstein has issues of Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories dating from the 1940s!
By thinking of the Murray Comic Book collection as serials rather than as one big collection, we can go over it with a finer toothed comb: we learn even more about what we have, such as when a comic book series spawns a new series, or exactly how many issues we need to make a series complete. With that information, we’re then able to catalog each title individually, creating and/or improving upon records in our library catalog. Once this project is complete, you’ll be able to type in a title—like Action comics—into our search engine, and its very own record will come up. There will be direct access to serial titles, complete with listings of the issues we hold.
As might be expected, this project will take time, which is why we’ve decided to close the collection March 1st. We’ll need to sort those 290 linear feet of comic books, grouping by titles and sleuthing out potential issues. We’ll also look at rehousing the titles in the collection. After that, we’ll catalog them as titles, so that researchers will be able to use their own super powerful research skills to locate our holdings quickly and easily. No lassoing of truth necessary.
Post contributed by Liz Adams, Special Collections Cataloger.
[i]“Statue facts.” The Statue of Liberty Facts. The Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. All Rights Reserved., n.d. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.
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.
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).
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.
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.
In September of 1982, a librarian at Duke set up a simple loose-leaf binder suggestion book in the lobby of Perkins Library. Each page in the book had a spaces for three suggestions/questions and three answers. In October of that year, the first group of pages with written suggestions and questions were removed, taken home by that librarian and answered in long-hand, then typed up by an administrative assistant directly onto the original pages and placed back in the book for anyone to read. This was the beginning of the Perkins Library Suggestion/Answer Book, a popular tradition that would live on, in more than one form, for more than twenty years.
At first, the binders were available in the Reference area after the pages filled up; then photocopied versions were bound into volumes and included in the Perkins and Lily Library stacks. In 1993, a “best of” selection was printed in a limited run in-house. But now, the original pages—with accumulated detritus of organic material, white-out, pen and pencil scribbling, and water damage—have at last come to the University Archives for preservation and long-term storage. Some pages are missing and the binders were exposed to water at some point; the lovely people in Conservation have already dealt with some inert mold and the pages are now being rehoused in acid-free folders.
The pages are fascinating. The suggestions and questions are signs of the times, demonstrate student engagement with the library and the University as a whole, and show students being students: curious, angst-y, angry, grateful, silly, and thoughtful. In return, the Answer Person is both serious and facetious, deflecting offensive questions with jokes, omitting names, giving in-depth answers from outside sources, taking constructive suggestions and compliments to heart, and generally being a librarian (often instructing suggest-ers and questioners where they can find their answers instead of simply providing easy answers for them).
Some concerns are clearly timeless: why is the library so cold, why aren’t the printers working, more bathrooms, more food, more lights, please restock the toilet paper:
Some other entries are very much of their time, like the suggestion about types of cigarettes for the vending machines (smoking in the library! This archivist is horrified):
While others are somehow a combination of both, as with this plaintive cry (the very first Library Answer Person question) for space to write and do work on one’s own machine (substitute typewriter with laptop), or this detailed discussion of a current television show (substitute Twin Peaks with Game of Thrones or Man in the High Castle – I mean, whaaaaaat?!):
Many discuss the library and how it could be improved or where it is doing nicely, showing a community engagement with the library that is as strong as it is critical. Also, people really loved the red-haired Reference Librarian and Stuart the Government Documents Librarian:
Then there are the ones I giggled over, the ones that are just people being people, weird and silly:
The sports fans:
People developed a relationship with the Suggestion/Answer Book, and frequently referred back to earlier questions and answers, coming back to see if their own questions had been answered, and responding to the answers and other peoples’ comments. Frequently, there are multiple commenters on a given entry. This kind of discussion led to some deep discussions on controversial or difficult topics, such as the nature of modern art and race in the Duke community (the page with the question #1346A is responding to is unfortunately missing):
And finally, there are the poignant departures:
These pages are a tangible window into the Duke student body’s engagement with the Library, with the University, and with each other. Like a proto-Internet comments page, there is a smorgasbord of humanity here: anger, plentiful curse words, sexism, racism, homophobia, compliments, intelligence, optimism, gratitude, tolerance, joy, and well-wishes. Plus a bag of grits.
