The Asian/Pacific Studies Institute (APSI), Duke University
Asian & Middle Eastern Studies Department, Critical Asian Humanities, Duke University
Duke University Libraries
Council of East Asian Libraries’ CCM Workshop Series on Digital Projects of Chinese Studies
The Memory Project was launched by Chinese pioneer independent filmmaker Wu Wenguang (吴文光) to document oral histories from survivors of the Great Famine that devastated China as the “Three Years of Natural Disasters”, and caused the death of between 20 and 43 million people. The interviews collected widely across rural China add intimate detail and humanity to the story of the deaths and starvation of millions of Chinese, providing a unique perspective on the unofficial history of the Great Famine. Duke University Libraries is the exclusive home for the project archives making raw footage available to students, researchers and the general public. The workshop will introduce the project, provide a tutorial on accessing archival materials and feature multiple filmmakers from China.
Guo-Juin Hong, Professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Duke University, who introduced the project and the filmmakers to the Duke community, is also collaborator of the Memory Project archives at Duke University Libraries.
Zhang Mengqi, a Chinese documentary filmmaker and performer, who joined the project from the beginning, has developed a series of Self-Portraits in her father’s village.
Yu Shuang, a Duke graduate in Cultural Anthropology, who joined the project from winter 2019.
Gao Ang, a PhD candidate in documentary filmmaking at Newcastle University in the UK, who joined the project as filmmaker and researcher.
Luo Zhou, Librarian for Chinese studies at Duke University Libraries, who is also the curator of the Memory Project archive.
If you are interested in knowing more details about the Memory Project, please see Luo Zhou’s 2019 report in the Journal of East Asian Libraries.
The fifth post in the blog series on the role of international collections and their collectors in promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion was contributed by Ernest Zitser, Ph.D,Librarian for Slavic, Eurasian, and Eastern European Studies, International & Area Studies (IAS) Department, Duke University Libraries (DUL), Library Liaison to the International Comparative Studies Program, and Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies, Duke University.
We are all still processing the outcome of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the white police officer who murdered George Floyd, an unarmed African-American man, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, exactly one year ago. Each of us is looking for ways to deal with the situation as best we can. From the very beginning, my thoughts have latched on to the uncanny coincidence that the 21st-century American police officer shares the same surname as the 19th-century Napoleonic French soldier for whom “chauvinism”—the prejudiced support for one’s own cause, group, or sex—is named.
As one of the editors of the IAS blog series on equity, diversity, and inclusion in international area studies collecting, I have also been thinking about what Duke’s research librarians, in our official capacity as tillers in the grove of academe, can do to help bring about positive social change. That line of thought has led me to focus on the similarities between two individuals who, at first glance, appear to have very little in common, but whose life’s work speaks precisely to the issues that we have been discussing in our blog posts: Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959) and Pauli Murray (1910-1985).
Both the Polish-Jewish international human rights activist and the African-American civil rights leader were trained as lawyers. Both arrived in Durham due to circumstances beyond their control: Lemkin as a refugee from Nazi-occupied Europe, thanks to his American friend and colleague, Professor Malcolm McDermott, of Duke University’s Law School; Murray as an orphaned child, who was taken in by her maternal grandparents and aunt at the age of three.
Despite their intellectual gifts and academic accomplishments, both Lemkin and Murray had a complicated relationship to North Carolina’s elite educational institutions. Lemkin spent fourteen months at Duke University in 1941-1942, but was never allowed to teach in the Law School of this predominantly white, Anglo-Saxon, Methodist establishment, partly because this “white crow” could never successfully pass himself off as a full-blooded “Pole”—the citizen of a freedom-loving “republic” endangered by the forces of “totalitarianism”—rather than as just another refugee Jewish scholar.
Similarly, Murray applied and was denied entry to a Ph.D. program at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 1938, not only because she was African American and, as such, proscribed by Jim Crow legislation from attending any public school that was not segregated by race; but also, if perhaps less obviously, because she lived as a (genderqueer) woman in a heteronormative, patriarchal society governed by the (un)written codes of what she later described as “Jane Crow.”
One of the qualities that makes Lemkin and Murray such extraordinary individuals is that they did not meekly accept the status quo but, rather, successfully used their unique skill sets to push back against the laws and attitudes that sought to marginalize them. They did so in part by authoring books that changed the world. Lemkin’s Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation, Analysis of Government, Proposals for Redress (1944)—available in both print and electronic versions at DUL—coined the term “genocide,” provided some of the legal argumentation for the trials of Nazi war criminals at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg (1945-1949), and ultimately became the basis for the United Nations’ “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide” (1951).
Despite their different backgrounds, both lawyers adopted a similar approach to the primary sources that served as the basis of their landmark scholarly publications. During his brief stay at Duke, Lemkin worked on compiling, translating, and contextualizing the racially based legislation imposed on the formerly free citizens of the European countries conquered at the start of World War II by Nazi Germany and its allies.
His analysis of German-language gazettes published by Nazi military governments—an impressive collection of which is available at DUL—demonstrated the existence, and deliberate implementation, of a formally legal, but (Lemkin argued) internationally criminal set of laws meant to expropriate, exploit, and, ultimately, exterminate an entire group of people (Jews) whom the Nazi’s defined as a subhuman “race.”
Similarly, Murray’s groundbreaking research boldly tackled the racially based legislation imposed on the formerly enslaved and only recently enfranchised citizens of the United States—including in her adopted home state of North Carolina—by the democratically elected representatives of the American people.
Her analysis demonstrated that from the very beginning of the post-Civil War “Era of Reconstruction,” the freely elected leaders of the formally democratic and egalitarian republic imposed a set of discriminatory laws explicitly designed to deprive African-American citizens of their constitutional rights, to institutionalize racial segregation, and to terrorize this racialized minority into submission to white supremacy.
The political significance of the works penned by Lemkin and Murray cannot be overstated, especially during the turbulent times in which we presently find ourselves. In their professional yet impassioned writings, these two legal scholars showed that, regardless of whether it resulted from military conquest or the democratic electoral process, a racist legal system was ultimately based on the threat (and frequent application) of violence against the bodies and psyches of the members of the outcast group, rather than on the principles dictated by ethical conceptions of equity and human rights. Furthermore, by their personal commitment to the cause of social justice, they demonstrated that scholarship was not divorced from real life and that “ivory-tower” academics had as much to contribute to positive change “out there” in the world as full-time political activists. It is for this reason, as much as for their books, that Lemkin and Murray have become revered role models of the international movement for the rights of everyone—regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation—who has ever experienced the toxic effects of chauvinism.
From the perspective of academic librarians, the lives and works of Lemkin and Murray demonstrate the vital importance of our mission to collect, preserve, and curate the research material that serves as the basis of paradigm-changing scholarship. Neither Lemkin nor Murray could have done the research that informed their arguments were it not for the law books—both foreign and domestic—that were purchased and made accessible to these avid users of academic research libraries. At Duke, this type of collecting for diversity continues, not only in the Goodson Law Library, but also in the other repositories that make up the university library system.
Another example is the work of the library’s Human Rights Archive, which “partners with the human rights community to preserve the history and legacy of human rights around the world.” Even a brief look at the Archive’s online guide, which now includes a link to a guide about Raphael Lemkin at Duke, demonstrates that collecting and curating materials on international movements for political, socio-economic, and racial justice is an important component of how Duke libraries seeks to support the university’s mission of fostering the kind of transformative scholarship that is exemplified by the works of Lemkin and Murray.
Like these other library units, the International and Area Studies department has eagerly taken up the challenge of creating a “supportive environment for research, learning, and academic community” and “strengthening Duke’s capacity to address global challenges for communities across the world” (the third and fourth goals of the University’s academic strategic plan). The international and area studies collections built and curated by IAS staff demonstrate that racialized judicial systems and the violence that they generate are located all over the globe and characterize all kinds of polities. Ascribed definitions of social identity, the legal mechanisms that enforce them, and the civil rights activism that is required to reform systems of institutionalized discrimination and oppression are not the monopoly of any one country or political party. Unfortunately, the contemporary United States is not the only place in the world to demonstrate the ease and rapidity with which conspiracy-minded, populist demagogues and their supporters (both in and out of the halls of power), can stoke the fears of an already-anxious electorate of formally democratic countries and channel these feelings into legalized expressions of xenophobia, discrimination, and violence.
The books on post-Communist Russia and eastern Europe that I collect, for example, offer plenty of evidence for the proposition that it doesn’t take much for the judicial system of a formally democratic country to fall into the clutches of a corrupt, conservative, political party bent on undermining the rule of law and institutionalizing policies that trample on the human rights of racial, religious, and sexual minorities. These contemporary case studies also demonstrate the important role that concerned individuals, domestic civil rights groups, and international organizations play in holding oppressive and illiberal regimes accountable for their actions. In so doing, the materials in Duke’s Russian, Eurasian, and Eastern European Studies collection not only inform students about international developments or provide scholars with the qualitative and quantitative data needed to conduct robust comparative and cross-cultural studies. They also acquaint political activists with potential partners in the global struggle against all forms of oppression and provide strategies for pursuing a viable, international, human rights agenda.
Today, on the first anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, we still do not know whether Chauvin’s conviction is a milestone in the process of dismantling a racially based caste system that undergirds carceral capitalism in the age of surveillance or merely an exception that proves the rule. What we do know is that the outcome depends on what we—all of us—do to ensure that chauvinism never trumps the rule of law.
Like other members of the Duke community, the university’s academic librarians are committed to supporting anti-racist scholarship, leadership, and service. As citizens of both the American republic and the international republic of letters, we also have the opportunity and the means (despite straitened circumstances) to make a difference on both the local and the global levels. That is why I am so confident that the research materials strategically selected by Duke University’s archivists, curators, and international area studies librarians will make it possible for a new generation of Lemkins and Murrays to publish paradigm-shifting books that will help us to imagine, and work towards realizing, a more humane, equitable, and just world.
The fourth post in the blog series on the role of international collections and their collectors in promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion was contributed by Luo Zhou, Chinese Studies Librarian, International and Area Studies Department, Duke University Libraries.
Collecting for global diversity is more than a matter of identifying, locating, and acquiring distinctive, international and area studies materials for Duke University Libraries (DUL). In order for these resources to be useful to students and researchers, foreign language materials must also be described and organized in a way that makes them comprehensible, accessible, and discoverable. Librarians from the International and Area Studies (IAS) Department collaborate closely with the catalogers, archivists, and metadata specialists in our Technical Services (TS) Department in order to make that happen as smoothly and efficiently as possible with finite financial and human resources at DUL’s disposal.
As the following description of the behind-the-scenes work that went into creating multilingual metadata for the digital collection of Sidney D. Gamble Photographs demonstrates, cataloging international materials poses not only a technical and linguistic challenge, but also an intellectual and ethical one. That is because the act of translation—in this case, from one format type (analog/digital) and language (English/Chinese) to another—requires the active intervention of a diverse group of library staff with both the subject expertise and the cultural literacy to provide just the right description at just the right time.
The collection of 4,700 black-and-white photographs and 600 hand-colored lantern slides amassed by the prominent Sinologist, sociologist, and amateur photographer Sidney D. Gamble (1890-1968) depicts pre-revolutionary China’s urban and rural life, public events, architecture, religious statuary, and the countryside in the 1920s and 1930s. Over the course of his long and illustrious academic career, Gamble published seven books on China and always used his photographs to supplement his narrative. He even created an index of roll numbers, exposure numbers, and brief captions, which usually included the place names and subjects depicted in his photos. This index functioned, in effect, as the analog version of the initial metadata that was used to describe the digitized version of Gamble’s photos. But, as I will demonstrate below, this was only the beginning of the process of cataloging, contextualizing, and providing access to the images in the Gamble digital collection.
As Duke’s subject specialist on China, I started working on the black-and-white images in early 2008, when the Gamble collection first arrived at DUL’s Rare Book and Special Collections (now Rubenstein) Library. The original nitrate negatives had just been digitized and placed in cold storage, to preserve them in perpetuity. Gamble’s own handwritten and typed captions, which were digitized alongside these fragile negatives, were transformed into raw text using optical character recognition (OCR) software. The digital version of Gamble’s captions thus became the foundation for the image captions and geographic headings of the Gamble digital collection as a whole. The collection was published on the DUL website in fall 2008 and immediately attracted the attention of researchers worldwide. The hand-colored lantern slides were digitized and added to the digital collection in 2014. Another photo album, containing 170 images of Gamble’s first China trip with his family, was the latest item digitized and added to the database in 2019. The Gamble digital collection that now resides on DUL’s website and servers, therefore, is a careful compilation and comprehensive presentation of all his photographs and slides together with metadata in four different languages: English, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.
Creating bilingual geographic headings in English and Chinese
In 2008, the expert staff in DUL’s Technical Services department extracted out of the raw text from the digitized image labels a list of all toponyms (proper names of places) identified by Gamble. Removing the duplicates left a list of roughly 1,000 alphabetically organized entries for me to work on. That is, I took on the task of adding the Romanized form of Chinese characters—a system of transliteration known as Pinyin—to these place names. After going through the spreadsheet and identifying (and excluding) duplicates, I was able to reduce the total list to about 500 relatively unique geographic place names.
Next, I grouped these Chinese place names into three general categories. The first category consisted of the proper names of well-known and popular places that foreigners regularly visited in early twentieth century China. Gamble’s spellings of these place names—such as Hangchow (for Hangzhou 杭州) and Beijing’s Lama Temple (for Yonghegong 雍和宫)—relied on an earlier, popular, Romanization form of Chinese characters (known as Wade-Giles) and was relatively easy to identify for anyone familiar with the history of the transliteration systems used in the field of Chinese studies. The second, and much smaller group of Chinese toponyms, consisted of photographs depicting locations in neighboring Russia, Japan, and Korea; places with general, descriptive titles (“On the Sea”); and those that lacked any identifying information. The geographical heading assigned to this group usually just referred to the names of the countries that Gamble had visited on his various trips to Asia. The third, and most challenging, group consisted of toponyms for remote or lesser-known locations, as well as those known by a different geographical name than the one in use today. Gamble’s Romanization of these place names was inconsistent and often did not use the standard systems available to him. In fact, many of the geographical names in the last group could not properly identified until a year or two after Gamble’s photos arrived at Duke, sometime in 2009 or 2010, when I was able to do additional archival research about Gamble’s trips and his work in China. And a few were identified more than six years after the database was published when a Chinese blogger provided a clue.
Initially the digitized images and the typed image labels resided in separate locations on the DUL server. Since these items were not yet linked to each other in the database, it was impossible to compare Gamble’s photographs with the captions and geographic locations that supposedly described them. Luckily, after inspecting the physical materials, I realized that Gamble filed his negatives with roll number and exposure number in the order of his visits to different places. By arranging the photos by their roll numbers, I was able to reconstruct his trips in sequence. Inspecting the physical collection also led me to conclude that Gamble used two different photo cameras, which he called “Camera A” and “Camera B.” The negatives of the photos produced by these cameras have roll numbers from 2A to 95A and from 1B to 77B. Later Gamble relied primarily on Camera A, so we have roll numbers from 96 to 663, which actually are 96A to 663A.
To give you an example of how I used these archival discoveries to improve the metadata for the Chinese place names used by Gamble, let’s examine the images in rolls from 2A to 95A and from 1B to 36B, which cover the places Gamble visited from May to October in 1917, when he arrived at Shanghai, before travelling up the Yangtze River into Sichuan (四川) Province. Since most of the photos from this trip were taken in Sichuan Province, the place name that Gamble assigned to Image 1 (Fu Chou in roll 21A) must be located somewhere in Sichuan, despite the fact that this place name also sounds very similar to FooChow (Fuzhou 福州), a city in Fujian (福建), which is an entirely different province. So it is reasonable to conclude that Gamble’s designation (Fu Chou) actually refers to Fuzhou (涪州), which later came to be called Fuling (涪陵), a city famous for its pickles (榨菜). In order to make this location more discoverable in the digital collection, the metadata for this geographic place name now includes both its modern name (Fuling) and its old name (Fuzhou).
To take another, somewhat more complicated example, let’s inspect the toponyms that Gamble assigned to the photo of the walking “spinner” (Image 2). This label confusingly refers to two different place names: Li Fan and Tsa Ka Lo. However, since this photo comes from roll B22, these places must also be located in Sichuan Province. Li Fan is clearly a reference to Lifan County (Lifan Xian 理番县), which changed its name to Li County (Li Xian 理县) in 1945. The County is in today’s Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture (阿坝藏族羌族自治州). The Chinese character 番 means “foreign tribe” while 理 means “to manage.” People living in this region are mainly Tibetans and Qiangs, plus some Hui and Han Chinese. In the eighteenth century, Qianlong Emperor appointed rotating officials to rule this region as a way of incorporating minority groups living on the frontiers of the Qing Empire. The Chinese character for “foreign tribe” (番) was removed from the county name during the Republican era (1912-1949) because of its derogatory connotation, suggesting that the residents of this region were not Han Chinese. The county government sits at Zagunao Town (杂谷脑镇), which comes from Tibetan phrase for “land of good fortune,” as heard and spelled by the Han Chinese. It is not difficult to match Zagunao with Tsa Ka Lo, Gamble’s Romanization of the Chinese place name. The metadata for this place now includes both the old and the modern names (in Pinyin and Chinese characters), which makes it easier for users of this digital collection to match the image with other, textual sources.
Locating the actual place name for Gamble’s “So Village” presented a somewhat different challenge. That name appears on 85 photographs in rolls from both Camera A (44A to 51A) and Camera B (17B to 19B). Judging by its location in the sequence of photographs, this village must also have been located in Sichuan Province, most likely somewhere in the triangle region formed by Mao County (茂县), Wenchuan County (汶川县) and Li County (理县). Since there are also at least three different Chinese words for “village”—cun (村), zhuang (庄) or zhai (寨)—locating it in one of these counties required figuring out what Gamble meant by the word “So.” My initial guess, which was based on the assumption that “So” referred to the name of the honored ancestor of one of the more prominent families in this village, led me to suggest that Gamble’s “So Village” was really called either Suo Cun (索村) or Su Cun (苏村). Unfortunately, neither place name was found in that geographical area.
The actual name and location of Gamble’s “So Village” remained a mystery until a researcher in Sichuan brought my attention to a blog post from China in 2014. According to the Chinese blogger, the name of this agricultural settlement was the Village of Suo Chieftain (Suo Tusi 索土司), called Wasi Tusi Guanzhai (瓦寺土司官寨). With this hint, I went through DUL’s copy of the local gazetteer for the counties of Mao and Wenchuan and confirmed the blogger’s findings. The village of So is located in Wenchuan County and is populated mainly by Rgyalrong Tibetans, who moved to this part of China a very long time ago. Rgyalrong Tibetans believe that they are the descendants of the mythological “Great Peng Bird” (Dapengniao, 大鹏鸟) and therefore use a bird as their totem. Interestingly, one of Gamble’s photos (Image 3) shows a guardian statue on top of a gateway: it has a bird’s head and a human’s body and is holding a snake in its hands. This image from the Gamble collection matches the description of the village entrance in a local gazetteer published in 1997. And so, now, the metadata for “So Village” has been updated to read: Wasi Tusi Guanzhai (瓦寺土司官寨), located in Miansi Town (绵虒镇) of Wenchaung County (汶川县).
Adding Metadata, Adding Value
As these three examples suggest, identifying and assigning accurate geographical descriptions to the photos in DUL’s Gamble digital collection is as much an art as a science. Usually, it depends on a knowledge of the language and history of China and a good bit of research. But, sometimes, all you need is a helpful hint from a user located on the other side of the globe. The fact that the blog post about the contemporary name of “So Village” would never have been brought to my attention if the digital collection did not include Chinese language metadata only serves to confirm the importance of creating bilingual geographic headings for digital collections of non-English materials.
The “added value” of revising metadata cannot be put into strictly monetary terms; nor can it always be counted, like the number of clicks on a webpage. The value of including bilingual geographic headings, for example, is not merely a matter of convenience, i.e. the fact that it allows researchers who may be familiar with only one place name to identify all the photographs in the Gamble collection that are associated with this toponym. Revision of metadata also makes it possible to uncover the existence of suppressed, unknown, or undocumented subjects in DUL’s image collections (such as the Han Chinese of Zagunao and the Rgyalrong Tibetans of Wasi Tusi Guanzhai). But its true value lies in the intention to establish a meaningful connection between the international and area studies materials collected by DUL’s subject specialists and the researchers who use them, irrespective of where these researchers happen to live, what religion they practice, and what language they speak. And it is precisely because of DUL’s commitment to such cosmopolitan values that the geographical headings in the Gamble digital collection will continue to be updated and revised as new research findings come out.
The third post in the blog series on the role of international collections and their collectors in promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion was contributed by Heidi Madden, Ph.D., Librarian for Western European and Medieval Renaissance Studies, International and Area Studies Department, Duke University Libraries.
Muslims represented around 5% of the total European Union (EU) population in 2016, and according to the World Fact Book, the highest numbers of Europe’s Muslims reside in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The influx of refugees fleeing conflicts in the predominantly Muslim countries of the Middle East (and parts of Africa) and seeking asylum in the EU has prompted heated debates about immigration, social integration, security policies, and religious freedom. In response to these debates, governments in several different EU countries have passed legislation restricting religious expression in public places (especially schools) in an effort to maintain a strict separation between church and state and to foster religious pluralism without creating civil strife.
The headscarf (Arabic: حجاب ḥijāb, “cover, wrap, curtain, veil, screen, partition”) traditionally worn by some Muslim women in the presence of people outside of their immediate family, has received negative attention in these debates because it is seen as a visible signifier of religious identity. The first major controversy about women wearing Islamic headscarves occurred in France, in 1989, when three female students were suspended from school for refusing to remove their head scarfs (the media coverage at the time can be followed in our French newspaper database Eureka). This incident sparked controversy about the extent to which government legislation should be used for negotiating culture clashes. In the end, France passed a law in 2004 banning ostentatious religious clothing or objects in public schools, including the Islamic head scarf, the Jewish brimless cap (Hebrew: כִּיפָּה, kippah, “dome”), and large Christian crosses. Since then, several European Union countries introduced similar legislation. A 2017 European Commission report on “Religious Clothing and Symbols in Employment,” authored by members of the European Network of Legal Experts in Gender Equality and Non-Discrimination and freely-available on the website of the Publications Office of the European Union, describes the chronology in greater detail.
It is within, and in response, to this polarized political context that Ayşe Taşci (b. 1983), a Turkish-born (Aydin, Turkey), German-based (in Bonn since 2003) photographer organized ÇAPRAŞIK – Verwickelt, a well-received exhibit of contemporary photographs featuring ḥijāb-wearing women.
The exhibit, which took place in 2010, asked the viewers to question how they look at a woman in a Muslim headscarf and what they see when they do so. The rich, multilayered meaning of the hyphenated exhibition title, which employed both the Turkish word çapraşık and the German word Verwickelt, explicitly evoked the sense of being tangled, wrapped-up, complicated, knotted, complicit, and involved. These are the perfect words to describe the questions raised by Taşci’s photo exhibit. What is the relationship between veiling and unveiling? Does the wearer of a ḥijāb hide or reveal her (religious, cultural, gendered) identity? Is the Muslim headscarf oppressive or emancipatory? How does a photographer represent the woman who wears a ḥijāb ? And how does photography itself veil, unveil, or stage the identity of women wearing a head covering?
For example, what happens to viewer’s expectations when a photographer chooses to represent an ordinary woman’s wig as a headscarf? In Turkey, until 2013, wearing the veil at university, and other places, was prohibited. In order to get around this law, Turkish women would wear a headscarf over their hair and then put a wig over the headscarf. Would the act of photographing this kind of life-hack advance or hinder women’s participation in the public sphere?
Taşci’s exhibit helped visitors examine the complicated dynamic between their own unexamined, and often prejudiced, way of seeing the ḥijāb. Viewers also became aware of the often-unacknowledged power wielded by photographers, and the mass media in general, in creating positive or negative discourse through the mobilization of emotive images. By this means, the exhibit “entangled” the viewer and created “a space for open discourse, controversial debates and dialog between photography, art and people.”
The exhibit ÇAPRAŞIK – Verwickelt was based on Ayşe Taşci’s master’s thesis at Folkwang University of the Arts (Essen, Germany), which was published in a very small print run at the beginning of her professional career. Professor Claudia Koonz, a noted European Studies expert at Duke University, who discovered the exhibit, suggested that the library purchase Taşci’s Diplomarbeit, because it is an evocative example of the kind of visual materials often used as primary sources, both in student term papers and in academic research publications. The acquisition of this primary visual source strengthens Duke University Libraries’ collection on Turkish-German relations, Islamophobia, gender, visual, and migration studies in Europe. It also contributes to the pedagogical mission of the university by emphasizing visual literacy— an increasingly important skill of critical thinking and an essential component of a 21st-century education—potentially serving as the library’s counterpart to the visual materials in How Do You Look?, the online portal for the promotion of visual literacy hosted by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Just as importantly, the acquisition of this rare publication, which at the time of this writing is still held only by Duke University Libraries, allows us to see the Muslim experience in Europe from Taşci’s unique perspective. The book thus serves not only as a physical reminder of our commitment to building collections of distinction, but also to the broader mission of collecting for global diversity.
Readers who wish to see more photos from Ayşe Taşci’s exhibit on the ḥijāb are welcome to check out her book, which is located in the Lower Stacks (LL2) of the Perkins & Bostock Library on Duke’s West Campus. You can also can consult the online article about ÇAPRAŞIK – Verwickelt on the German website Art à la Turka, which contains a number of evocative images from the exhibit.
The second post in the IAS blog series on the role of international collections and their collectors in promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion was contributed by Holly Ackerman,Head, International & Area Studies Dept. and Librarian for Latin American, Iberian and Latino/a/x Studies.
The need to collaborate in collecting has risen swiftly on library agendas everywhere as a result of both the financial crisis accompanying the COVID-19 pandemic and the simultaneous rise in concern about promoting and augmenting diversity, equity and inclusion. Everyone is asking, “How can we collect and spotlight a wider range of voices, cultures, races, languages, genders, and cross-cutting themes even as our budgets stumble and fall?”
Here at Duke University Libraries, we are fortunate to participate in a long and healthy tradition of cooperation within the Triangle Research Libraries Network (TRLN), where the collaboration between Duke’s International and Area Studies Department (IAS) and UNC’s Global Resources and Area Studies Section (GRAS) is particularly vigorous. But other, lesser-known national projects have also steadily obtained unique, difficult-to-acquire, ethnically- and linguistically-diverse materials. One of these, which I will describe in this blog post, is the Latin American & Caribbean Distributed Resources Project (DRP).
Coordination of DRP is located at the Center for Research Libraries in Chicago as part of their overall Global Resources Program and is now celebrating twenty-five years of systematically assuring deep collecting of culturally and linguistically diverse materials from the thirty-three countries in the region.
What is the Distributed Resources Project?
DRP is a pledge made by 35 university research libraries in 1995, to reallocate a portion of their collections budget for Latin America toward enhanced coverage of ‘non-core’ materials in order to collect more deeply in specific areas of institutional specialization. Each institution chose 1-3 subjects of particular strength at their university where other universities would have interest but probably lack funds to collect deeply. The project deliberately built on existing strengths, believing it would lead to long-range commitment. After 25 years it’s still working!
Chosen subjects included particular countries, geographic regions, or unique subjects such as the African Diaspora in Latin America (the U. of Wisconsin) or Indigenous Languages and Literature (Indiana University). Duke University initially chose to collect on Latin American & Caribbean Labor History and the struggles for justice that accompany labor organizing. In 2003, we added a second focus on Political Humor & Caricature. Each institution began by diverting 7% of their overall budget for Latin American Studies to the selected resource area while relying on other institutions to pick up deep collecting in their chosen area. Each institution also pledged to rapidly process materials acquired by DRP so that they would be rapidly available to users everywhere via their institution’s interlibrary loan service.
Over time these small amounts have grown and in the last two annual reports (with only 25 of 35 members reporting) collective spending ranged from $400,000 to $500,000 per year. Over the life of the program, more than $10 million has been devoted to this deep collecting dive. Small initial steps have resulted in distinctive collections (in local languages) that are rapidly available, and, equally important, are known to Latin American Studies librarians everywhere.
How do we obtain the DRP materials?
First, you put on your walking shoes. I remember well walking the “miles of aisles” at Guadalajara, Mexico’s huge national book fair a few years ago, where hundreds of exhibitors offer limited-edition books in Spanish, Portuguese, and indigenous languages published throughout Latin America.
Over 800,000 thousand people attend this fair annually. Schoolchildren from every part of Mexico are bused to the fair to encourage their interest in books and reading. The kids rub shoulders with world-class intellectuals who speak about their work. And, of course, Latin American Studies Librarians are there is such large numbers that they give us a couple of days before the fair opens to the public to be sure that the books make it into libraries throughout the world.
At each stand I routinely ask whether they have materials in our DRP collecting areas. One vendor pulled out a box that was not on display containing a series called The History of Graphic Humor (La historia del humor gráfico), in thirteen volumes, one on each major country in Latin America and Iberia. In order to feature local appreciation of humor in each country, the publisher engaged a well-known local historian of the subject as the author. The books contained history and illustrative examples of political satire and popular cartoons from colonial days to the present.
They had just one complete set at the fair and I got it. A great find for our deep collecting! Each year when students in Spanish and Latin American Studies courses ask me where they can find political cartoons and learn about the graphic artists, I see the value of that purchase. And those numbers are growing as more students include primary, graphic materials in their class presentations.
Another way to meet our DRP commitment is to couple conference attendance with book-buying. In 2018, I was able to participate in the annual Latin American Studies Association Congress in Barcelona, which is the publishing capital of Spain. I extended my stay for a couple of days to go to over 20 specialized bookstores and publishing houses. Best known and unique among the bookstores is El Lokal, which is located in a section of town historically renowned as the site of labor-organizing and -protest. The district was the epicenter of resistance to the fascist Franco regime and you can feel history in those streets.
In a very small space, the book store carries a huge cross-section of Marxist, anarchist, Trotskyist and other leftist thought . And since El Lokal is also a publisher, the store is chock-full of books about everything related to the labor movement, from labor resistance in Spain to indigenous resistance to forced labor under Spanish colonization in what is today Latin America.
In other words, this independent, specialized, local bookstore is a veritable treasure trove for a librarian tasked with finding and acquiring unique material on Iberian and Latin American labor history, politics, and theory. This sort of in-country “shopping” not only deepens our DRP collection but also saves money. Our regular Spanish book vendor worked with me to have all the books I selected (at a discount negotiated at each store in Barcelona) moved to their warehouse in Madrid and sent to Durham simply at the shipping cost. Those savings outstrip the cost of the book-buying trip itself.
These are just a couple of examples among many of how we in IAS cooperate with other libraries to be sure that collecting on unique and important subjects is systematically covered and not forgotten in hard times.
The Duke University Libraries can also be proud of the fact that Deborah Jakubs, Ph.D. , Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway University Librarian, Vice Provost for Library Affairs, and Duke’s former Latin American Librarian, was one of the founders of the Global Resources Program of which the DRP is a part. When asked how she and her colleagues came up with the idea for this exemplar of cooperative collection development she replied, “We were trying different ‘proof of concept’ approaches to sharing responsibility for collection building in area studies.” In difficult financial times such as the present, the DRP members have turned that proof of concept into a tradition assuring that diverse perspectives from Spain, Latin America, and the Caribbean will be represented in the distinctive holdings of Duke University Library and, thanks to interlibrary loan and resource-sharing arrangements with TRLN and the IvyPlus Libraries Confederation, in university research libraries throughout the United States.
Those wishing to read more about the Global Resources Projects on Latin America will want to consult the description offered by one of the founders of this initiative, the late Associate Librarian of Harvard College for Collection Development, Dan Hazen, “The Latin Americanist Research Resources Project: A New Direction for Monographic Cooperation?” ARL: A Bimonthly Newsletter of Research Library Issues and Actions (April 1997), pp. 1-6.
“Created in March 2020 at the onset of the pandemic — and curated by 29 librarians throughout the Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation and beyond — the Archive documents regional, social responses to the pandemic, which are critical in understanding the scope of the pandemic’s humanitarian, socioeconomic, and cultural impact. With an emphasis on websites produced by underrepresented ethnicities and stateless groups, the Archive covers (but is not limited to): sites published by non-governmental organizations that focus on public health, humanitarian relief, and education; sites published by established and amateur artists in any realm of cultural production; sites published by local news sources; sites published by civil society actors and representatives; and relevant blogs and social media pages. At the time of its launch, the Archive featured over 2,000 websites from over 80 countries in over 50 languages.”
This is the largest and most diverse Ivy Plus web archiving project ever created under the auspices of the thirteen-member library confederation. The Covid-19 web archive contains a multitude of materials—most of which are born digital—in all fields of research. The task of preserving such materialsis essential for future researchers. That is why the task has been assumed by the subject specialists of numerous research libraries, including here at Duke University. Four librarians from the International & Area Studies Department of Duke University Libraries are taking part in this digital initiative: Heather Martin, Miree Ku, Luo Zhou, and Sean Swanick. Each librarian also helped curate a subject guide hosted by Princeton University. The guide is divided by region and includes further information about the project and Ivy Plus Web Archiving.
Unfortunately, until the pandemic is over and some semblance of normalcy returns, this Ivy Plus web archiving project will continue to grow. If you have recommendations please send them along via this form.
This prefatory blog post to a series exploring the role of international collections and their collectors in promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion was contributed by Sean Swanick, Luo Zhou, and Ernest Zitser, respectively the Chinese, Middle Eastern & Islamic, and Russian, Eurasian, & East European studies librarians, in the International and Area Studies Department of Duke University Libraries.
One can think of the variegated research materials (foreign-language books, journals, databases, photographs, postcards, etc.) acquired by the staff of Duke University Library’s International and Area Studies (IAS) department in at least two ways. For some, they are the relatively poorly-circulating counterparts of the bread-and-butter titles in a predominantly English-language, general collection. For others, they are a unique, difficult-to-acquire, distinct, and special collection (with a small “S”) in its own right. However, regardless of how they are described, their provenance, or their eventual location within the library (on- or off-site, general- or special collection), international materials serve as conduits of ideas and identities across linguistic boundaries and cultural barriers. In this way, international collections are both transgressive and transformative.
This diversity applies not only to the material resources that IAS librarians collect to further the research and teaching of international topics at Duke University, but also to the core mission, organization, and composition of the department itself. Not surprisingly, IAS is structured by geography and seeks to represent as many different parts of the world as possible: Asia (inclusive of the Middle East, South & Southeast Asia), Eurasia (Russia and former Soviet countries), Eastern and Western Europe, Africa (northern and sub-Saharan), as well as Latin America & Iberia. Nor is it surprising that IAS librarians are as diverse, multi-lingual, and international as the collections that they curate. Only two of IAS’ current eight members were born in the US. All the rest moved from their home countries to work here at Duke University Libraries. Regardless of their differences—ethnic, linguistic, or religious—they all serve as intermediaries between one culture and another. And they all share the unpleasant experience of dealing with border guards and customs agents, that is, the authorities who control the flow of goods and people into and out of a country and who are responsible for collecting government tariffs—the duties or taxes imposed on imported or exported goods and, before the abolition of the international slave trade, also on commodified human beings.
The French word for customs is douane—a variant on the Arabic word دیوان (dīwān), which likely came to Arabic from Persian/Farsi. This word is thought to have arrived in France via the Mediterranean island of Sicily (the “toe” of Italy’s “boot”), which at one point in time hosted a significant Arab population. Although the etymology of the mellifluous-sounding French word hints at a process of cross-cultural fertilization (Persian to Arabic to French via Italy), in practice, a customs house serves as an architectural embodiment of the process by which established, governmental authorities label and domesticate the “Other.” A douane, in other words, is a stark reminder of the fact that you are crossing a demarcated border and entering a foreign country, a land where you do not really belong and where you are the unwelcome stranger.
Anyone who has ever travelled internationally knows that every time you enter a foreign country, you have to engage in certain social conventions: show a valid passport and (entry) visa, then explain why you are entering, why you left, where you went, and for how long. Even if you are just a librarian returning from an international book-buying trip or book fair, you are bound to be stopped at the border: “Welcome to the US, Mr. Swanick: Have you ever been to Yemen? When was the last time you visited Syria? And what was the purpose of your visit?” Or else: “I don’t recognize this visa, please come with me”—a phrase that sends chills up and down a global traveler’s spine, no matter which country’s customs agent pronounces it. International borders, like the customs houses and checkpoints built alongside them, affirm your identity and nationality, whether you like it or not. They are meant to exclude the “Other,” to limit diversity, and to demonstrate your inequality vis-à-vis the natives of the country you are visiting. They are, in a word, the polar opposite of the global perspective cultivated by IAS.
As the international border-crossing experience painfully demonstrates, the world and its inhabitants could stand with a little less “othering” and a lot more diversity. But what does “being” diverse mean for the international and area studies specialists of Duke University Libraries? Over the course of the next several months, a series of blog posts by different members of IAS will attempt to examine how our work as builders and curators of the library’s international collections contributes to the on-going, campus-wide conversation about equity, diversity, and inclusion. We hope you will read our entries in the spirit in which they were intended and contact us if you have any comments, criticisms, or (we hope) compliments.