To give away a decades-old open secret, the Perkins Library Suggestion/Answer Book Person was John Lubans, Public Services Librarian and Assistant University Librarian, here at Duke from 1982-2001 and the donor of these pages to the University Archives.
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).
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.
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).
On November 28, 1980, the Duvalier regime unleashed a campaign of violent repression on the independent press and human rights activists, destroying the Radio Haiti station on Rue du Quai in downtown Port-au-Prince. The crackdown was not unexpected: in October of that year, Jean-Claude Duvalier had decreed on the National Radio station that only state media would be permitted, that “the party is over” (“le bal est terminé”) for independent Haitian media. In response, Jean Dominique composed his prophetic (and beloved) editorial Bon appétit, messieurs, in which he sardonically declares, “gentlemen, journalists of the official press — the country is yours and yours alone from now on. And all will be beautiful, all will be peaceful, all will be idyllic, all will be pink and wonderful!” and warns these “official journalists” of what will befall Haiti when the independent press is silenced. Ronald Reagan’s triumph in the US presidential election that November meant decreased international pressure on Duvalier’s government – which was largely dependent on US aid – to respect human rights. And so, on November 28, the inevitable crackdown occurred. More than a dozen of Radio Haiti’s journalists were imprisoned, tortured, and expelled. The regime issued an order to kill Jean Dominique on sight; he escaped to the Venezuelan embassy and later went into exile with Michèle Montas in New York. In the years that followed, resistance to the regime spread throughout the country, as economic conditions worsened for the majority of Haitian citizens while the Duvalier family’s lifestyle grew more ostentatious, lavish and dissipated.
On November 28, 1985, five years to the day after the 1980 crackdown on the independent media, protests broke out in Haiti’s third-largest city, Gonaïves. Three high school students — Jean-Robert Cius, Mackenson Michel, and Daniel Israël – were gunned down by Duvalier’s Tontons Macoutes. In photos, they are heartbreakingly young – boys, not yet men. The teenaged martyrs were christened the “Twa Flè Lespwa” (Three Flowers of Hope), and their deaths catalyzed outrage and resistance to the regime, both within Haiti and in Haitian communities abroad.
In January 1986, Jean Dominique co-authored a short op ed in Newsday with lawyer and human rights advocate Arthur Helton, discussing the deaths of the Twa Flè Lespwa, the grassroots agitation provoked by their murders, and the United States’ complicity in supporting the Duvalier regime.
They warn, perhaps cautiously: “Discontent grows and a fundamental conflict is looming.” The conflict was indeed looming, but it was not yet clear how imminent it might be.
But on February 7, 1986, just over a week after Jean Dominique’s and Arthur Helton’s editorial was published, it happened: Jean-Claude Duvalier and his family boarded a US Air Force cargo plane and fled to France. On March 4, Jean Dominique and Michèle Montas returned to Port-au-Prince, where many thousands of people – “une masse en délire,” a delirious crowd, according to the Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste – received them at the airport and nearly carried them to the old Radio Haiti station on Rue du Quai.
The station had been ravaged, their equipment smashed. But the recordings, miraculously, had survived. J.J. Dominique – Jean’s eldest daughter, who became the station manager after 1986 — explains: “We always said, ‘The Macoutes, they may destroy, but they don’t know the true value of so many things’… They didn’t think, they didn’t understand that the most valuable thing at the station was the work contained in the station’s archive.”
With assistance from the Haitian people – many of whom, though very poor, gave what little money they could afford — the station reopened in 1986. On November 28 of that year, Radio Haiti held a day-long commemoration of November 28, 1980 and November 28, 1985. It included tributes to the Twa Flè Lespwa and to station manager Richard Brisson who had been killed in 1982.
The archive also contains many pages of poetry written by Radio Haiti’s listeners, in Haitian Creole and French, on the Twa Flè Lespwa, the reopening of the station and the return of the journalists. The heartfelt, earnest intensity of these poems (these love letters, really) evinces the public’s devotion to Radio Haiti. For Radio Haiti’s listeners, the station was more than a station; it was a symbol of liberty, grassroots democracy, and freedom of expression. For Radio Haiti’s listeners, the journalists were more than journalists; they were heirs to the revolutionary legacy of Haitian heroes who had fought against French colonizers and US occupiers. For me, as the project archivist, finding these poems is a reminder of how irreplaceable and beloved Radio Haiti was and still remains, and how important this archive is.