Based at Columbia University, the Ivy Plus Web Archiving “is a collaborative collection development effort to build curated, thematic collections of freely available, but at-risk, web content in order to support research at participating Libraries and beyond. All Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation members participate in the Program.” Fitting well into this category, the newly launched Muftiships Web Archive project strives to preserve all known centers and websites producing and/or documenting fatawa (sg. fatwa), that is religious edits.
So, what is meant by muftiship? Columbia Professor Brinkley Messick in his The Calligraphic State on p. 140 defines muftiship as, “A mufti is a type of Muslim jurist who delivers a nonbinding legal opinion known as a fatwa, exercising in the process the form of legal interpretation called ijtihad. Across the Middle East and North Africa for many centuries, muftis great and small, official and unofficial have worked at the interface of shari’a text and practice. Analogues for the muftiship have been identified in both Roman and medieval Jewish legal institutions.  According to Weber (1978: 798–99, 821) and Schacht (1964: 74), the muftiship was originally a “private” institution that later became “public.” Schacht correctly adds, however, that the later official muftis “had no monopoly of giving fatwas, and the practice of consulting private scholars of high reputation never ceased.” As a consequence, a significant dimension of authoritative interpretation consistently eluded the purview of Muslim states.”
Currently the project documents some 100 websites and pages, the majority from the MENA region. In addition, the project has a special section on fatawa and Covid-19. Those links were provided by Dr. Adnan Zulfikar of Rutgers University and are part of his larger project, Mapping Covid-19 Fatawas. The project will continue to grow and be source for the study of Islam.
The project is lead by Gayle Fischer (Harvard), Guy Burak (NYU), Roberta (Robin) Dougherty (Yale), Peter Magierski (Columbia) and Sean Swanick.
This is the seventh in a series of blog posts on global pandemics written by the staff of Duke Libraries’ International and Area Studies Department. Like the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixthposts, it is edited by Ernest Zitser, Ph.D., Librarian for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies, library liaison to the International Comparative Studies Program, and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies at Duke University. The following post is written by Heidi Madden, Ph.D. , Librarian for Western European and Medieval Renaissance Studies.
Most of the pandemic reading lists that you will find online, such as the ones mentioned in my previous blog post, tend to feature modern or contemporary English language publications and (with very few exceptions, such as Boccaccio’s Decameron) to focus almost exclusively on Anglo-American literature. In this blog post, I want to highlight plague narratives of continental Europe and to present three pre-modern works from France, Italy, and German-speaking lands, which are beloved in their countries of origins, but are, for one reason or another, not as well-known abroad.
The Fables ofJean de la Fontaine
One of the ways pre-modern authors dealt with the Plague was to turn it into an allegory and use it for didactic ends. That is precisely what Jean de La Fontaine (1621–1695) did when he composed a fable, in free verse, entitled “Animals Sick of the Plague” (Les Animaux malades de la peste), one of the required plague texts of early modern France. This fable was one of the 239 published between 1668 and 1694, in 12 books of Fables, a publication that turned this French fabulist into one of the most widely read poets of the seventeenth century and a model for other writers throughout Europe. Although La Fontaine’s fables were originally dedicated to the heir-to-the-throne (who was just 7 years old in 1668), they were by no means intended to serve merely as entertaining children’s literature (as they have come to be used today). La Fontaine culled his stories from both classical (Greek and Roman) fabulists and their “Oriental” (Persian, Indian, etc.) counterparts (at least those available in French or Latin translation). He then transformed them into memorable verses and infused them with the wit and wisdom for which he has become justly famous. Indeed, to this day, you cannot truly be French if you are not able to recite from memory a poem by La Fontaine or quickly understand an aphoristic colloquialism that derives from his Fables.
“Animals sick of the plague” (Fable CXXV) tells the story about a time when almost all the animals in the world had died from a terrible infectious disease. The Lion, king of the animals, declares that the plague was sent by the gods as a punishment for everyone’s sins. He decides that each of the surviving animals should publicly confess their sins and that the animal whose sin is the gravest should be sacrificed to atone on behalf of everyone else. The Lion confesses to killing innocent Sheep (and even the shepherd who tended them). When it is the Fox’s turn to confess, he succeeds in talking the Lion out of his guilt by describing the Sheep as inferior beings, who deserved nothing better. The other animals follow the Fox’s example and insist that they have committed no sins. Only the Donkey follows the Lion’s instructions to the letter and admits that he ate some delicious grass from someone’s property without permission. Since he was the only one to plead guilty, the animals condemn the Donkey to death. The moral of the story is: “If you are powerful, wrong or right, / The court will change your black to white.”
This fable, with animals as stock characters, devoid of any identifiable social situation, and therefore universally true, speaks to us even after 400 years. “Animals Sick of the Plague” addresses the age-old question: should political leaders surround themselves with yes-men, sycophants, and toadies or should they pick people whose moral character and commitment to truth trumps their loyalty to a single individual, political party, or special interest? Although this poem merely references the plague, without describing the outbreak in any detail, the infectious disease serves as the litmus test for the king and his court. La Fontaine’s ironic moral suggests that although this ruler and his cronies seem to succeed politically, they fail the real test of leadership that a pandemic demands from the holders of public office. While the poet’s use of the words “black” and “white” reference a problematic and longstanding association of guilt and innocence with color, the French cartoon (above) represents a modern interpretation that makes this fable seem even more relevant, especially at a time when contemporary social movements seek to address the systemic inequalities — legal, socio-economic, racial — exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Betrothed of Alessandro Manzoni
The plague of 1629–1631, which killed 25% of the Italian population, serves as the backdrop of a historical romance called The Betrothed (I promesi sposi), one of the most popular Italian novels ever published and, today, one of the lesser- known bestsellers of the nineteenth century. Originally published in three volumes between 1825 and 1827, the novel was the product of the pen of Alessandro Manzoni (1785–1873), a popular poet, novelist, and philosopher who was one of the cultural icons of the Italian nationalist revival movement (It. Risorgimento). The book was deliberately written in a clear, expressive prose style meant to be accessible to the broadest possible number of his fellow countrymen, which may explain not only Manzoni’s mass appeal during his lifetime, but also the reason why his prose became a model for many subsequent Italian authors.
Like the works of his European contemporaries, Sir Walter Scott and Alexandre Dumas, Manzoni wrote novels firmly set in the turbulent history of the country that the author proudly claimed as his native land. The Betrothed is set in Northern Italy during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and combines keen descriptions of characters, social class, and landscapes with a humorous, swashbuckling tone reminiscent of The Three Musketeers or Ivanhoe. The plot is as convoluted as it is predictable: two main characters, Renzo and Lucia, are engaged and are about to be married by the local priest. The priest, however, has been threatened by professional thugs, who work for a local lord; they prevent the priest from performing the wedding ceremony because the local lord has made a bet that he can seduce Lucia. The young peasant couple flees the village and the reader follows the pair of lovers through almost three years of war, social upheaval, and an outbreak of the plague in the city of Milan. In the end, their unshakeable faith in God and their devotion to each other conquers all earthly obstacles and the novel closes with their marriage.
While this happy ending may have been a traditional way to end a novel, Manzoni’s work cleverly flipped the perspective of the typical plague narrative: here the society is narrated as a society exposed by the virus, not to the virus. Some details of the inadequate response to the outbreak sound particularly familiar: the governor of Milan does not cancel the birthday celebration for the prince, and thus, creates a super-spreader event. Even more poignant is Manzoni’s treatment of the role of rumors in the identification and targeting of scapegoats. In the revised, final version of the novel, published in 1842, the author even went so far as to add an appendix about “The History of the Column of Infamy” (Storia della colonna infame). This was a historical account of the infamous miscarriage of justice that occurred during the 1630 plague in Milan, when rumors about “spreaders” of the disease lead to the arrest, torture, and trial of several innocent men; a historical wrong that demonstrated, Manzoni argued, the inadequacy of the country’s judicial system. One cannot read this appendix today without thinking of the way COVID-19 has exposed the (dis)function of our legal system.
The Black Spider of Jeremias Gotthelf
Say “Black Spider” to any contemporary German speaker, and they will vividly recall the first time they read The Black Spider (Die schwarze Spinne) by Jeremias Gotthelf, early modern Germany’s answer to Steven King or Edgar Alan Poe. Gotthelf was actually the pen name of Albert Bitzius (1797–1854), a Swiss pastor who employed his considerable gifts as a writer to communicate his reformist concerns in the field of education and with regard to the plight of the poor. The Black Spider, which has recently been translated anew into English, is perhaps the most famous example of the way this highly didactic author used fear as an educational tool.
A brief synopsis of the plot cannot do justice to the atmosphere of fear and horror that Gotthelf manages to create in the course of his novella. The story within a story deals with a contemporary storyteller spinning a yarn about an abusive medieval knight-landlord who overtaxes his serfs to such an extent that they are forced to turn for help to the Devil. A peasant girl named Christina, who serves as the village’s midwife, agrees to make a pact with the Beast, who disguises himself as a travelling huntsman. The pact is sealed with a kiss on the cheek. The kiss leaves a black mark that eventually takes on the shape of a black spider. At a certain point this spider rises up on Christina’s cheek and gives birth to a swarm of creepy-crawlies that hurry from her face, over her body, and toward the town. The swarm of spiders kills cattle and people alike; villagers sacrifice their lives to trap the black spider who gave birth to the swarm behind a black post of a window frame, but then the next generation once again, ignorantly and carelessly, unleashes the plague of spiders. Vivid images of horror upon horror make the listeners of the tale shiver in fear. And just when the contemporary audience thinks that the end of the story signals the end of the plague narrative to which they have been listening, they realize that the dreaded black spider of the tale-within-the-tale has been trapped in the old black post in the window frame of the very same house in which they are staying and is there, among them, at this very moment.
For all its drama and horror, Gotthelf’s novella raises themes that continue to resonate today. Among these is the reminder that the continued exploitation of the poor and marginalized members of society is a danger to everyone’s well-being; and that neither hubris nor reckless ignorance are the right attitudes for confronting recurrent public health problems like global pandemics. Sensible advice that could have real world applications.
So in what way are pre-modern literary treatments of pandemics, like the three Continental ones analyzed above, different from modern ones? In the centuries leading up to the modern plague novel, literary authors stopped narrating the plague historically and turned the medical plague into a metaphor for the plague as a social and psychological phenomenon. However, I find that pre-modern literature narrates fear and anxiety in a much more palpable way than modern plague novels, because they narrate fear at a time when medicine did not claim to have all the answers. That used to be a foreign concept to me. Until recently, I, like everyone else, thought that a pandemic could never happen to us, moderns, and that pandemics belonged to the past. In reading pre-modern plague stories, I find that the raw emotions expressed speak to me; they help me deal with this feeling of endlessly waiting for isolation to end and for a vaccine to be found.
This is the sixth in a series of blog posts on global pandemics written by the staff of Duke Libraries’ International and Area Studies Department. Like the first, second, third, fourth, and fifthposts, it is edited by Ernest Zitser, Ph.D., Librarian for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies, library liaison to the International Comparative Studies Program, and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies at Duke University. The following post is written by Heidi Madden, Ph.D. , Librarian for Western European and Medieval Renaissance Studies.
You have all probably seen them: online reading lists created expressly for the bored souls forced to stay indoors because of the restrictions on movement imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (If not, check out the “Meta-List of the Books You Should Read in Coronavirus Quarantine,” created by the writers at Open Culture). Some booklist-makers promise to provide prospective readers with cathartic relief from coronavirus fears through curative stories. Others focus on escapist fantasies that keep you sitting on the edge of your seat (Literary Hub Round). Still others recommend plague novels that let us walk with our fears in virtual communities and to experience our common humanity through empathy. But no matter where you find them or who writes them, most online reading lists created during the COVID-19 pandemic—such as this piece in Vogue magazine, significantly entitled “Six Centuries later, The Decameron is Suddenly the Book of the Moment”—reach back to the Italian Renaissance and, more specifically, to Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375) and his Decameron (multiple copies of which are available in English translation, in both print and electronic format at Duke University Libraries). In this blog post, I will try to provide some context for understanding this seemingly irresistible attraction to what more radical literary critics would dismiss as a canonic work of yet another dead, white, Western male.
First, let’s begin with some historical and biographical context. In 1347, when the bubonic plague—or what Joris Roosen and Monica H. Green’s 2020 bibliography on the state of Black Death research in the era of COVID-19 called The Mother of All Pandemics—arrived in the port of Messina, Sicily, and quickly began to spread across the Italian peninsula, Boccaccio was a 34-year-old struggling writer living at home with his parents. The illegitimate son of a prominent and prosperous citizen of the city of Florence, Boccaccio aspired to follow in the footsteps of his older and more famous contemporary, the great Italian poet Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca, 1304-1374), and their even greater role model, Dante Aligheri (d. 1321), the author of the Divine Comedy. That is, Boccaccio wanted to become a “humanist,” i.e. a scholar-writer who used the classics of Greek and Roman literature to create a rich and vibrant, vernacular Italian language, in place of what he and his allies dismissed as the stilted, officious Latin tongue, the language of both Church and State. In effect, to transform the irredeemably corrupt world that they had inherited from previous generations and to lay the groundwork for a metaphorical rebirth (It. rinascimento, Fr. renaissance) of the beauty and splendor that the humanists associated with the lost world of classical antiquity.
When the plague reached the city of Florence, in 1348, tens of thousands of people died of the deadly infectious disease, at least three times the number of those that had died of the same disease during an earlier outbreak back in 1340. This time, Boccaccio’s father and stepmother were among the victims of the deadly infectious disease—a personal loss that also left the writer in possession of the family fortune. Now that Boccaccio had the financial means to pursue an independent literary career, he embarked upon an ambitious, multi-year, book project, one that would eventually come to be known as his literary masterpiece. The setting for this work, which was written between 1348 and 1353, was inspired, at least in part, by the author’s personal experience as an eyewitness and survivor of an outbreak of the plague.
However, the Black Death was more than just the immediate stimulus to Boccaccio’s most famous literary work. It also served as the literary framing device for the 100 novellas contained in the anthology to which he gave an Italian name that he had coined, as one would expect of a Renaissance humanist, from ancient Greek (< δέκᾰ, “ten” and ἡμέρᾱ, “day”). This was a reference to the number of days that the book’s main characters—consisting of a company of 10 young Florentines (seven women and three men, representing various vices and virtues)—spent in bucolic self-isolation, regaling each other with stories, while the pandemic raged outside the walls of their villa and all around them.
The description of the plague with which Boccaccio’s begins his book was not just an eyewitness account of the outbreak in Florence in 1348. It was a mini-literary work in itself, inspired by the classic description of the plague of Athens in the History of the Peloponnesian War, written by the ancient Greek historian Thucydides (460 BC to 400 BC). Like Thucydides, Boccaccio’s description of the plague in the introduction to the Decameron offered a realistic account of the outbreak of the disease, its symptoms, and its impact on society; and like Thucydides, he focused on earthly matters rather than on supernatural powers. In this, as in many other instances—for example, in many of the plots and themes of the novellas in the Decameron—Boccaccio reveals the humanist project of translating classical stories, motifs, and images into the literary language of the contemporary author and his era. In effect, Boccaccio can be seen as a node in a network of literary texts and their authors—both those that preceded him and those that followed him—and thus as part of a much more complex web of cultural linkages than is usually depicted in the old syllabi of Western Civ courses.
A striking visualization of the connections between Boccaccio and literature before and after the publication of the Decameron was created in 2016 by Kristján Hannesson, a graduate student in the UNC Department of English and Comparative Literature (you can download the full chart from Scribd). Kristján was one of the grad students who took a course on Boccaccio taught by Duke Professor Martin Eisner, a renowned expert on the Italian Renaissance and an authority on Boccaccio. Professor Eisner helped Kristján and the other students in the course to organize and curate an exhibit on Boccaccio and the Genealogy of Stories, which was held on July 20, 2016 – October 16, 2016 in The Jerry and Bruce Chappell Family Gallery at Duke University Libraries. As the title suggested, the exhibit sought to show the genealogy of all of Boccaccio’s stories: where they came from and whom they influenced.
Each circle in the genealogy of stories corresponded to an exhibit case in the Chappell Family Gallery that allowed for the exploration of the texts found in beautiful rare editions held at Duke University’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
The exhibit cases teamed with beautiful Boccaccio related editions from the Rubenstein Library. One case, for example, displayed a painting and an actual potted plant next to a book showing the opening lines of John Keats’ Isabella, or the Pot of Basil (1818), a narrative poem in which the English Romantic adapted the story of Lisabetta (Fourth Day – Novel 5): Her lover has been murdered and appears to her in her dreams; she goes to dig up the lover’s body and plants the head in a pot of basil that she tends to day and night. Isn’t that romantic?
Another exhibit case included a depiction of a (literally) heart-wrenching scene from the Decameron (Fourth Day, Novel 1): juxtaposing a painting (c. 1650) by Bernardino Mei (1612 – 1676) of Ghismonda, cherishing the heart of her murdered lover, Guiscardo, with a miniature on the same theme from one of the illustrated editions of the Decameron, held by the Rubenstein Library.
As these two examples suggest, and as the prominence of female characters in the Decameron demonstrates, in Boccaccio’s case, the “human” in humanist explicitly included women. As the compiler of an encyclopedia on the lives of famous women (De Mulieribus Claris, available in English translation)–the first in what became a literary genre that stretches from the 14th-century to the present–the Florentine author was acutely aware of the important role that women play in society, not just in traditional familial roles, but as free agents and independent thinkers. Boccaccio’s recognition of the role of women in society and the importance of hearing their stories is undoubtedly one of the reasons why the Decameron appears so modern.
But perhaps the best explanation for the appeal of Boccaccio’s work is also the simplest. The Decameron is an anthology of love stories, which are by definition based on perennial themes (jealousy, anger, fate, desire, hatred, lust, virtue) that change much more slowly than the societies around them. Pandemics may come and go, but a good love story will always stick with you.
By Holly Ackerman, Ph.D., with assistance from Ernest Zitser, Ph.D.
On June 30, 2020, Kristina Kade Troost, Ph.D. will retire from the Duke University Libraries (DUL), after a diverse and distinguished career spanning 30 years.
Kris will be remembered as much for the qualities of her character as for her innovative collection building, teaching, mentoring, and contributions to professional organizations. Margaret McKean, Duke Professor Emerita of Political Science, who first met Kris in 1977 and helped to recruit her to Duke, described her this way: “Kris is a gifted colleague-builder and a colleague-keeper; a friend-builder and a friend-keeper. She’s also an institution-builder who thinks big and thinks ahead.” Deborah Jakubs, Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway University Librarian & Vice Provost for Library Affairs, who has known Kris for many years, agrees with this characterization, saying: “It is remarkable how one person can create a climate that produces outstanding results. Kris has done that with IAS [DUL’s International & Area Studies Department, which Deborah created and which Kris headed for over two decades] and as a mentor to students in the Asian/Pacific Studies Institute [where Kris served as graduate advisor from 2008 to 2020].”