A day like today
Under the sorrowful sky of November 28 in the year ‘80
Haiti’s sun went out
Sending these brave men, these heroes,
Fruit of the body of Dessalines, of Charlemagne Péralte
Fighting with courage,
For nothing more than the liberation of Haiti,
Upon the claws of assassins cruel
With hope they suffered and toiled
All for the same cause.
A day like today
The skies of Haiti wept,
And her tears, borne of pain,
Allowed life to germinate.
You, brave patriots, true offspring of the people,
You have suffered such humiliation
And endured physical torture.
You left your families
Your country and your friends
To go and live under another sky
Where you were strangers
All of this for nothing more than the deliberation of Haiti
Your native land…
A day like today
In the heavens over Gonaïves,
Three brilliant stars burned out
They gave their light
To reveal crimes
And their blood to fertilize
The arid soil of Haiti
Whereupon shall sprout and grow
The tree of freedom.
Mackenson Michel, Daniel Israël, Jean Robert Cius
Will your famous names,
Be erased from our thoughts?
Today, 28 November ’86…
“Men bèl ti paròl yo” (“Some lovely little words”) draws on metaphors of nature and harvest befitting Jean Dominique, a man who was, after all, an agronomist before he was a journalist and activist. The poet touchingly explains that he “spent all night thinking about Radio Haïti-Inter” before setting pen to paper.
If the sun didn’t shine, plants would not give fruit
If the rain didn’t fall, drought would never stop dancing,
If the rain didn’t fall, there would be no springs
Springs would not give rise to rivulets
Rivulets would not become streams
Streams would not become rivers,
Rivers would not become the sea…
Radio Haiti, you are the sea, we are the fish
If you were to dry up, we could not live.
Radio Haiti, you are our rain,
If you didn’t fall, we could not bloom…
Radio Haiti, be encouraged! Sow! Plant!
God will bring it to fruition.
Let us weed, even if the thorns are many,
The pruning shears of the Holy Spirit will aid us always.
From “Haiti-Inter, You are the Mother of Liberation”:
Yes, you are the mother of liberation
Because when the children of your womb were suffering
You never closed your eyes to it
You stood bravely to defend the people
Just as a mother hen would do
If a vulture came to devour her children…
Now the idol of the Haitian people
Has returned to continue
The wonderful work it began
Beautiful mama, hold on tighter
Stronger – courage — never give up.
Post contributed by Laura Wagner, PhD, Radio Haiti Project Archivist.
I catalog manuscript and other archival materials, the majority of which are unpublished and not described. They also cover a wide variety in type of material. Among the more exotic finds I have cataloged: a salesmen’s kit with patterns for men’s suits, musical instruments used by a jazz percussionist, feminist t-shirts, John Brown commemorative medals, and envelopes of 19-century bath and other powders.
When faced with an unfamiliar format, a cataloger begins by looking for similar materials cataloged by colleagues nationally, searching in WorldCat. I found only a few pieces of embroidery, usually samplers, and those did not include extensive description of the item. I was determined to provide more detail than a basic record.
Fortunately, our donor had included with the Brontë needlepoint a photocopy from a book on Brontë artwork. The page focused on a flower study Charlotte had completed in watercolors while she was still in school. It offered a description of the piece which provided the level of detail I was seeking, so I based my own approach on it. However, to move forward with this approach I needed to confirm what flowers were depicted in Charlotte’s needlepoint study.
There was no argument that the top flower is a white lily. I felt the bottom left flower was a peony, while others said it was a rose. I had no clue what the bottom right flower might be. Who to consult? I approached a colleague who hails from England, and she offered to forward my photograph of the needlepoint to her father, who is a master gardener. After consulting his references, he agreed that the bottom left flower is a peony, and determined that the unknown flower on the bottom right is probably a carnation.
I also had to consult with Beth Doyle, head of our Conservation Services Department, regarding whether Charlotte’s needlepoint should be removed from its frame. While answering this question (no) Beth let me know the thread Charlotte used was probably wool. Beth’s mother is a master needleworker who may be able to determine what type of stitch Charlotte used.
Using all of this information, I wrote a description that provided the level of detail I was seeking, to give someone a basic mental image of the piece they would then find in our collection. However, even after I finished my initial work, one more consultation was required. My colleague, Lauren Reno, checked my catalogue record in RDA, the new cataloging standard I am applying to manuscript materials. She made several helpful enhancements.
I am very grateful for the “village” of people I can call upon in support of my work.
What can we learn from the gaps, absences, and silences in an archive? What are the stories that are hidden between the lines?
From September 1991 to October 1994, Haiti was ruled by a military junta that overthrew the democratically-elected government only a few months after it came into power. The military regime was a particularly unjust and brutal era in Haiti’s unjust and brutal history, in which dissidents, pro-democracy and human rights activists, and journalists were beaten, raped, imprisoned, and killed by military and paramilitary forces. The politically-engaged poor were especially targeted, and subjected to physical and psychological terror. The US responded by imposing a trade embargo on the de facto regime, in the hope that economic sanctions would force the coup leaders from power, but the embargo hurt the poorest and most marginalized Haitians the most. Fearing political persecution and struggling under a suffocated economy, tens of thousands of people fled on boats seeking refuge in the United States. Much as Reagan had done in the early 1980s, the Bush administration claimed that the Haitian refugees were not victims of human rights violations, and therefore the US would not grant them political asylum. Many died at sea; others were incarcerated at detention camps at Guantanamo; most were repatriated to Haiti (where some were indeed killed for their politics).
Radio Haiti stopped broadcasting on October 4, 1991, five days after the coup d’état, after the military regime cracked down on independent media. Soon after, Jean Dominique and Michèle Montas went into exile in New York for the second time. The station did not open again until 1994.
We have no tapes from that time, save one – a recording of the July 1993 meeting at Governors Island in New York, where US officials attempted to broker an agreement between deposed president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and junta leader Raoul Cédras. When Radio Haiti was on the air, the paper materials reflect the audio materials: on-air scripts and journalists’ notes, and printed material from Haitian organizations. By contrast, the paper archive contains no notes and no scripts from the coup years, except for Jean Dominique’s assiduously detailed handwritten chronology of the Governors Island meeting.
But it is not a passive silence; it is a fraught and frustrated silence, an absence that draws attention to itself. Radio Haiti’s paper archive gives us a glimpse of Jean Dominique’s experience of exile – of a time when he, like the Haitian masses, could not speak freely in his homeland; of a time before the Internet and long before social media, when reliable firsthand information coming from Haiti was scant, terrifying, and tragic. For a Haitian in exile from Haiti, a journalist exiled from his microphone, the distance must have been unbearable.
The volume of secondary printed material from 1991 to 1994 testifies to an archive passionately and scrupulously amassed. There are several fat, overstuffed folders filled with tightly-bound news clippings, most of them from American media – the New York Times, Newsweek, the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post the Nation. We have several artifacts from the reliably nuanced and thoughtful New YorkPost.
There are also clippings from smaller publications, such as college newspapers and newspapers of the Haitian and Caribbean communities in New York. There are in-depth articles, photo spreads, short op eds, brief marginal asides. They were cut out of newspapers, mailed by friends and family (often with notes attached). These articles detail the mounting violence in Haiti, the effects of the embargo, the plight of refugees at sea and incarcerated at Guantanamo, the Bush administration’s refusal to grant asylum, and pro-Aristide demonstrations in New York, Miami, Washington DC, and elsewhere.
The collection features some rather extraordinary documents. There is this acerbic fax from pro-democracy activist Antoine Izméry, dripping with unconcealed disdain, congratulating Bush on his loss in the 1992 presidential election. “You failed all over,” Izméry declares. He decries the Bush administration’s racism, hypocrisy, and self-interest and blames the US for engineering the 1991 coup, before wishing the departing president a “peaceful and repentant retirement.”
Also in the archive is a copy of this press release from Father Gérard Jean-Juste, a liberation theology priest and prominent Aristide supporter. Jean-Juste, “in hiding in Haiti,” refers to Bush’s “skinhead policy,” suggests that Bush’s sudden illness at a state dinner in Japan earlier that year was the result of a
“voodoo curse,” and implores him to “BE A GENUINE AMERICAN, Mr. BUSH. Get your perceived KKK titles off. Work your way to HEAVEN as being a christian.”