Unlike many of her peers, Kris began her distinguished library career as a professional historian, rather than as a library school graduate. The topic of the doctoral dissertation that she defended at Harvard University (1990)—the link between common property and community formation in self-governing villages of late medieval Japan—seemed to be about as far as one could get from the world of library science. And yet Kris could not hide her obvious love of all things related to Japanese Studies. From 1977-1990, while starting her family and completing her dissertation, she participated actively in the community of Japanese Studies scholars in the Research Triangle. Andrew Gordon, then a Duke Professor of History, noticed her interest in Japanese Studies and urged her to consider a career in librarianship. Thus began her transition to the field of library science.
In 1990, DUL hired Kris to serve, on a half time basis, as Duke’s first Japanese Studies Bibliographer. Two years later, she received a promotion to the position of full-time East Asian Librarian, with the responsibility for building collections in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. That experience taught Kris a valuable lesson about the need for language-specific subject expertise and the value of not spreading oneself too thin. In 1998, after she became the head of IAS, Kris worked tirelessly to increase DUL’s capacity to provide support by subject area specialists who knew the language and culture of the world areas that they curated. Under her leadership, the staff of IAS doubled in size and now includes specialists covering Africa, China, Russia & Eastern Europe, Japan, Jewish Studies, Korea, Latin America, the Middle East, South & Southeast Asia, and Western Europe.
Kris’ accomplishments are too many and varied to list in a blog post. Instead, I have decided to focus on four key areas where she has made a difference: collections, teaching/mentoring/managing, service to the Libraries, and service to the profession.
Creation of DUL’s East Asia Collection
In 1991, Kris personally went through the Perkins stacks, pulling every book written in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese – a total of 20,000 titles – in order to form one, consolidated, easy-to-use East Asia Collection. Today that collection contains 200,000 volumes and is the single largest separately-organized and -maintained East Asia Collection in the Southeastern United States. Commenting on the value of that work, Amy V. Heinrich, the former Director of Columbia University’s C. V. Starr East Asian Library, points out: “Kris was a voice in national organizations advocating for libraries with small collections. She saw to it that they were included in discussions, obtained funding, and could grow.”
Kris established and regularly taught a popular course on “Research Methods in Japanese Studies,” which was cross-listed not only in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, but also in Cultural Anthropology, History, Political Science, Religion, and Art History. She later adapted the course to cover multiple world areas, making it possible to co-teach it with her IAS colleagues. Kris helped draft the proposal for an MA in East Asian Studies and served as the Director of Graduate Studies for the program from 2008 until her retirement. Speaking of her role as a manager and supervisor, former Librarian for South Asian Studies, Avinash Maheshwary says: “She was an ideal manager who constantly moved you and your program forward without looking over your shoulder. She was a vital participant in creating a joint TRLN librarian position for South and Southeast Asian Studies – the only one of its kind in the U.S.” Luo Zhou, DUL’s current Chinese Studies Librarian, echoes these thoughts: “She has given me a broad space to grow, supported my initiatives with advice and suggestions, and often gave me a pat on the back when I was frustrated and tired.”
Serving DUL as a whole
As President of the Librarians Assembly, Kris worked with the leaders of DUL and the professional school libraries to obtain a regular budget for Librarians Assembly, in order to establish and help maintain a speakers program, thereby expanding the substantive possibilities on offer to the group as a whole. As a member of the Perkins Relocation Group, Kris helped to establish workflows for moving books to the Library Service Center and for initially identifying exactly what materials would need to be moved off-site. In 1997, her multiple contributions were recognized with the Florence Blakely Award—the highest staff honor conferred by the Duke University Libraries—which rewards extraordinary performance that far exceeds individual goals or expectations.
Serving the Profession
Kris has served as the President of both of the main organizations in her field, The Council of East Asian Libraries (CEAL) and the North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources (NCC). As Amy Heinrich points out: “She always came with a vision.” For example, when she chaired the NCC (1998-2000), Kris organized an annual conference that set the agenda for the first decade of NCC collaboration in the 21st century by agreeing on joint priorities for collection development, serials access, technical services workflows, and recruitment of new librarians. Kris’ contributions to East Asian libraries/East Asian Studies and to CEAL were recognized in 2020, when she became the inaugural recipient of the Council of East Asian Libraries (CEAL) Distinguished Service Award.
No summary of Kris’ career would be complete without mentioning the potluck parties that she hosted in her lovely home, continuing an IAS tradition established by Deborah Jakubs. Deborah says, “Kris and I were lucky to come up in International and Area Studies at a time when it was communal and had deep engagement by faculty and librarians working so closely. We had a lot of fun together as well as many professional accomplishments as a group.”
Best wishes on your next chapter, Kris! And thank you for leaving us with a strong foundation.
This is the fifth in a series of blog posts on global pandemics written by the staff and affiliates of Duke Libraries’ International and Area Studies Department. Like the first, second, third, and fourthposts, it is edited by Ernest Zitser, Ph.D., Librarian for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies, library liaison to the International Comparative Studies Program, and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies at Duke University. The following post is written by Rachel Ariel, Librarian for Jewish Studies.
When I was asked to write a blog post on pandemics in Jewish history, after some hesitation, I eventually settled on the topic of the Ten Plagues of Egypt—Blood, Frogs, Lice, Beasts, Cattle disease, Boils, Hail, Locusts, Darkness, and, finally, Death of the First-Born—that are mentioned in Exodus (7:14–12:31), the second book of the Hebrew Bible. This text, constituting the sacred scriptures of the Jewish religion, had circulated in oral form for centuries before it was finally written down, sometime between about 1200BCE and 165CE. In other words, this is one of the earliest recorded instances of human thinking about plagues and infectious diseases, as well as the difficult choices that ordinary people have to make in order to survive in the face of such deadly, extraordinary, and seemingly inexplicable events.
The biblical story containing a description of the Ten Plagues may not have been intended as a realistic account of an actual historical event, but rather as a religious parable, with a didactic message. The depiction of the Ten Plagues occurs in the context of a larger story of divine redemption and national liberation. Anyone who has read the biblical narrative or watched the 1956 Hollywood epic, The Ten Commandments, knows that the plagues were visited upon the land of Egypt because of Pharaoh’s stubborn refusal to heed the words of God’s emissary, Moses. As the mouthpiece of God, Moses had repeatedly implored the all-powerful ruler of Egypt to emancipate His chosen people—the Israelite slaves whom Pharaoh had used, abused, and planned to exterminate by ordering the massacre of all first-born males (Exodus 1:16, 22)—or else face His righteous wrath. The freedom obtained by means of Divine intervention is precisely what is commemorated annually during the Jewish holiday of Passover (Heb.: פֶּסַח , “He passed over”).
Traditionally, the Ten Plagues are recited during the festive celebration, called a Seder (Heb.: סֵדֶר, ‘order, arrangement’), on the first night (or first two nights) of Passover. These plagues are listed in every Haggadah (Heb.: הַגָּדָה, “telling,” “narration”), which is the written service-book for the Seder. Visitors to Capturing the Moment: Centuries of the Passover Haggadah, an online exhibit of illustrated Passover Haggadot (plural of Haggadah) from the collection of the Rubenstein Library at Duke University, can get a sense of what such service-books look like over the ages. For the fact is, there is no standard version. Illustrated Haggadot represent the time and place of their creation. While the textual elements (blessings, prayers, stories, songs) remain largely the same, the art in the Haggadah reflects the customs, fashions, landscapes, architecture, and artistic styles of the surrounding culture.
Although images of The Ten Plagues often appear in Illustrated Haggadot, the 2017 exhibit on which the online version is based did not include any visual representation of these Plagues. The more I thought about this omission, the more I realized that this was not a coincidence. To be honest, the plagues that befell the Egyptians always made me somewhat uncomfortable. Were all the Egyptians to suffer because of their ruler’s actions? Were the innocent punished with the wicked? Was this the reason I was so hesitant about writing this blog post? Trying to understand my own feelings, I looked for answers in the traditional resources that I had encountered and found comforting throughout the years. One of these texts, The Family Participation Haggadah by Noam Zion and David Dishon, invokes a line from the Proverbs of Solomon (Heb.: שלמה מִשְלֵ), a book in the third section of the Hebrew Bible, which addresses the moral unease that I was feeling. During the Seder, while reciting the Ten Plagues, it is customary for the participants to take a drop of wine from their cup and let it fall on their plate as they say the name of each one of the ten plagues. By doing so, say Zion and Dishon (101) “we acknowledge that our own joy is lessened and incomplete. For our redemption had to come by means of the punishment of other human beings. Even though these are just punishments for evil acts, as it is said ‘At the fall of your enemy, do not be glad and when he trips, let not your heart rejoice!” (Proverbs 24:17)
Even more powerful for me is the biblical commentary (Midrash) authored by Rabbi Johanan bar Nappaha (c.180–279 CE), which appears in Tractate Megilah 10b of the Talmud (Heb.: תַּלְמוּד,”instruction, learning”), the central text of Rabbinic Judaism and the primary source of Jewish religious law and theology. Although this commentary is not about the Ten Plagues per se, it also concerns an episode from the story of Exodus that teaches us that God does not experience pleasure, joy, or self-satisfaction from witnessing the suffering of human beings, even those who deserve punishment. As we all know from watching The Ten Commandments, after escaping from Egypt, the Israelites reached the Red Sea (or, more accurately, the Sea of Reeds), while the Egyptian Pharaoh with his army were chasing after them. When Moses raised his hand, God parted the waters and the Israelites safely crossed the sea. But when Pharaoh and his army attempted to follow after them, the sea waters returned, the Egyptians were drowned, and the Israelites were finally liberated from their bondage to Pharaoh. Rejoicing in this miracle, Rabbi Johanan wrote, the angels tried to sing songs of praise to God, but God immediately silenced them: “My handiwork is drowning in the sea and you sing songs of praise?”
In the twentieth century, during the Second World War, a Polish-born Hebrew poet living in Palestine wrote a poetry cycle called The Poems of the Ten Plagues of Egypt (Heb.: שירי מכות מצרים).Nathan Alterman (1910-1970) was a modernist poet, playwright, essayist, and translator, who became one of the most revered poets of Israel. He composed this cycle of poems between the years 1939 and 1944, while a war was spreading across the globe like a deadly virus, leaving millions of innocent victims—including six million European Jews—in its wake. At the center of the cycle, Alterman devotes a poem to each of the Ten Plagues. But in an interesting twist on the traditional story in Exodus, each poem is written from the perspective of the Egyptians and does not even mention the Israelite slaves or their struggle for freedom. Nor is there any mention of the Jews of Europe or of the war against Germany (although their absent presence was apparent to Alterman’s contemporaries and was one of the reasons why this collection of poems caused such controversy when it was first published).
The focus of the action in Alterman’s Poems of the Ten Plagues of Egypt is on the drama that takes place in No-Amon, the greatest of the ancient Egyptian cities, whose magnificent structures now form the principal ruins of Karnak and Luxor. During the course of the poetic cycle, this city becomes the symbol of human civilization as a whole, which is being battered over-and-over again by the plagues and by worsening catastrophes that are threatening to bring with them complete and utter destruction. These cataclysms are a universal phenomenon, spreading over entire continents and being passed down through the generations. But at the center of the suffering are an Egyptian father and his firstborn son, who are (in the words of the 1978 English translation) the “righteous and innocent” victims of the plagues:
“The judgment of swords has no fault but when shedding of blood is spent, it leaves like a taste of salt the tears of the innocent.”
Nathan Alterman’s cycle of Poems on the Ten Plagues of Egypt raised moral questions of universal concern and called for compassion for all of God’s children at a time when it was nearly impossible not to see things in terms other than ‘good’ or ‘evil,’ ‘black’ or ‘white.’ Alterman’s courageous resolve to bring into the open the pain of the innocent and the injustice of the punishment inflicted upon those who did not sin brings his poems very close to my heart. And strange as it may sound, they also help me to make sense of the present moment.
Miniatures depicting the Ten Plagues of Egypt and the Israelites’ crossing of the Red Sea come from the digital version of the medieval illustrated manuscript known as The Golden Haggadah (Barcelona, Spain, ca. 1320), folios 12v-13, 14v. British Library Add. MS 27210.
This is the fourth in a series of blog posts on global pandemics written by the staff and affiliates of Duke Libraries’ International and Area Studies Department. Like the first, second, and third posts, it is edited by Ernest Zitser, Ph.D., Librarian for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies, library liaison to the International Comparative Studies Program, and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies at Duke University. The following post is written by Heather Martin, Librarian for African and African American Studies.
Where do you begin when writing a blog post about global pandemics in Africa –the world’s second-largest and second-most populous continent, containing over 60 sovereign states that claim to govern speakers of somewhere between 1200 and 3000 different languages? And how do you choose from the many infectious diseases that have ebbed and flowed across the face of the continent over its millenia-long history? If an undergraduate student came to me with such a broad topic for a term paper, I would advise them to focus their idea. Then I would work to help them come up with a topic that is still interesting, but much more manageable with the resources at hand. That is why I have chosen to write a blog post about the effects of the 1918 influenza pandemic in Africa: a much more historically-delimited topic, which has received less scholarly attention (and is, therefore, of potential interest to other researchers); and a topic that can be addressed with multiple Africa-related print and online source available at Duke Libraries (and, is therefore, do-able).
To begin, it is necessary to point out that English-language academic monographs on the “Spanish flu” in Africa are practically nonexistent, possibly due to the challenges of conducting research of the scope necessary to produce a truly pan-African study. Even scholarly journal articles about the topic typically have a narrow focus related to one aspect of the pandemic in a single country or geographic region of the continent. For example, K. David Patterson’s 1995 study of “The Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919 in the Gold Coast,” which was published in Transactions of the Ghana Historical Society (and is made available to Duke students, faculty, and staff via Duke Libraries’ subscription to JSTOR), focuses on the way the pandemic affected different socio-economic classes within the borders of that specific nation-state. But, as we all know by now, global pandemics respect no internationally-agreed-upon boundaries.
In order to get any sort of insight into how the 1918 influenza pandemic impacted multiple African countries, we need to turn to a working paper written by Jan-Bart Gewald, Professor of African History and Director of the African Studies Centre, Leiden, The Netherlands. In an open-access publication entitled Spanish Influenza in Africa: Some Comments Regarding Source Material and Future Research (also available in print at Duke Libraries), Gewald “first draws attention to the social impact of Spanish flu in Africa” by reviewing articles that cover South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Rhodesia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia. He then illustrates how the British Colonial Office records available in the National Archives can expand on previous scholarship. For example, he uses the records to pinpoint the introduction of influenza into Sierra Leone via the warship H.M.S. Mantua, which docked in Freetown in August 1918. Workers who transferred coal to the ship became ill and the disease spread from there. Finally, Gewald taps the Colonial Office records to provide insight on the influenza pandemic in Gambia and Nigeria as well. Thanks to Duke Libraries’ paid subscription to Confidential Print: Africa, 1834-1966, a research database that provides access to the United Kingdom’s Colonial, Dominion and Foreign Offices’ confidential correspondence relating to Africa, patrons who wish to pursue the line of research mapped out by Gewald can examine these very same colonial records for themselves.
British colonial records provide one type of primary source about the influenza epidemic in Africa. Another are the first person, eyewitness accounts by survivors, such as those collected in Howard Phillips’ In a Time of Plague: Memories of the ‘Spanish’ Flu Epidemic of 1918 in South Africa. These recorded interviews of 127 South African survivors of ‘Black October’—so called because the flu epidemic claimed some 350,000 lives (or 5% of the population of South Africa) in six weeks in September-October of 1918—provide unique, intimate, first-hand accounts of what these men and women saw and heard, how they coped medically, materially and psychologically and what mark this experience left on their lives.
However, in order to form a complete picture of what happened in Africa at the time of the flu epdemic, it is not enough to focus on the records left by colonial administrators and white settlers. It is also imperative to identify and utilize primary sources from indigenous Black Africans. For example, in an article entitled “Global Explanations versus Local Interpretations: The Historiography of the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19 in Africa,” from the journal History in Africa (available via Duke Libraries’ subscription to Project Muse), Matthew Heaton and Toyin Falola stress the importance of oral histories from indigenous Black Africans as an underutilized source base for countering the standard narrative about the 1918 influenza pandemic, which simply assumes that the Spanish flu in Africa followed the same course as it did in other countries. Getting access to indigenous African oral histories is another question, however. Luckily, a classic introduction to The Oral Literature in Africa, by Ruth Finnegan, is now available freely online thanks to Open Source Publishers. The book’s bibliography includes a section on web-based reference material, with links to international scholarly organizations that hold recordings of original African stories and songs.
Although it cannot serve as a substitute for a primary source like an eyewitness account or a colonial government report, works of fiction written by Africans about the African experience is one way that readers can get a sense of what it may have felt like to be there. For example, in Elechi Amadi’s novel, The Great Ponds (1969), the influenza pandemic of 1918 serves as a silent backdrop to the story of two native African villages that go to war, resort to kidnapping, and rely on religious ritual in a fight over fishing rights to a disputed pond. While this story is not based on a documented historical incident, Amadi draws from oral traditions that form the collective memory of Nigerians’ experiences with the influenza pandemic.
Amadi’s novel is frequently cited as an example of African and indigenous experiences of the 1918 influenza pandemic. There are brief references to “slave raiders” of the past and to “trading with white men,” but the narrative focuses on the people of the rival villages and how their fight over ownership of a pond is minimized when influenza, which they call wonjo, ravages their area, causing mass death regardless of clan or village affiliation. In contrast to the British colonial records, The Great Ponds presents a more personal view of life leading up to the influenza outbreak in Africa. As is the case with other great works of literature, its truth-value cannot be judged by the same standards as the works produced by professional historians. Amadi’s novel strives for something both more local and more universal. It is up to each individual reader to decide whether the author succeeds in achieving his goal.
This is the third in a series of blog posts on global pandemics written by Duke Libraries’ International and Area Studies Department. Like the first and second posts, it is edited by Ernest Zitser, Ph.D., Librarian for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies, library liaison to the International Comparative Studies Program, and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies at Duke University. The following blog post is contributed by Carson Holloway, Librarian for History of Science and Technology, Military History, British and Irish Studies, Canadian Studies and General History.