Haiti’s beleaguered pro-democracy movement was hopeful that the election of Bill Clinton would lead to more just and humane policies toward Haitian refugees and the restoration of the Aristide government. But Clinton ultimately did little to improve conditions for Haitian refugees, and Aristide would not return to power until nearly two years later, after armed intervention by the United States. By then, Antoine Izméry would be dead. He was dragged from Sacre Coeur church by plainclothes police and shot dead in the street on September 11, 1993 in full view of parishioners and human rights observers attending a commemoration of the 1988 St. Jean Bosco massacre.
In late 1994, after Aristide was restored to power, Radio Haïti reopened. The three years of radio silence were broken by a new series of jubilant jingles and slogans: Nou tounen! Nou la pi rèd![We’re back! We’re here stronger than ever!] But the damage wrought by the coup years and the conditions of Aristide’s return was enduring; the pro-democracy movement would never again possess the same momentum or clear emancipatory promise that it had in 1991.
Post contributed by Laura Wagner, Ph.D., Radio Haiti Project Archivist.
Previously I have written about what I termed an “accidental collection” that occurred with collections of print ads cut from magazines, whereby frequently interesting and equally historical ads appear on the back side of the ad that was intentionally collected. Accidental collections remain hidden unless there is some way to document their presence. Unfortunately, there are not many mechanisms in current archival description “best practices” to document them.
Recently I’ve encountered another and quite different kind of accidental collection. I’m currently working with the Cause Marketing Forum’s Halo Awards collection recently acquired by the Hartman Center. This award is given to projects that utilize marketing and media to promote social causes via partnerships between businesses and nonprofit organizations such as Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the USO among many others. While “cause marketing” as a term may not be a familiar one, the campaigns form a significant part of businesses’ and nonprofits’ marketing efforts and many are probably well known to you: Race for the Cure; VH1 Save the Music; Cartoon Network’s Rescue Recess; Lee National Denim Day; and at holiday time your favorite department store has likely teamed up with the likes of Toys for Tots, the Salvation Army or a local food bank or rescue shelter. That’s cause marketing.
The Halo Awards collection contains over a decade’s worth of the award’s entry forms and accompanying documentation, the latter which arrives in a wide variety of formats. One really interesting format here is an amazing variety of promotional thumb drives. Many simply feature a corporate logo or slogan, perhaps a website URL, but others feature artwork or have designs that can range from the emblematic to the whimsical. Time Warner’s “Connect a Million Minds” drive forms a bracelet, while the National Association of Realtors’ Houselogic.com drive looks like a block of wood. A drive for New Balance imitates a running shoe where the heel pulls off to reveal the drive connection. EMTec’s drive resembles a cartoon character whose head comes off, and a drive for Chevron is a toy car where the connection slides out from the rear.
Together these promotional drives form a collection of their own, as artifacts and ephemera representing a form of media belonging to a very particular time (in this case, the past 6 or 7 years). One day the design and promotional nature of these drives may take on an historical importance of its own apart from the significance of the contents of the drives for the collection to which they originally belong. This kind of thing frequently poses a dilemma for archivists and conservators: the relative significance and archival value of the contents of a document or medium versus the form of the media itself. How does one evaluate and/or value the vessel? Is it possible to describe collections within collections, or do the conditions of possibility of one mode of description preclude others?
Post contributed by Rick Collier; photographs by Katrina Martin
While processing the Benjamin Rush papers, which will soon be digitized and available online, Alice Poffinberger, Archivist/Original Cataloger, came across a letter from Thomas Jefferson to fellow Founding Father Dr. Benjamin Rush. The letter, dated January 3, 1808, requests that Rush grant Jefferson’s teenage grandson his “friendly attentions” when he moves to Philadelphia the coming autumn. Though unnamed in the letter, the grandson in question is Thomas Jefferson Randolph, who attended the University of Pennsylvania from 1808 to 1809.
Stating that he is “without that bright fancy that captivates,” Jefferson hopes the fifteen-year-old “possesses sound judgment and much observation” in addition to the quality he values “more than all things, good humor.” Jefferson goes on to list the qualities of the mind he appreciates as good humor, integrity, industry, and science. Following this list, he claims “The preference of the 1st to the 2nd quality may not at first be acquiesced in, but certainly we had all rather associate with a good humored light-principled man, than an ill-tempered rigorist in morality.”
Randolph would go on to serve six terms in the Virginia House of Delegates and manage his grandfather’s sizable debts as the sole executor of his estate.
Post contributed by Katrina Martin, Technical Services Assistant.
The Radio Haiti archive project is underway! We’ve spent the first couple weeks creating a behemoth database…
…assigning each and every tape a unique ID number, and putting the tapes in nice new comfortable bar-coded boxes. This means that an archive which arrived looking like this…
… now, happily, looks like this.
We are incredibly fortunate that the former Radio Haiti staff and friends and family in Port-au-Prince (you know who you are!) sent the tapes with a detailed inventory — it makes our job so much easier.
We are also inspecting the tapes for mold (and we have found mold aplenty).
We are also keeping track of which tapes are going to require a little extra TLC.
We’re creating rather sweeping controlled vocabulary — describing subjects, names, and places that appear in the archive. Once we’ve put in all this metadata, we can send the more than 3500 tapes off to be cleaned and digitized.
These tasks (organizing, typing in data, cross-referencing, labeling, bar-coding, describing, mold-noting), while arguably unglamorous, are necessary groundwork for eventually making the recordings publicly accessible, ensuring that these tapes can speak again, and that Radyo Ayiti pap peri (Radio Haiti will never perish).
We’ve only listened to a small sampling of the recordings so far, but the tapes themselves, as physical objects, tell a story. Even the mold is part of the story. That white mold on the tapes and the dusty dark mildew on the tape boxes tell of the Radio Haiti journalists’ multiple exiles during which the tapes remained in the tropics and the future of the station was uncertain.
To glance over the titles of the recordings — the labels on their spines, lined up in order, row upon row — is to chart the outline of late 20th century Haitian political history — a chronology of presidencies, coups, interventions, massacres, disappearances, and impunity. The eighty-nine tapes chronicling the Raboteau trial of 2000, in which former junta leaders were tried for the 1994 torture and massacre of civilians, take up an entire shelf.
And then there is the long, long sequence of recordings after the April 3, 2000 assassination of Jean Dominique, when the center of the station’s orbit violently and irrevocably shifted.
It is uncanny to look at the tapes with hindsight and see the patterns emerge. Here is the political landscape of Haiti, from the 1970s to the 2000s, from dictatorship to the democratic era: The same impunity, the same lies, the same corruption, the same suffering, the same mentalities, the same machinations. Chameleons change their color, oppressors repaint their faces, state-sanctioned killings become extrajudicial killings, and the poor generally come off the worst.
The journalists who did these reports and conducted these interviews experienced these events in real time. They could not yet know the whole story because, in each of these moments, they were in the middle of it. For them, the enthusiasm of 1986 (after Duvalier fell, and Radio Haiti’s staff returned from their first exile) and of 1994 (when Aristide was reinstated, and Radio Haiti’s staff returned from their second exile) was unfettered. Likewise, for them, the struggle against impunity and injustice was urgent.
There is a recording labeled “Justice Dossier Jando Blocage 4.9.01” — “Justice Jean Dominique case blocked investigation.” Those short words contain a saga: by September 2001, a year and a half after Jean Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint were murdered, Radio Haiti was already reporting on how the investigation had stalled. In 2001, perhaps, justice appeared attainable, just out of reach. Now, fourteen years later, the case remains unsolved.
Back in 2011, I attended a talk by Haitian human rights activist Jean-Claude Bajeux in Port-au-Prince, where he said, “gen anpil fantòm kap sikile nan peyi a ki pa gen stati.” (“there are many ghosts wandering through this country that have no statue”). He was speaking of those who were disappeared under the Duvalier regime. But he could have been speaking, too, of innumerable others who have died and been erased – those who were killed by the earthquake, under the military regime, through direct political violence and through the structural violence of everyday oppression.
This archive is not a statue or a monument, but it is one place where the dead speak. Sometimes the controlled vocabulary feels like an inventory of ghosts.
Sometimes I think I am working on an archive that was never meant to be archived, something that was supposed to remain an active, living struggle. I think of how far these clean cardboard storage boxes and quiet temperature-controlled spaces are from the sting of tear gas, the stickiness of blood, the smell of burning tires, the crack of gunfire, the heat and noise, the laughter and fury of Haiti.
But salvaging and preserving are part of the struggle; remembering is, itself, a political act.
Post contributed by Laura Wagner, Radio Haiti Project Archivist.
Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University