Until COVID-19’s arrival in the United States, Ebola, SARS, MERS, and Zika seemed like diseases of the ‘developing,’ ‘under-governed,’ and ‘less sanitary’ parts for the world. Surely, none of these strange and exotic viruses could ever find a home here, on the soil of the sole remaining superpower, the 20th-century heir of earlier empires on which the sun never set. The residents of late-seventeenth-century London—at the time, the bustling capitol of an up-and-coming maritime power, one that would eventually reach a territorial size larger than any other empire in history—undoubtedly would have agreed with such an assessment of the situation. Deadly tropical diseases afflicted British colonies, not the metropole; and the bubonic plague was a relic of Europe’s ‘dark ages,’ not its enlightened present. Although London did experience sporadic outbreaks of the plague earlier in the century, the residents of the City had been lulled into a false sense of complacency. So it must have come as a great shock when, in the winter of 1665, the Plague re-appeared in the City.
In their engrossing account of what has come to be known as The Great Plague of London, historian A. Lloyd Moote and microbiologist Dorothy C. Moote estimate that between 1665 and 1666, the bubonic plague killed nearly 100,000 city-dwellers, or almost one third of those who did not flee to the countryside. Those urban residents who remained in the City, however, did not panic or put themselves under quarantine. Instead, they continued to fulfill their duties and obligations, keeping as many medical, religious, legal, and business establishments open as long as they possibly could, seemingly unaware that their very activity helped to spread the disease. By using intimate letters and private diaries, and focusing on the personal experience of specific individuals, from all walks-of-life, the Mootes succeed in painting a compelling portrait of an early-modern city—the capitol of the British Empire—dealing (successfully, but at tremendous cost) with an outbreak of a deadly infectious disease.
Although the current COVID-19 crisis has limited our access to the Duke Library stacks, there are many resources, which can help fill the needs of students and researchers interested in learning more about London’s Great Plague. Primary sources from the period are relatively scarce. In 1665 there were no printed newspapers as we have come to know them; rather, information about the plague was spread by personal letter or by word-of-mouth, and, less often, by such ephemeral publications as broadsides or pamphlets. Fortunately, Duke Libraries subscribe to such research databases as Early English Books Online (EEBO), which provides users with online access to almost all known English-language books and pamphlets published between 1473 and 1700.
In some instances, subscription-based electronic resources such as EEBO and MEMSO can be supplemented by those made freely-available on the internet. For example, the Diaries of Samuel Pepys (1633-1703), one of the primary sources that the Mootes used to such good effect in their book on the London plague, are now available in electronic format through Project Gutenberg, a digital library created in 1971 by volunteers committed to making books in the public domain freely available online. Pepys was an energetic and talented man, who rose from modest beginnings to become the greatest naval administrator of the age, at a time when Britannia was just starting to rule the waves. The private diary that he kept from 1660 until 1669 is one of the most important primary sources for the English Restoration period, providing a combination of frank personal revelations and detailed eyewitness accounts of important public events, including the Great Plague of London. In the early 18th century, Pepys’ manuscript diaries, along with the rest of his personal library, were donated to Magdalene College, Cambridge. But the diaries were not published until almost a century later. And it took yet another century before technological developments made it possible not only to produce a digital version of Pepys’ text but also to publish it online.
Pepys’ eyewitness account of daily life during the plague year records observations and details that would have otherwise been lost to posterity. The following excerpt from a typical day (Friday, 5 January 1665/6), for example, recounts what he saw while riding in a coach on the way to an event in the capitol, in the period immediately after the plague had begun to subside:
And a delightfull thing it is to see the towne full of people again as now it is; and shops begin to open, though in many places seven or eight together, and more, all shut; but yet the towne is full, compared with what it used to be. I mean the City end; for Covent-Guarden and Westminster are yet very empty of people, no Court nor gentry being there.
This version of Pepys’ text comes from Phil Gyford’s groundbreaking blog, which was created in 2003 as a daily transcription of a single day’s entry from the Diary, using the copyright-free text made available online by Project Gutenberg. Although the British blogger who created this site is not a professional academic — Gyford prefers to call himself an “actor, modelmaker, illustrator and futurist” -– he has created a platform that has attracted the attention of scholars and researchers the world over. Since 2012, when Gyford completed his transcription of Pepys’ Diary, numerous experts have provided annotations to, or written in-depth articles about selected topics brought up in individual diary entries. (For example, clicking the hyperlinked term “the City” in the daily entry quoted above opens a box with an explanatory note about the history of this geographically delimited section within Greater London). Thanks to such contributions, Gyford’s site continues to evolve, thereby providing a good example of the value added by open access electronic resources, which do not lock away the results of scholarly research behind the ‘pay walls’ erected by monopolistic publishers.
Researchers interested in a more literary treatment of the Great Plague would do well to consult A journal of the plague year: being observations or memorials, of the most remarkable occurrences, as well publick as private, which happened in London during the last great visitation in 1665..., available online both via paid subscription to Thomson Gale’s Eighteenth Century Collections Online and for free via Project Gutenberg. This work was written by Daniel Defoe (c.1660-1731), but published, without attribution (under the initials “H.F.”), in 1722. The famed author of Robinson Crusoe (1719) was only about five years old when the Great Plague hit London, so he could not have remembered much of what he and his family had experienced at the time. And yet Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year is described on its title page as a never-before-published memoir by “a citizen who continued all the while in London.” Even the year of publication raises suspicions about the historical authenticity of this self-proclaimed memoir, since the book appeared during a period of high public interest in plagues due to a recent outbreak in France. In other words, what we see here is Defoe in his role as literary entrepreneur, rather than as autobiographer. And yet Defoe’s masterly combination of first-person narration and realistic description (apparently based on substantial historical research), has embroiled scholars in a century-long debate over the question whether Journal of the Plague Year was, in fact, fiction or something more like history.
Perhaps the best answer to that question is provided by “H.F.,” the anonymous author of Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, who concludes his “account of this calamitous year …with a coarse but sincere stanza…, which I placed at the end of my ordinary memorandums the same year they were written”:
A dreadful plague in London was In the year sixty-five, Which swept an hundred thousand souls Away; yet I alive!
In the space of four short lines of verse, this brief meditation on mortality manages to encapsulate the complicated mixture of emotions that a survivor of a pandemic must have experienced upon learning the total death count. A moment when the fleeting feeling of joy over one’s own salvation is leavened with grief, loss, and something even more insidious, viz., the nagging, unanswered question: Why was I spared, when so many were taken?
In other words, Defoe’s fictionalized account does not have to be true factually in order to capture and convey the experience of anyone who has ever lived through a catastrophic and traumatic event (such as the one we are currently in). In that sense, A Journal of the Plague Year is as much of a must-read today as it was when first published.
Edited by Ernest Zitser, Ph.D., Librarian for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies, library liaison to the International Comparative Studies Program, and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies at Duke University.
This is the second in a series of blog posts on global pandemics by the staff of and/or subject specialists directly affiliated with Duke Libraries’ International and Area Studies Department. As is the case with the first installment of the series, the librarians who contributed the following entries seek to offer suggestions for further reading, not a comprehensive bibliography on the topic. For additional resources (visual or textual, analog or digital) on plagues/infectious diseases/moral panics from around the world, please contact the appropriate IAS librarian. And if you have any recommendations of your own, please “reply” to this blog post below.
Unless you are a die-hard fan of the genre, it may be too soon in our experience of COVID-19 to seek out movies featuring infectious diseases that inspire moral panic or plagues that end the world. And even hardcore fans might want to take a break from perennial favorites, such as The Andromeda Strain(dir. Robert Wise, 1971, U.S), 28 Days Later(dir. Danny Boyle, 2002, U.K.), Children of Men(dir. Alfonso Cuarón, 2006, U.S. & U.K.), Contagion (dir. Stephen Soderbergh, 2011, U.S.), or the cult classic (and my personal favorite) 12 Monkeys(dir. Terry Gilliam, 1995, U.S.).
However, as Duke’s Librarian for Film, Video, & Digital Media, it is my job to challenge patrons’ expectations of what/when/who is watchable by exposing them to visual resources that they might otherwise not know about or simply choose to ignore. That is why I have compiled a short list of lesser known, but no-less-provocative foreign films that are all available, with English subtitles, in the Duke Libraries’ film collection. Precisely because of their variety of approaches—from bucolic (Wondrous Boccaccio ) to philosophical (The Seventh Seal) to apocalyptic (The Flu)—these films demonstrate that there are as many cinematic responses to pandemics as there are international movie makers and audiences. And these responses are as unique and culturally-mediated as the cinematic experience itself.
Wondrous Boccaccio (dirs. Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, 2015, Italy) consumer streaming platforms | Lilly DVD 29001 | streaming in the Libraries [access requires Duke netid/password | licensed through 9-30-2020]
Based on Giovanni Boccaccio’s Renaissance classic, The Decameron, this film follows the lives of ten young people who flee plague-ridden Florence in the mid-14th century, at the height of a pandemic that would ultimately kill over 30 million people, alter the European social structure, and influence the ideologies of those who survived. The Taviani brothers use Renaissance painting as a source of inspiration in their film. The cinematography evokes the vibrant colors of artists such as Botticelli in his scenes from The Decameron, as well as those of Masaccio and Giotto, moving from dark blacks in the plague-ridden city to vibrant colors of the countryside. The characters find refuge in an abandoned villa in the Tuscan hills and pass the time by telling each other tales of love, which range from the erotic to the tragic.
Blindness (dir. Fernando Meirelles, 2008, Brazil & Canada) consumer streaming platforms |Ford DVD #4943
Based on the bestselling novel by Nobel-Prize-winning Portuguese author, José Saramago, a city is ravaged by an epidemic of instant white blindness. Filmed on location in Brazil, Canada, and Uruguay—although “the city” is never specifically identified—the story focuses on the behavior of people who are losing their sight and are forced to survive in a sea of whiteness. The film depicts the ugliest side of human nature in a crisis; it offers a devastating portrait of institutional failure and government betrayal. The viewer can recognize chilling parallels with our current COVID-19 crisis, from the opportunism of corrupt governments to the neglect of the health-care system. Blindness is an end-of-civilization fable which is thought-provoking and topical in its indictment of declining social mores.
The Hole (dir. Tsai Ming-liang, 1998, Taiwan)Lilly DVD 366
At the cusp of the 21st century, Taiwan experiences a torrential rain that brings with it a mysterious virus of epic proportions. Symptoms of “Taiwan Fever” include high fever and an acute sensitivity to light. Sections of the city are quarantined with essential services cut off by the government. The film is set in an apartment block in a quarantine zone where residents remain, against quarantine regulations. A plumber comes to fix a leak and instead leaves a gaping hole through which a tenant can see into his neighbor’s apartment below, and they develop a connection. The Hole presents a remarkable blend of aesthetic elements of science fiction, absurdism, and romantic fantasy, with musical sequences to boot. The film does not travel beyond the bounds of the apartment block. It explores the inward-looking aspects of an outbreak—the isolation it causes and how interactions with others become intensified.
The Seventh Seal (dir. Ingmar Bergman, 1957, Sweden)consumer streaming platforms |Lilly DVD 14846
Exhausted and embittered after a decade of battling in the Crusades, a knight returns home to a land ravaged by bubonic plague. He encounters Death on a desolate beach and challenges him to a fateful game of chess. Focusing on issues of man’s relationships with death, life and God, Bergman’s story transcends simple metaphor in this now classic work rich in philosophical allegory that remains especially relevant today.
The Flu (dir. Kim Sung-su, 2013, S. Korea) consumer streaming platforms | Lilly DVD 26447
This South Korean medical disaster film tells the story of panic, despair, and the desperate struggle for survival in a city that has been quarantined after the outbreak of a deadly virus. The virus in this scenario is H5N1 influenza (commonly known as the ‘bird flu’) introduced by illegal immigrants from Hong Kong, arriving in a shipping container. In order to prevent the spread of the virus worldwide, the government issues a national disaster and orders a city-wide lockdown. Citizens stock up on daily necessities, starting riots as mistrust of each other builds. In the meantime, politicians’ quarrels, powerless governments, and unwelcome U.S. involvement force the viewer to consider eventualities that might be even more frightening than a virus attack. Sound familiar?
Aside from scientific articles in medical journals about the most recent outbreaks of new strains of influenza and coronavirus, the issue of pandemics on the Korean peninsula has only recently attracted the attention from the English-speaking scholarly community. That is why most of the publications on the topic are currently in the form of scholarly journal articles, dissertations, and theses, rather than academic monographs.
For example, in 2011, Chaisung Lim, then Assistant Professor at the Institute for Japanese Studies at Korea’s Seoul National University, published an article on “The Pandemic of the Spanish Influenza in Colonial Korea” in the Korea Journal, a quarterly academic publication founded in 1961 with the goal of promoting Korean Studies around the world. By examining the Spanish influenza, which was widespread during 1918-1921, Lim sought “to elucidate the structural aspect of disease and death in colonial Korea” and to “explor[e] its socioeconomic effects.” The author focused on the public health policies adopted by the Government-General of Korea (GGK)—the Japanese colonial ruling organ from 1910 to 1945—and the degree to which these measures contributed to the mortality of the general population. He further probed how GGK’s policies were differentiated by ethnic group (ethnic Koreans and Japanese), as well as how much access each ethnic group had to measures for medical treatment. His research revealed a significant difference in the fatality rates between the two ethnic groups—a conclusion that reminds me of the differential effects of COVID-19 on the health of racial and ethnic minority groups in the US. Interestingly, Lim’s study also posited that the social frustration caused by the pandemic and the ensuing economic hardships served as a source for the so-called March First Independence Movement in 1919, one of the earliest public displays of Korean resistance to Japanese colonial rule.
Another example of English-language research on the same topic comes from somewhere even closer to home. Two years ago, a Duke undergraduate student named Alan Ko asked me, in my capacity as the Korean Studies Librarian, to assist him with his research on the Spanish flu during the colonial period in Korea. He was then in the process of working on an honors thesis in the History Department and was looking for Korean-language primary sources. Among other things, I suggested that he take a look at contemporary Korean newspapers, such as those made available in e-format by several different Korean newspaper archives. He used those sources to examine how Western missionaries in colonial Korea perceived disease among the local populace and how public health efforts correlated with certain preconceived cultural and social factors. Needless to say, it was very gratifying to learn that Alan not only went to graduate with honors, but that his honors thesis, “Pathogens from the Pulpit: Missionary Perceptions of Disease in Colonial Korea (1910-1940),” was deposited in DukeSpace—Duke Libraries’ online repository—thereby making the results of his research freely-available to other scholars. It was also nice to see that the author publicly acknowledged the support that he received from Duke’s librarians, who not only helped him to locate “appropriate Korean language sources,” but also cheered him on with tea and pistachios, while he edited his thesis, during “work-study shifts” at Perkins library.
Plagues/infectious diseases/moral panics have also been a feature in Korean popular culture, appearing in several famous films, dramas, and novels. One of the most recent films on the topic (The Flu) has already been mentioned above, in Danette Pachtner’s post on pandemics in international cinema. Here, I would like to draw attention to another movie: “The Host,” a feature film directed by Bong Joon-ho—the Academy Award-winning director of The Parasite (2019). Both The Host (2006) and The Flu (2013) were inspired by the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic of 2002-2004, which was caused by a different, but related strain of coronavirus than COVID-19. Both films describe virus-related epidemic/pandemic situations and deal with the interplay between political and environmental issues. But only The Host has an American villain who is even more evil than the virus-spewing monster that he inadvertently unleashes upon the world.
The plot of The Host begins in a laboratory on an American military base in South Korea. An American scientist working with dangerous chemicals orders his Korean colleague to dump them into the Han River, saying “who cares” and “it can’t really hurt anyone.” Of course, turns out it can. The movie goes on to trace the havoc wreaked on Korea by a river-dwelling mutant created by the illegal dumping of chemical waste, as that monster begins to spread a deadly new virus, which can be transmitted (SARS-like) to humans through animals.
Despite its fantastic premise, this mash-up of medical disaster and monster movies actually has a basis in reality. In fact, the film was inspired by an incident from 2000 in which a Korean mortician working for the U.S. military in Seoul was ordered to dump a large amount of formaldehyde down the drain. And, unfortunately, scenes from the movie have become an all-too-real part of our daily routine in the age of COVID-19. In an eerie foreshadowing of the paranoia and anti-Asian racism that has attended the outbreak of the latest coronavirus pandemic, the movie depicts a world in which people who wear facemasks are so afraid of viral transmission that they come to suspect one another of deliberately, if not maliciously, hiding symptoms of the disease. The movie also highlights, if only by negative example, the critical role that the government can play during a national health crisis, portraying the South Korean government as bureaucratic, inept, and essentially uncaring. Surely, there is no country in the world today where the government can be described in such unflattering terms. Now that is pure fantasy!
This is the first in a series of blog posts on global pandemics, edited by Ernest Zitser, Ph.D., Librarian for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies, library liaison to the International Comparative Studies Program, and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies at Duke University.
Pandemics, by their very definition (< Greek pandēmos = pan ‘all’ + dēmos ‘people’), affect everyone in the entire world. They expose the permeability of border walls and remind us of the invented nature of all geopolitical boundaries. They also provide us with an opportunity to learn something about the lived experience of people from around the globe, those external ‘others’ whom it is all-too-easy to stereotype as strange, exotic, or dangerous. That is, pandemics invite us not merely to recognize the humanity of, and suffer alongside perfect ‘strangers,’ who speak ‘foreign’ languages and write in ‘squiggly’ scripts, but actually to draw lessons from the way human communities in other parts of the world are dealing and/or have dealt with the same issues as us.
In order to help foster a more informed and compassionate approach to the current global health crisis, the subject specialists of Duke Libraries’ International and Area Studies Department have decided to devote a series of blog posts to the topic of plagues, epidemics, and pandemics in each of the world regions for which they collect materials and about which they offer reference and library instruction. Our goal is not to provide exhaustive coverage of the topic, but merely to suggest one or two resources—preferably those available online and in English—that each subject specialist has found particularly meaningful or useful in helping him or her to understand the role that infectious diseases have played in the countries, continents, and world areas for which s/he is responsible.
If you would like to get more information about a particular world region or recommendations for additional resources on the topic, please feel free to contact the appropriate IAS librarian. And do let us know if you have your own recommendations! Simply leave a reply in the “Comment Section” at the end of this blog post.
Holly Ackerman Head, International & Area Studies Dept. and Librarian for Latin American, Iberian and Latino/a Studies
When the editors of the IAS blog proposed the idea of publishing a series of posts recommending readable, digitally-available, English-language resources on plagues/infectious diseases/moral panics in world literature and/or film, I approached the selection in my role as the Department Head, responsible for covering many world areas. I tried to recall a popular history with global reach that dealt both with politics and medicine. I wanted something that was deeply researched but also genuinely engaging. And, perhaps not surprisingly, one that would also highlight the other role that I play in IAS, namely, the Librarian for Latin American, Iberian and Latino/a Studies.
John Barry’s panoramic history of the so-called “Spanish” Flu of 1918—the ruthless influenza pandemic that is estimated to have claimed 50-100 million lives (adjusted for population, that would equal 220 million to 430 million people today)—came immediately to mind. I had read it back in 2004 when it first came out and was that year’s winner of the National Academies of Sciences prize for the best book on science or medicine. A re-read this week confirmed its currency.
Barry, a professor at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, seems to be speaking directly to the present when he says that medicine and politics cannot be separated in a pandemic and one is as significant as the other. He describes political leaders in 1918 lying to the public about the severity of the situation in order to maintain the World War I economy and their control over the electorate. And also of blaming a particular foreign country for being the source of the outbreak, in an effort to shift the blame for their handling of the public health crisis onto a foreign country. Sound familiar?
The good news in Barry’s sweeping account is the role of medicine in developing vaccines, public health officials broadcasting simple preventive measures (posters read, “Wear a mask; Save your life), the rise of “modern” medical schools such as Johns Hopkins, and the organization of the Red Cross. He offers case examples of communities that suppressed the disease (e.g., San Francisco) and those that failed to do so (e.g., Philadelphia). The “winners” combined truthful leaders, inspiration in public messaging, and stern demand for compliance with best practices. The “losers” combined denial with blaming (calling it “just a common cold” as corpses outnumbered coffins, attacking immigrants as “natural carriers,” and demanding legislation for mass euthanasia of domestic pets).
Anyone wanting to see how pandemics change history will find much to admire here.
The issue of plague in the Middle East context has not received the scholarly attention that it deserves. However, there are some excellent books and works-in-progress out there for anyone interested in the topic.
For example, Christopher S. Rose, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Historical Studies, The University of Texas at Austin, has written an article about how the Egyptian government handled a pandemic in the past, at least partly in order to contextualize the criticism of the way the current Egyptian government has handled the COVID-19 crisis. Rose’s article has been accepted by the Journalof World History, but is unlikely to appear in print until 2021; and Rose’s book will not be out until sometime in the next decade. That is why it is so great that this young scholar is willing to share some of the results of his research in a WordPress blog post on The “Spanish Flu” in Egypt. Rose argues that “for most of the war, civilian medical needs were a far distant second behind military medical needs” of the colonial occupiers of this strategically-important British protectorate. Consequently, when the pandemic hit, the Anglo-Egyptian government was “caught with its pants down”: hospitals and clinics were overwhelmed; physicians (who were mostly Egyptians, Greek, or Syrian) were overworked; agricultural production (on which the entire economy depended) ceased; religious services were suspended; and at least 130,000 people died. The fact that the flu pandemic—the worst health crisis during World War I in Egypt—came after the end of the war made everything worse. Rose argues that this was one of the “non-political events” in early 20th-century Egyptian history that prepared the ground for the political changes in the years that followed the pandemic.
An even earlier period of environmental, epidemiological, and political history of what is today’s Middle East is the subject of Plague and Empire in the Early Modern Mediterranean World: the Ottoman Experience, 1347-1600, by Nükhet Varlik of Rutgers University and the University of South Carolina. This thorough, ground-breaking book explores the impact of plagues on Ottoman lands beginning with the Black Death, which ravaged the world from 1347 to 1351. One aspect of the work I found particularly interesting is the development of public health vis-à-vis the state. The Ottoman state was very conscious of the need for clean drinking water, hence the development of fountains throughout the empire—including the imperial capital, Istanbul—and the imperative to bury those who had died of the disease outside the city walls, so as to ensure that as much clean air as possible circulated within the city. Varlik’s book is not only well-researched, but also provides fascinating historical insight into a topic that has contemporary resonance, not least because of its insistence on the Western origins of the Plague, as well as its discussion of the pandemic’s effect both on physical bodies and the body politic. After reading this book, you might also want to visit the Ottoman History Podcast for a discussion on Plague in the Ottoman World, featuring Nükhet Varlık, Yaron Ayalon, Orhan Pamuk, Lori Jones, Valentina Pugliano, and Edna Bonhomme.
William C. Summer’s book on the Great Manchurian Plague of 1910-1911, will be an enlightening (and inspiring) read for today’s audience. The Manchuria (Northeast China) plague, which broke out in fall 1910 and killed more than 60,000 people by spring 1911, was caused by transmission from marmots to humans. It spread quickly both among the native Chinese inhabitants and the Russian, Japanese, American, and British diplomats and administrators stationed in Manchuria, a new center of global transportation and fur trade that was of strategic importance to the world powers. Summer demonstrates that geopolitics—China’s political weakness and Russian and Japanese colonial aspirations in the region—shaped how the plague was contained and managed. He also highlights the work of individual medical practitioners, such as Dr. Wu Lien-teh—the first medical student of Chinese descent to study at the University of Cambridge—who led the Chinese effort to end the plague. Dr. Wu promoted the use of cloth facial masks, which were to be worn by doctors, nurses, patients, and anyone else whenever possible: the very first time that such an epidemic containment measure had been attempted and proven effective in the field. In the end, the “Great Manchurian Plague” highlighted the importance of multinational medical responses and helped to promote the (eventual) establishment of the World Health Organization – an unintended, but welcome by-product of the epidemic.
In order to get a sense of the lived experience of COVID-19 in China today, it is best to turn to non-traditional outlets (e.g. WeChat, Weibo, Twitter, Facebook) and freely available electronic resources. For example, in The Virus Diaries (疫境日記), a 10-minute YouTube video (in Cantonese, with English subtitles), from late January 2020, ordinary citizens of Hong Kong share their experiences of life during quarantine.
For mainland China, the most obvious (and most controversial) choice is Wuhan Diary (武汉日记) by Fang Fang (方方), the pen name of Wang Fang (汪芳; born 11 May 1955), an award-winning, contemporary Chinese writer. Although this fascinating, first-person account of life at the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis is now available as an e-book, in an English-language translation by Michael Berry, Director of UCLA Center of China Studies, it began life as a series of posts on Fang’s social media page. The author’s regular, daily entries on WeChat—a Chinese multi-purpose messaging, social media, and mobile payment app—offered her personal (and mildly critical) comments on the effects of the deadly epidemic during the government-imposed lockdown. Almost as soon as they were posted, however, each of Fang’s entries about the effect of the coronavirus on Chinese society was consistently deleted by China’s internet censors. But usually not before the latest entry had itself gone viral, having been shared by millions of WeChatters, both within China and abroad. That has not slowed Chinese government efforts to stop the spread of the virtual virus unleashed by Fang Fang’s media posts.In an effort to dissuade overseas readers from purchasing the diary, the Global Times—an English-language newspaper published under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily—claimed (falsely) that Fang “fell from grace in late March when many netizens and scholars began to question the authenticity of her diary.” As if anticipating such politically motivated criticism, the last entry in Fang’s diary was entitled: “There is no tension between me and my country” (我和国家之间没有张力).
Istanbul, also known as Der Saadet (Abode of Happiness), is a city unlike many others. Its very name evokes a mythical image of earthly paradise. And for those fortunate to have visited the Turkish cultural capital, whether for business (as I did during a book-buying trip) or pleasure, there are plenty of reasons why this is the case. Situated between the Black and Mediterranean seas, Istanbul has always been a picturesque city, brimming with diverse cultures, languages, ideas, and technologies. A collection of 174 Turkish postcards and photos from the late 1890s to the 1930s, recently digitized by Duke University Library, allows us to get a glimpse of this happy abode at the turn of the twentieth century, immediately before things went very badly.
Most of the images in the Istanbul postcards collection depict everyday life in Üsküdar, a historic neighborhood on the Asian side of Istanbul that was once home to thriving communities of Turks, Greeks, Armenians, Jews, and other ethnic groups. Considering Üsküdar’s cultural and linguistic diversity, it is not surprising that this neighborhood was also commonly known as Scutari (in English and Italian), likely a diminutive of the Greek Skoutàrion (Σκουτάριον), the original name of the area.
The Istanbul postcards collection contains striking images that document everyday life, historic buildings and ports, various architectural features, and other topics that may be of interest to students and researchers of late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century Istanbul.
Perhaps one of the more iconic landmarks in Istanbul is the Kız kulesi (Maiden’s Tower)–also known as Leander’s Tower (after the Greek myth of Hero and Leander)–a lighthouse situated in the Bosphorus straits, between the European and Asian sides of the city. There have been several towers over the centuries, with the original wood construction dating back to 1110 CE. The one depicted in this postcard was restored only in 1725. Here the Tower is festooned with lights to celebrate the ten-year anniversary since the founding of the Republic of Turkey (1923), a vivid example of the government’s attempt to appropriate historical sites of memory for contemporary political purposes.
On the banks of the Bosphorus lies the impressive Beylerbeyi Sarayı (Palace), the historic building depicted in the postcard below. Completed in 1865, the palace was the summer home of Sultan Abdülaziz (1830-1876), the first Ottoman Sultan to travel to Western Europe. After Greek nationalist forces defeated the Ottomans in Selanik in 1912, Sultan Abdülhamid (who had previously been confined to the Villa Allatini) would be forced to move to this palatial residence. The embossed stamp (reading “Constantinople,” rather than Istanbul) on the bottom left corner of the postcard suggests, however, that the creators of this souvenir sought to emphasize the building’s status as a European-style architectural landmark, rather than its role as a place of political exile.The influence of France, and in particular the French language, was pervasive throughout the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth-century, especially among the literary elite. That is why, for example, many Ottoman-language journals (like the ones included in the recently launched digital project on the French Press in the Ottoman Empire), would often include a French translation or sub-title. To meet this growing demand, French educational entrepreneurs began opening schools in Istanbul. One of these schools, the Fransız Sainte Marie Okulu, is pictured in the postcard below. Note that although the writing on the back of the postcard is from 1933, the image of the school itself likely dates to the late nineteenth-century . Today, the historic building in which the school was once housed is part of a larger restoration project (Bağlarbaşı ilköğretim ve İş Okulu Restorasyonu).Another historic building depicted in the Turkish postcard collection is the Üsküdar Haydarpaşa Sultan tıbbiye mektebi (Üsküdar Haydarpaşa Sultan neighbourhood and Medical School). Built in 1827 as a military academy for the study of modern medicine, the school employed European and Ottoman doctors, who taught their students in French. The field of medicine was yet another example of the wide circulation of French (and, more broadly, European) ideas and practices in late Ottoman culture. You can learn more about the school and its place in Ottoman and European intellectual history with this recent publication.Another postcard on the theme of medicine and society is the one that portrays the Üsküdar miskinler tekkesi ve sebili (Üsküdar Leprosy house and water kiosk), the public health institution to which individuals suffering from this stigmatized infectious disease were confined and where they received such medical care as was available at the time. Although the term for this institution could also be translated as “lodges for the poor, helpless, wretched”—in addition to leper, the word miskinler, which is of Arabic origin with a Turkish suffix, also means poor, helpless, wretched; while tekke, a word borrowed from Persian but of Arabic origin, means lodge) —the miskinler tekkesi were colloquially known as tembelhâne, meaning “lazy houses.” Indeed, it is fair to say that rather than being sent for professional medical treatment, lepers were banished from society to live in miskinler tekkesi. For further information on Ottoman laws and debates about such matters see Studies in old Ottoman criminal law. And for further information about Ottoman disability studies, see Disability in the Ottoman Arab World, 1500-1800.A few images in the newly-digitized Istanbul postcard collection depict a very dark period of Turkish history, known as İşgal (the period of foreign occupation). After its defeat in World War I (1918), the Ottoman Empire was dismembered by the victorious military powers. As a direct result, British, French, Italian, and Greek troops moved into the former Abode of Happiness and took over the administration of the city. Istanbul and its residents were kept under strict watch, not least by means of naval vessels, such as the two steamships depicted, in the postcard below, patrolling the waters off Ortaköy with Üsküdar in the foreground. This tumultuous period witnessed the rise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and ended only with the founding of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 (a defining political event that was celebrated as a national holiday in the abovementioned postcard of the Maiden’s Tower, and that continues to be celebrated today).Finally, I will end this short blog entry on Duke’s newly-digitized collection of Istanbul postcards with this fantastic image of an old pier in the Kandilli neighbourhood of Üsküdar. The steamship and other boats (depicted on the left and center of the postcard) illustrate the importance that piers and the Bosphorus have played in Istanbul’s centuries-long history, while also giving us a glimpse (on the right-hand side of the image) of the traditional yalılar (waterfront residences and mansions), which dot the Bosphorus coast. This is a reassuring image, which suggests that whatever political and name changes the city may yet to undergo, the Abode of Happiness will remain, first and foremost, a strategically located sea port in the very heart of Eurasia.Like the previously digitized Selanik/Salonica/Thessaloniki postcard collection, the Istanbul postcards collection adds depth to Duke University Library’s holdings on the Middle East and offers yet another electronic resource for scholars of many disciplines to use for research and teaching.
International and area studies librarians facilitate research not only about different parts of the globe, but also about different eras in time. A prime example of this historical orientation is the recently-acquired and-digitized Selanik/Salonica/Thessaloniki postcard collection. This new addition to Duke University Library’s already extensive International Postcard Collection consists of 208 images documenting the famous Aegean Sea port-city from the late 19th to the early 20th-centuries.
Thanks to its favourable location and its large and natural seaport, this ancient city hosted merchants from near and far. In part because of its function as an international trading post, the city’s population was a mix of cultures (Armenian, Jewish, Greek, Arab, and Turk) and religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam). During the 20th-century, however, the formation of nation-states with regulated borders, the eruption of major wars in the region, and the consequent displacement of populations through both natural and forced migration, effectively destroyed the diversity of this multi-ethnic metropolis. The Selanik/Salonica/Thessaloniki postcard collection allows us to get a fleeting—and, therefore, all the more special—glimpse of the world that was lost as a result of war and genocide.
“What’s in a name?”
The Aegean port-city was founded in 315 BC and named after Thessaloniki (Greek: Θεσσαλονίκη), the wife of King Cassander of Macedonia and half-sister of Alexander the Great. When the Byzantine Empire – the Christianized successor to Alexander’s empire – fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1423, Thessaloniki’s days as a Greek city were numbered. In fact, just seven years later, the Ottomans captured the Aegean port city and changed its name to Selanik (Ottoman Turkish: سلانیك). The city would officially retain this name from 1430 until 1912, when Greek nationalist forces defeated the Ottomans and changed its name back to Thessaloniki.
During the long period of Ottoman rule, the city was also informally known as Salonica (Ladino: סאלוניקו). This toponym was the Ladino, or Judeo-Spanish variant of the Ottoman Turkish name for the city. Like the city itself, Ladino was a mix of cultural influences: “based in Spanish and other Iberian languages, with a strong Hebrew Aramaic component,” but also incorporating “many elements from the languages of the Mediterranean world, including Turkish, Greek, Italian, French, and Arabic.” The widespread use of the name Salonica is a reminder of the once sizable Jewish community of the Aegean port city. The Jewish population came to call Salonica home after the Reconquista and the Edict of Expulsion from Spain in 1492. However, in World War II the Jews of Salonica suffered dramatically during the Nazi occupation, which all but erased their physical presence and their role in the city’s history, save for some architectural achievements.
Wish you were here!
As the following selection of greeting cards from the digitized Selanik/Salonica/Thessaloniki postcard collection demonstrates, the creators of the images were very cognizant of the way they wished to portray their city and, therefore, very deliberate in their choice of subject matter. Everything was meant to leave the tourist who bought and sent the postcard with a positive memory of his or her visit to the city and the addressee who received it with a desire to visit it for him or herself.
The colourful postcard below, for example, displays a tranquil street scene from the usually bustling and crowded business district of Selanik. The street in question is not just any street, but the “Grand rue de la Banque Ottoman.” The influential Ottoman Bank (seen on the right) was built in 1903 by the Turkish architects Barouh and Amar with an eye to synthesizing local and European architectural aesthetics of the time. This attempt to appeal to multiple constituencies at one and the same time may explain why the title of the card is printed in both French and Ottoman.
Near the Ottoman Bank and its busy shops was the Allatini brick factory, which now sits abandoned. The brick factory was named after the family who founded it. The Allatini family was of Iberian Jewish heritage and had settled in Salonica in the early 16th century. The family would also open the Allatini flour mill, which is still in operation to this day, though now located in Sindos, a suburb of Thessaloniki. The Allatini family also owned the Villa Allatini, which is a historic building not merely because it was the family’s country estate, but also because it came to play a role in one of the most dramatic events in the history of modern Turkey. In 1908, a nationalist group called the Young Turks led a successful revolution to dethrone the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and restore the Constitution. The Sultan was forced to abdicate and was later put under house arrest at the Villa Allatini (depicted in the black-and-white postcard below).
Other building-related postcards in the digitized collection offer views, frequently only in passing, of architectural features that are no longer a regular part of the everyday modern life. One example are the images of the sahnisi (σαχνισί), or traditional protruding balconies, which were meant to allow sunlight into a specific space of a home (as seen on the right hand side of the next image):
And this image of a sünnet bayramı (circumcision festival), a ceremony regularly held and often documented in manuscripts known as Surname-i Hümayun.
The collection ends in 1917, the year Thessaloniki was ravaged by a tremendous fire. From the dramatic image on the following postcard, it is possible to get a sense of both the magnitude of the fire as well as the terror that must have overcome the locals. The Great Fire, as it came to be known, drastically transformed the layout of the city, adding yet another layer to the palimpsest that is the history of Selanik/Salonica/Thessaloniki.
This post is contributed by Heidi Madden, Librarian for Western European and Medieval/Renaissance Studies.
The Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library holds the papers of Oskar Morgenstern, whose diaries span the years 1917-1977. The diaries were digitized, a few years ago, in a collaboration between the Rubenstein Library and the University of Graz, Austria, and can be seen at the Oskar Morgenstern Website. This 50-year-long personal archive of a renowned scientist is an ideal Open Educational Resource for teaching with primary sources. How can librarians help students use this wonderful material in courses at Duke and at other institutions?
An understanding of the historic development of German Script will show why the Morgenstern Papers are very approachable, even though they look difficult to decipher at first. The older, pre-1900 versions of German Script allowed for many individual and regional variations for forming letters. The chart below shows the many ways in which an individual writer might have shaped their letters in the18th and 19th century:
The reason why 20th century Script is easier to read is because, between 1910 and 1915, several regional German-language school systems simplified German Script to make it easier for students to learn. Ludwig Sütterlin, a graphic artist working in Berlin, designed a script for the Prussian educational ministry that became popular very quickly. This script was known as the Sütterlin Script (Sütterlinschrift), and became the handwriting taught in most German schools until 1941, including the ones attended by the young Oskar Morgenstern.
Taking a closer look at Morgenstern’s handwriting, it is interesting to compare the cover page inscription with the first page of the diary. It is immediately clear that the loose leaf inscription was added later, when Morgenstern’s handwriting had become more modernized. It would be totally possible for students to learn to decipher Morgenstern’ s hand (with some human help and some charts) during a session with these materials. Furthermore, as the team at the University of Graz continues their transcription, students can use the website to improve their German reading skills by comparing the scans of the original pages with the transcription, and they can copy and paste the plain text into a translating tool like DeepL.
German Script and Blackletter have an ideological association with nationalism in 1871 (see “Antiqua-Fraktur debate”) and a visual association with fascist propaganda under Hitler. It is understandable that American students associate Blackletter with fascism. In fact, today Germans themselves recoil whenever populists and rightwing groups use Blackletter in their event publicity. However, Nazi Germany did not invent these styles. The historical irony is that the Nazi government first embraced German Script and Blackletter typeface as “German” and then outlawed the styles in 1941 as “Jewish.” That is why it is important to teach reading German Script and Blackletter with circumspection and as an auxiliary tool of historical research.
What follows are some resources for learning to read and write German Script. The Geist Institute in Winston Salem, NC, offers a week long Script course every year. The course draws researchers and genealogists from across the country, as well as staff and volunteer researchers from the Moravian Archives in Winston-Salem, an archive for the local community of Moravians, founded by German protestants (the Herrnhuters) in 1753. Other German Script workshops in the US are held at the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, PA. , and at the Center for Family History & Genealogy and Department of History at Brigham Young University, Utah, which also offers a thorough online tutorial, the German Script Tutorial.
The Geist Institute in Winston-Salem, NC will hold the workshop again this year, from July 25 to August 1, 2020. The workshop leader, Julie Tomberlin, Ph.D., recommends the following key resources to prepare and deepen the study of German Script:
Dearden, Fay, and Leland K. Meitzler, 2013, Deciphering Gothic records: useful hints for helping you read “Old German” script!, provides tables of Old German Script alphabet variations.
Digitale Schriftkunde, Bavarian State Archives, provides examples and transcription by century, and is a good addition to the the German Script Tutorial from the Center for Family History & Genealogy and Department of History at Brigham Young University, Utah.
Minert, Roger P. 2013, Deciphering handwriting in German documents: analyzing German, Latin, and French in historical manuscripts, provides a history of German Script, and gives many tips on best practices in reading German Script, including reference works.
Schober, Katherine, 2018, Tips and tricks of deciphering German handwriting: a translator’s tricks of the trade for transcribing German genealogy documents, provides a good starting point for understanding strategies for working on German Script documents efficiently. For example, a reader can start by looking at how a particular writer forms the common words like articles and question words, they can look for distinctly formed letters across several documents by the same writer, and build a register of how particular letters are formed.
Süß, Harald. 1991. Deutsche Schreibschrift Lesen und Schreiben lernen (2 volumes: Lehrbuch and Übungsbuch) Augsburg: Augustus-Verl., is a highly visual introduction to German Script together with many examples and detailed notes on stroke order. Learning the stroke order for each letter helps trace older more varied forms of handwriting when working with original documents.
Verdenhalven, Fritz, 1994, Die deutsche Schrift: ein Übungsbuch = The German script. Frankfurt/M.: Verl. f. Standesamtswesen, offers many examples of script and transcription side by side, which is very helpful in training the eye of the reader.
Digital Tools for reading Script are emerging. For example, the archive for German Colonial History has developed a reading tool called Old German Script-Typewriter (Kurrent-Schreibmaschine). You type in the letters you can decipher, and the tool looks in various historical dictionaries for a term that might fit. Another tool, Alte Deutsche Schrift allows you to enter words in plain text, and see the Script version underneath; this makes it possible to double check a transcription, by mapping every transcribed letter back to what the word should look like in Script. The site also helps to train the eye; enter your name in the text field and and click through results in several styles:
For more information about Script resources, especially more detail about the Geist Institute Script course in Winston-Salem, NC, contact Heidi Madden.
This post is contributed by Heidi Madden, Librarian for Western European and Medieval/Renaissance Studies.
Documents in German Script (cursive handwriting) and books and pamphlets printed in Blackletter typeface (Fraktur) represent the lives of many diverse German-language communities from the 15th to the 20th century. However, as many scholars can attest, these Scripts are notoriously difficult to read. So how can libraries and librarians help students and researchers learn paleography?
Rubenstein Library (RL) has a very active instruction program and I frequently collaborate with Rubenstein librarian Elizabeth Dunn on teaching with materials in old handwriting, both in English and German. We work with faculty to “literally” help students read the Script and Blackletter. In fact, Elizabeth began building a small library of transcriptions that she sets up alongside the original documents. Students are always fascinated by the idea of immersing themselves in these unique materials, especially pieces of correspondence recounting private lives, which make the past come alive.
While brainstorming ideas about possible materials for a recent RL session, Elizabeth and I decided that making the Oskar Morgenstern papers more approachable could be a wonderful pedagogical project. Oskar Morgenstern was a German-born economist, university professor, and author in Austria and the United States. Together with John von Neumann, he founded the mathematical field of game theory and its application to the field of economics. The Rubenstein collection includes Morgenstern’s handwritten diaries, spanning the years 1917-1977. The diaries were digitized, a few years ago, in a collaboration between Rubenstein Library and the University of Graz, Austria, and can be seen at the Oskar Morgenstern Website.
German Script and Blackletter are notoriously resistant to machine reading, i.e. scanning with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. This means that all of the Morgenstern documents have had to be transcribed manually, word by word and letter by letter. A team of researchers at University of Graz has already transcribed entries from the late 1930s to 1976; they have also built an index of Morgenstern’s network of collaborators. However, the published results of their labor have appeared only in German. Nevertheless, this combination of unique , local, manuscript holdings and an active, freely accessible, digital project presented an ideal opportunity for creating a meaningful and memorable Rubenstein Library session.
Assuming that college students would relate particularly well to documents from the author’s early years, I decided to transcribe the inscription on the cover sheet and the very first page of the diary, dated March 14, 1917, and written when Oskar Morgenstern was just 15 years old. Here is an image of the inside cover page of Oskar’s diary:
After transcribing the diary entry, I translated it as follows:
March 14, 1917
“So, you shall be my diary, you shall hear all that is important to me and be a trustworthy keeper! On Monday the 12th my father brought home Gloy: Train your Memory. And I am very grateful to him. It is excellent, and I need to work through it. Tomorrow we have a Latin test. Schmitzi thinks it will be “child’s play,” but he says that about everything that he can translate. I have no confidence when it comes to this, and I just need to study so much harder, because I must get a C (3= Genügend). The German Emperor is right when he calls exams in Latin inane nonsense. Yesterday we were in the chemistry laboratory because the academic High School building saw a case of Scarlet fever, and the classrooms had to be disinfected. Today we were once again in the usual classroom.The idea of auto suggestion from Gloy is excellent. I must adhere to all instructions. I convinced myself that I would succeed in the Latin exam. Will that be of any use?
Thank God that the cursed exam is over. Of course Feldman is right again. I maintain that it is “patiaris” and he says “passiusis”. Wechs says I am right. But he won’t concede the point, stupid games. Tomorrow we will probably get back the math exam. How will it turn out? Let’s hope for the best. In Petersburg a revolution broke out, hopefully the French will imitate this, and hang all the crooked ones!!
I am going to train my left hand. I have to be able to write as well with the left as with the right hand, that will double the power of my brain. Why should I ignore that possibility, and not use it to my advantage? Enough for today, especially since I have nothing else to report, and I want to go to bed. I will wake up at 6 am. Auto suggestion.”
This is just the first entry in a diary spanning 50 years. Yet even this single entry shows how many questions one might pursue when working with students in a session on the use of primary (archival) sources. Putting aside young Oskar’s laudatory reference to the Russian Revolution of 1917, it may be best to focus on something smaller and closer to home. For example, the reference to training your memory is to Hans Gloy, Gedächtnis-Ausbildung, 1913. Gloy (born in 1888) was a German merchant, who also wrote advice pieces for trade journals. The table of contents of the Gloy volume shows that the book is a training manual, organized into daily exercises, spaced over the course of seven weeks. The training, however, is not physical, but intellectual. Indeed, Gloy’s manual is part of a long tradition of practical memory training (also known as mnemonics, memory sports, mental discipline, study skills, or cognitive learning,–) an area of study that is curiously located between Greek philosophy and self-help books. And now, thanks to our transcription and translation of Oskar’s first diary entry, we know that such mental gymnastics also informed the ideas of the man who invented game theory.
Image Label; Cover of the book by Hans Gloy Gedächtnis-Ausbilding. 1913, and biographical entry in Degeners Wer ist’s? 1935
In Part 2 “How Can Librarians Teach with Materials in German Script?” We will discuss the digitized Oskar Morgenstern diaries as an Open Educational Resource, and will offer some resources for teaching German Script for students and teachers at Duke and beyond. For questions, contact Heidi Madden
Duke University Library’s collection of materials on East Asia began with a gift from James A. Thomas in the late 1920s. In the 1930s, when Duke faculty first started teaching courses on East Asia , the library systematically began to build an East Asian collection in English only. The postwar growth of area studies served as the initial impetus for acquiring materials in Japanese and Chinese languages. In 1981, the Asian/Pacific Studies Institute (APSI) was founded at Duke, and new faculty were hired to teach additional courses on the region. To meet the growing needs of APSI faculty and students, Dr. Kristina Troost was hired in 1990, first as Japanese studies bibliographer, and then, in 1992, as the East Asian librarian responsible for building collections in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. In 1996, Dr. Troost invited an external consultant to review the Chinese collection, which resulted in the hiring of the first full-time Chinese studies librarian at Duke in 2000. Duke’s Korean studies program expanded as well, and in 2006, Dr. Troost invited an external review of the Korean collection, as a result of which Duke hired its first Korean studies librarian in 2007. Under Dr. Troost’s leadership, Duke‘s East Asian collection has grown rapidly. Today, Duke University Library’s East Asian Collection is one of the major East Asian Collections in North America.
The Hong Kong publishing market may be smaller than that of mainland China or Taiwan, but its annual book fair— which is organized by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and held every summer at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center—is definitely a must-see travel destination. And not just for the East Asian library specialist. Book lovers of any subject can find something of interest at this yearly event.
I first started attending the Hong Kong book fair out of a sense of professional necessity. For several years, political events in Hong Kong had been having serious repercussions on the book trade (and, thereby, on Duke University Libraries’ acquisitions of Chinese books published in Hong Kong). Following the 2014 “Umbrella Movement” – so named because the protesters who occupied the city for 79 days while calling for electoral reform had used umbrellas to protect themselves from the pepper spray employed against them by the police – it became increasingly more difficult for bookstores to conduct business as usual. In 2015, one of the Hong Kong-based book vendors with whom Duke Libraries had worked for a long time was forced to close its doors. Later that same year came the shocking news of the disappearance of the manager of Causeway Bay Books, an upstairs bookstore in Hong Kong that is famous for selling works on topics considered politically-sensitive (and therefore banned) in mainland China. It was later confirmed that the manager, along with four other staff members from the same bookstore, were being held in police custody in Guangdong, China. The Library has another book vendor in Hong Kong, but after evaluating their catalogs for one year, I was concerned that many books that we would have liked to purchase for our Chinese collection were not included in their list of offerings. I felt that I needed to be on the ground in order to see how I could rectify the situation.
During my first visit to the Hong Kong book fair, in 2017, I made contact with publishers with whom I was barely familiar or did not know at all and asked for their catalogs. It was mostly a study trip and I purchased only a small number of books. I also visited a few upstairs or “second floor” bookstores: smaller shops, packed with shelf-after-shelf of books, from floor to ceiling, and usually located on the second or third floor of a building, where the rent is much cheaper.
In 2018, I visited the fair in the company of the Assistant Fung Ping Shan Library Librarian for Collections of the University of Hong Kong Libraries (UHKL), who attends the Hong Kong book fair every year and regularly acquires books there. With the guidance of this local expert, I gained more knowledge about the publishers and vendors at the fair. I also learned that for many independent and/or small publishers, the fair is the most important place to distribute their books, which are often printed in small numbers and difficult to acquire outside the fair.
My latest trip to the Hong Kong book fair occurred in the summer of 2019. That year’s event was especially festive because it marked the 30th anniversary of the Hong Kong book fair. The theme of this fair was “Sci-Fi and Mystery”, but the tagline “Reading the World” http://hkbookfair.hktdc.com/tc/About-Book-Fair/Previous-Fair/Theme-Of-The-Year.html, pointed to more global aspirations. There were a total of 686 exhibitors and close to one million visitors. Besides the usual plethora of seminars by local and international authors and scholars, the fair had its own Art Gallery, which exhibited photos from the archives of past fairs. Other highlights included the distribution of limited-edition bookmarks created for Hong Kong author Xi Xi’s The Teddy Bear Chronicles; and photographs of Louis Cha, one of the giants of martial arts literature, visiting the Book Fair. I managed to purchase a good number of books (that we would never have acquired otherwise) at the fair. I also visited a mini fair organized by several independent bookstores outside the grounds of the convention center, and held on two floors of an old, narrow building in Wai Chai, Hong Kong. The building’s small and shaky elevator could only take about three to four people up at a time. There was a good number of people at each of the two floors and payment was by cash only. And yet, the sense of being at an exclusive book store, one not frequented by many Chinese booklovers, much less other US-based East Asian library specialists, was priceless.
To get some sense of the variety of books purchased at the 2019 Hong Kong book fair, check out selected items on display on top of the microfilm cabinet at the East Asian Collection on the second floor of Bostock library. As the brief annotations written by me and two of my Chinese-speaking student assistants show, these books encompass numerous topics, themes, and media. This sample display demonstrates the vibrancy of the Hong Kong book market and the value of collecting materials from this part of the world.
A Hundred Years of Colonial Impressions by Otto C.C. Lam. 300 black and white photographs documenting Hong Kong from 1860 to 1960 in 13 chapters. The baby on the cover is Ian Kreft, 18 months old, at Southampton, England, waiting for the ship to take him and his mother to Hong Kong to reunite with his father, who served at Royal Engineers.
Umbrella Chronicle by Simon Chow: 248 black and white drawings documenting and chronologizing incidents in the “Umbrella Movement.”
Awakened by 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests by Liu Ruishao. As a witness of June 4th Incident and a Hong Kong citizen in the face of impending pressure from the Mainland, the author shares his immersive experience of the turning point in Modern China’s history. This book offers an opportunity to look into the dynamics of democratic movement and political struggles across 30 years in Greater China from Hong Kong’s perspective.”
Dark Soy Sauce China by Zunzi. Bo Yang a Chinese historian and poet, describes Chinese culture as a “soy sauce vat”—in contrast to the organic fluidity of a river, with thousands of years of precipitation, China, and especially Chinese politics, has become as dark and stinky as a soy sauce vat. The book’s author, Zun Zi, one of the most famous comic artists in Hong Kong, ironically names his two newly published comic books as Dark Soy Sauce China and Soy Sauce Hong Kong to unveil the genealogy of Chinese politics.
Explore the history of cigarettes in the United States, from their initial unpopularity, to their emergence as a ubiquitous element of American life, to rise of vaping today. Tobaccoland examines the role that tobacco marketing, branding, and nicotine addiction have played in twentieth-century American history. The National Cancer Institute estimates that by the 1950s, as many as 67 percent of young adult men smoked cigarettes. But as smoking rates spiked, so did illnesses associated with cigarettes. In the past sixty years, anti-smoking campaigns, lawsuits, regulations, and public smoking bans (like Duke’s pledge to be smoke-free by July 2020) have led to a drastic reduction in the numbers of Americans who smoke. Still, cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States.
The exhibit is divided into several sections, including early cigarette marketing innovations, moral opposition to tobacco, targeted marketing to women and youth, the U.S. Surgeon General’s 1964 report linking cigarette smoking and cancer, the search for new markets, government regulation and industry response, e-cigarettes, quitting and prevention, and the complicated legacy of tobacco in building the Duke family fortune and, ultimately, Duke University.
Tobaccoland was curated by Joshua Larkin Rowley (Hartman Center Reference Archivist), Meghan Lyon (Head, Rubenstein Library Technical Services), and Amy McDonald (Assistant University Archivist).
Exhibit Book Talk: Please Join Us!
Date: Friday, February 7 Time: 3:00 p.m. Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room (Rubenstein Library 153)
Dr. Sarah Milov, Professor of History at University of Virginia, will discuss her recently published book, The Cigarette: A Political History (Harvard University Press, 2019), in conjunction with the exhibit.
This post is by Heidi Madden, Librarian for Western European and Medieval/Renaissance Studies, and Sarah How, European Studies Librarian at Cornell University.
The Frankfurt International Book Fair is a trade event that attracts professionals from many countries and nearly all segments of the publishing and information science worlds. This includes academic librarians from the US. Every year members of the European Studies Section of the American Library Association (ALA) team up to get as much out of the Frankfurt Book Fair events as possible; they spend evenings pouring over the programs, and record what they want to report back to colleagues at the next ALA conference, including recommended readings published during the fair. For 2019, the responsibility for this task was assumed by Heidi Madden (Duke) and Sarah How (Cornell), both of whom attended the 2019 Frankfurt Book Fair and who have collaborated on the writing of this blog post.
Trade publications issued around the fair provide excellent reading for librarians. Expert White Papers (free, but registration is required for download) help visitors familiarize themselves with issues and trends before the Fair. What follows below are a few examples of our required reading for 2019.
The “Frankfurt Magazine German Stories 2019” focuses on contemporary literary markets from a trade perspective; this issue also includes a literature review on Artificial Intelligence as a topic in both in fiction and non-fiction titles.
The “Buchreport” magazine for October 2019 (free during the fair, now available for purchase), provides a statistical analysis of all major international publishing regions and identifies salient region-specific issues and trends.
Publishing Perspectives is a good journal for reading about the publishing industry year round; their daily updates distributed at the Fair are not to be missed.
As is apparent from this list, digital publishing was one of the overarching themes of the 2019 Frankfurt Book Fair. Those fairgoers who attended the sessions on publishing in the digital age were invited to enter the “VUCA World.” The VUCA world is not some happy, imaginary planet, but rather the confusing information landscape in which we all currently find ourselves: the letters of the acronym stand for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. Visitors to the 2019 Fair had many opportunities to hear international experts speak on issues connected to this theme, which ran like a red (read) thread through many of the presentations. For this blog post, we have decided to focus on two of the more substantial “hot topics”: the availability of new subscription models for journals and e-books and the concept of e-books as an accessible digital ecosystem.
Library administrators and researchers from across Europe presented on Plan S, an initiative launched by Science Europe in September 2018 for making open-access science publishing a foundational principle of the scientific enterprise. There was also discussion of Project DEAL, an initiative by a consortium of German university libraries and research institutes to re-negotiate large contracts (“deals”) with the major publishing houses of e-journals, which are usually the biggest line item in any research library’s acquisitions budget. In another forum, e-book vendors approvingly noted that newspaper publishers have created innovative business models that work on the Internet by devising formulas for offering just enough free content to trigger a sale of premium content. These vendors suggested that e-books, both fiction and nonfiction, could potentially be marketed using the same sort of model, that is, by offering a preview on the Internet extensive enough to trigger either a sale of an entire volume or a “subscription” to individual chapters, one chapter at a time.
Just when publishers appear to have figured out how to monetize premium content based on the free content that appears in an Internet search, legislation triggered by the new European Union Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market appears to complicate matters once again. Certain aspects of the EU directive are popularly referred to as the “link-tax,” because they effectively mean that the makers of search engines can be fined for showing too much free content in the result list under a link to a content provider, especially for news content. The link tax issue is playing out in real time in France, where legislation based on the European Directive has already been introduced, and where a fierce debate between Internet giants (like Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon) and legislators will influence how the EU Directive is incorporated into the cyber-laws of other EU countries.
One of the most discussed topics at this year’s fair was the implementation of the European Accessibility Act, which was written on the basis of a directive by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). WIPO has 192 member states, and administers 26 international treaties, including the “Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled,” which was adopted in 2013. The European Union signed the European Accessibility Act in March 13, 2019. This act directs EU member countries to incorporate WIPO’s accessibility requirements into their national laws, and to be compliant by 2025. The European Accessibility Act applies to a suite of digital services, like computer hardware and operating systems, payment terminals, websites, and e-readers. In the context of accessibility, e-books are considered a service, and the act requires that the entire publishing chain, i.e. content producers, digital distributors, catalogs for searching, and e-readers participate in making content available to Print Impaired People (PiPs). In effect, the Accessibility Act creates a vision of e-books as part of a larger and more accessible digital ecosystem.
Exemptions are planned for art books, comic books, children’s books, and smaller companies with under 2 million Euros in revenue. The print segment of the market will continue to exist, but it must align with a digital edition. For this reason, there is a provision for third party “authorized entities” to produce accessible-format copies of non-compliant publications on a non-profit basis. The work of these entities will be instrumental for foreign publishers who market materials in Europe. Organizations like Fondazione LIA, the Daisy Consortium, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), EDRLab, and EDItEur are working to understand the implications of this act for the publishing industry and for libraries in Europe, and are helping to develop standards for born accessible publications and for converting non-compliant publications and back files.
Fondatione LIA presented their research at the 7th International Convention of International University Presses at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2019. The full report, co-authored by Gregorio Pellegrino, Cristina Mussinelli, and Elisa Molinari: “E-BOOKS FOR ALL.Towards an accessible digital publishing ecosystem,” can be downloaded (with free registration) at the LIA website.
In sum, although we continue to live in VUCA world, the Accessibility Act, along with advances in digital publishing, search and discovery (e.g. Artificial Intelligence, algorithms, complex metadata, voice search) promise to make electronic and audio books more accessible and more functional for every reader. And American research libraries are actively helping their patrons to navigate through this changing publishing landscape. The creation of digital publishing services departments, such as the recently-founded Scholarworks at Duke or Scholarly Communications and Open Access at Cornell, is one way of engaging with the general trends and developments in the new digital publishing ecosystem. Another is to anticipate these changes by incorporating some of the proposed solutions into libraries’ strategic plans, as has been done, for example, in “Engage, Discover, Transform: Duke University Libraries,” 2016-2021. Last, but not least, is support for librarians’ attendance at international library fairs (like the one in Frankfurt), which allow librarians to stay informed about the latest developments, learn about the looming challenges, and discover innovative ways to overcome them, and inspire practical applications in their institutions.
Many organizations publish informative white papers around the time of the book fair. Pictured is the cover of ”The Universe of Books,” published by the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels in the “The Frankfurt Magazine. German Stories, 2019,” which captures the global book market.
About the authors:
Heidi Madden is the Librarian for Western European and Medieval Renaissance Studies at Duke University; she serves as Chair of the European Studies Section of the Association for College and Research Libraries.
This post is by Heidi Madden, Librarian for Western European and Medieval/Renaissance Studies, and Sarah How, European Studies Librarian at Cornell University.
International book fairs provide great opportunities for librarians to discover new books and other media; learn of new trends in publishing, translation, design, and book production; and build personal connections that directly benefit both their own work and that of their home institutions. Being abroad, being there in person, immersed in the language and culture of another place, is in itself of significant benefit, although one that is difficult to quantify. That is why we are grateful for the opportunity afforded by this library blog to write about our experiences at the 2019 Frankfurt Book Fair, and thereby to describe some of those benefits.
For international and area studies librarians, book fair visits are an essential component not only of professional development but also of collection development. That serious research libraries need materials that would not — could not, economically — be provided by our standard commercial supply channels is accepted wisdom in the profession. Book fair visits are an efficient way to address this need, since they make it possible to interact with many publishers at once, in a single exhibition space. In addition, cultural and linguistic immersion at international fairs strengthens the skills and knowledge that support research services and give academic librarians “street cred” with international students and faculty, as well as researchers engaged in foreign-language humanities, social sciences, and area studies. Visits to specialized bookstores, meetings with local librarians, and visits to local libraries and cultural institutions can be squeezed-in around a busy fair schedule for additional benefit. This is especially true for those librarians who are able to attend an international book fair in a place as rich in resources as Frankfurt, Germany.
The Frankfurt Book Fair (Frankfurter Buchmesse), an annual international event for the publishing trade community, is the world’s largest book fair. This Fair is fundamentally a commercial event, focused as it is on the business of publishing and related industries. It is the place, for example, where publishers, agents, authors, illustrators, film makers, translators, printers, authors, media specialists, book distributors, and libraries negotiate and license rights for distribution, publishing, translation, and film and media versions of the items on display. However, the Frankfurt Book Fair is also the occasion for substantial programming related to contemporary literature and, as we shall see, can even serve as a forum for robust cultural and political debates. Similarly-designed book fairs, more regional in scope, are held in Paris (Salon du livre), Bologna (Bologna Children’s Book Fair), Madrid (Liber), Guadalajara (International Book Fair), Beijing (International Book Fair), Hong Kong (Book Fair), and Moscow (International Book Fair), to name just a few.
According to established tradition, the Frankfurt Book Fair lasts for 5 days, from Wednesday to Sunday. The first three days are usually focused on exhibiting books. On those days, a European Studies librarian can, for example, peruse the publishing program of dozens and dozens of publishers from every European country, including small, independent presses. On the weekend, the fair is open to the public, and books are sold directly to individuals. On those days the sections of the fair devoted to publishers of graphic novels, cookbooks, travel literature, zines, and German language fiction are jammed with people and cosplay participants. In October 2019, 302,267 individuals from 100 countries visited the Frankfurt Book Fair. There, they were met by 7,500 exhibitors and encountered 400,000 individual books, maps, manuscripts, visual materials, and digital media objects (audio and e-books).
The special exhibit of the guest country Norway combined nature imagery, mirrors, and book tables designed to represent poems in spatial dimensions. Norway also celebrated 500 years of the printed book (Nidaros Missal and the Nidaros Breviary, from 1519) in the exhibit.
Each year, Frankfurt hosts a “Guest of Honor” country: Norway was the 2019 Guest. The guiding theme for the Norwegian events and exhibits was “The Dream We Carry.” The theme title was inspired by the famous Norwegian poet Olav H. Hauge, and his poem “It is that Dream.” Norway sponsored prominent Norwegian writers, who spoke and schmoozed with the attendees, while fair organizers produced a free bibliography of new publications from Norway in German translation to promote writers and publishers to the German reading public. Karl Ove Knausgård, a Norwegian author who has been described as one of the 21st century’s greatest literary sensations, spoke in several different settings, both about his own work and about his recent experience curating an exhibit on Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, whose best known work, The Scream, has become one of the most iconic images of world art. In other interviews, contemporary Norwegian authors Erik Fosnes Hansen and Erika Fatland covered a diversity of topics, from the Oslo cultural scene to food science, which is at the heart of Hansen’s novel Et Hummerliv (“A Lobster’s Life”). Maja Lunde spoke about her forthcoming book The End of the Ocean, while Jo Nesbø was interviewed about Knife, the next installment in his Harry Hole series of crime novels. More highlights and full listing of authors can be found in the online program.
Karl Ove Knausgård amd Jurgen Boos (CEO of the Frankfurt Book Fair)
Norwegian literature was represented by many authors reading from their work.
In addition to lectures and authors’ talks, the Frankfurt Book Fair also hosts special celebrations for the winners of the Nobel Prize, the German Book Prize, and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. Overall, ninety-three prizes were awarded by various organizations during the book fair in 2019. Polish-born 2018 Nobel Laureate Olga Tokarczuk (awarded in 2019) spoke at the opening session of the Fair. Oddly, Austrian-born Peter Handke, the 2019 Nobel Laureate, was not present in person, and was only represented by his publisher’s special display. Handke’s absence did not prevent him from becoming the subject of intense controversy. Saša Stanišić, the winner of the 2019 German Book Prize, who fled to Germany with his Bosnian mother and Serbian father in 1992, was the most prominent voice at the book fair, taking Handke to task for his sympathetic attitude toward former Serbian president Slobodan Milošević, the first sitting head of state to be charged with war crimes.
World newspapers, including The Guardian, chronicled the Handke debate. One of its articles, entitled “A troubling choice: authors criticise Peter Handke’s controversial Nobel win. reported on the views of famous international writers, such as Salman Rushdie, Hari Kunzru and Slavoj Žižek who opined that the 2019 Nobel laureate “‘combines great insight with shocking ethical blindness’.” Another article, entitled “Peter Handke’s Nobel prize dishonours the victims of genocide,” referenced the Austrian writer’s stance on the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s, which has been characterized by some critics as genocide apologism. At some point during October 2019, Peter Handke announced that he would no longer speak to journalists, so for now the debate will continue in literary circles, and will most likely re-emerge around the December 10, 2019 Nobel Prize Award Ceremony.
The 2019 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade was awarded to Sebastião Salgado, the first ever photographer to receive this prize. During the course of several interviews, the Brazilian social documentary photographer and photojournalist introduced his book Gold, which showcases haunting images of Amazonia taken in the 1980s. As with his other work, Gold highlights environmental and human rights issues by investigating habitats and communities with his camera.
Cultural events inspired by Norway as the Guest of Honor were only a fraction of the international author events and talks at the Fair and in the city of Frankfurt. The gala of literary stars included Margaret Atwood, Maja Lunde, Elif Shafak, Colson Whitehead, Ken Follett, and Jo Nesbø (video Highlights can be seen on the Fair’s website). More media outlets broadcast from the book fair than can be mentioned here. The two outlets with the most video content are ARD Mediathek and ZDF Mediathek, especially the venue “Das Blaue Sofa,” which gives access to 90 interviews with authors from the Frankfurt 2019 fair alone. Social media followed along under #fmb19, and have already transitioned to the hashtag for the 2020 fair, #fbm20, as planning for the next fair gets underway. Canada will be the Guest of Honor at the 2020 Frankfurt Book Fair.
On Saturday and Sunday, while the public floods into the fairgrounds, specialized, ticketed, professional events are held at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The two that we attended this year were the 7th International Convention of University Presses 2019, which focused on the European Accessibility Act, and an event for non-fiction editors. The non-fiction publishing event “Non-fiction Publishing: It’s a Women’s World,” consisted of a panel and discussion with female publishers from Morocco, Turkey, India, and Norway, who spoke about their experiences with producing important works documenting and giving voice to issues and experiences which might not find a home with large commercial publishers.
Look for more on Frankfurt hot topics in the next blog post on Welcome to the VUCA World! The Frankfurt International Book Fair 2019. Part 2
Frankfurt Book Fair 2019 publisher displays
On Saturday, cosplay fans come dressed as their favorite characters.
“Stellt das Buch her / Make the book”: three containers stacked on top of each other, with exhibits on each level in the courtyard of the book fair.
European Studies librarians in North America build collections from multiple countries in a variety of languages. How can they become acquainted with the networks of libraries, publishers, and vendors necessary to develop these collections, and to provide research support effectively? Studying the bibliographical guides to European Studies librarianship are, of course, an excellent first step. There is the classic text by Dan Hazen and James Henry Spohrer, Building area studies collections, from 2007, and the Suddenly Selector Series will include practice-based guides for European Studies in the future. A more general recent introduction is provided by Lesley Pitman in Supporting Research in Area Studies (2015), and the collaboration of area studies administrators on International and Area Studies Collections In the 21st Century, addresses mutual concerns in all area studies such as training, recruitment, digital content and finances.
Library and cultural heritage organizations nationally and internationally use acronyms as short hand for pointing to projects, standards and organizations. Outlining the basic organization of European Studies associations illustrates what a challenge it is to develop a deep understanding of each organization, its mission, and its audiences
“All theory is gray, my friend. But forever green is the tree of life.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Faust. 1808.
The American Library Association and the German equivalent, Bibliothek & Information Deutschland (BID) e.V, decided to embark on an extended information exchange to provide the “tree of life” kind of learning needed for getting to know how our respective information and cultural heritage organizations operate. ALA and BID signed an agreement for the collaboration in 2014, and the exchange was set up to help a large number of subject librarians build a professional network both on the national and international level over three years, from 2016 to 2019. The many projects, meetings, and activities that resulted from the initiative demonstrate what it takes to explore issues and trends in librarianship in just one country, Germany, and can serve as a model for learning about other countries.
The article describing the exchange: “The American Library Association and German Library & Information Association Partnership: A Celebration,” was co-authored by Sharon Bostick (Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, IL), Fred Gitner (Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, IL), Hella Klauser (Internationale Kooperation, Deutscher Bibliotheksverband e.V. (dbv); Kompetenznetzwerk für Bibliotheken (knb), and Heidi Madden (Duke University).
The article appeared simultaneously in two venues, in the O-Bib, Das Offene Bibliotheksportal (Open Access Library Platform, Germany) and in International Leads (A Publication of the International Relations Round Table of the American Library Association).
If you want further information about the behind-the-scenes work in writing the article or European librarianship, email Heidi.
As this week is Open Access week, I thought it would be good to write a short post about OA resources for Middle East and Islamic Studies. Like many other disciplines, there are copious amounts of resources available in different formats from interviews to journals and ebooks.
Before listing those resources, I would like to draw your attention to this informative post from our friends at the University of Toronto: OA 2019: THE HIDDEN COST OF DOING RESEARCH. Yayo Umetsudo, Scholarly Communications & Liaison Librarian provides details of some UoT subscription costs.
For Middle East and Islamic Studies, there are a number of tremendous resources. Perhaps the most important is AMIR (Access to Middle East and Islamic Resources) which has been collecting OA materials since its founding by Charles Jones and Peter Magierski in 2010.
A relatively new OA digital resource is provided by the University of Bonn’s Digital Translatio project. The resource provides free access to rare or hard to find journals in Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman. Check it out here. In a similar vein, أرشيف المجلات الأدبية والثقافية العربية, which translates roughly as the Archive of Arab literary and cultural magazines, provides terrific access to a large collection of Arabic journals. Check it out here. Announced yesterday, the important Istanbul Kadı sicilleri (Court records) is now freely accessible online in Turkish transcription from the original Ottoman. Check it our here.
A highly valuable lecture series is the History of Philosophy (HoP) podcasts from King’s College, London. HoP covers the Classical age, Later Antiquity and the Islamic World striving to seamless illustrate the evolution of ideas in different eras, epochs and religious vantage points. The Islamic World covers the idea of falsafah (philosophy) before moving on to some of the great proponents of philosophy in the Islamic World, e.g. al-Kindī, al-Fārābī and others. Each episode lasts for about 20-30 minutes and offers a bibliography of core texts.
Yale University has a number of series and lectures freely available. Included amongst these are some 20 lectures pertaining to different aspects of the Islamicate, Islam or the Middle East. Each one of these lectures is roughly 40-45 minutes and includes an assignment and often a mini-syllabus.
iTunes U offers a many freely accessible resources. One has to register with iTunes U but after that a number of valuable resources are available. A particularly delightful feature of iTunesU are the language courses, check out the Arabic one. These are great for the multi-tasker in you!
Finally, a very general resource of OA materials spanning multiple disciplines is Open Culture. There are countless resources available to the researcher from language classes to ebooks to short essays of interesting facts such as the last, known, hand-written newspaper Musalman.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the Ivy Plus web collecting project of which a number of DUL colleagues are active participants. See the list of projects here.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive but rather to peek your interest in some of the freely available resources. Happy OA week.
Katie Odhner was an intern in the International and Area Studies Department in the Duke Libraries. She has a B.A. in Chinese Studies and History from the University of Pennsylvania. She recently graduated from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill with a Master’s of Science in Library Science. The following post is written by her.
Over the course of this summer, I have been working with Luo Zhou, Duke’s Chinese Studies Librarian, and Will Shaw, our Digital Humanities Consultant, to create on a website showcasing the Memory Project digital collection, which went up on the Duke Digital Repository in July. Launched in 2010 by documentary filmmaker Wu Wenguang, the ongoing project has collected hundreds of oral history interviews from elderly Chinese villagers. The initiative was originally intended to document individual stories of the Great Famine, which caused the death of 20 to 43 million people between 1958 and 1961. It has since expanded to cover other movements in the early history of the People’s Republic of China, including the Great Leap Forward of 1958-1960, the Land Reform and the Collectivization of 1949-1953, and the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976.
We had a number of reasons for wanting to create a website to feature this collection. Firstly, a website can provide additional context. Luo used TimelineJS, an interactive, open-source software to create a visual timeline of the period covered in the interviews. This allows users of the collection to examine the events and policies that underpin the personal experiences found in the oral histories.
Secondly, the website helps promote the collection. With more than 200 interviews, it can be difficult to find an entry point. We asked students and filmmakers who had worked on the collection to recommend one or two of their favorites. I created a tile lay-out on our WordPress page to feature these interviews, along with comments from the recommenders. One of my favorite parts of working on this project was looking through the featured interviews. They contain many tales of devastating tragedy and incredible courage that bring the bleak events in history books to vivid life. The website also provides a platform for advertising events about the project. Stay tuned for the visit of a number of the filmmakers in October!
Finally, the website provides new access points for the collection and a way of quantitatively visualizing the interviews via a map. The map was the most challenging element of the website to design. There is an abundance of mapping tools, both free and proprietary, so part of the difficulty was selecting the one that fit our needs best. Once this was accomplished, it took a great deal of time just to understand the capabilities of our chosen tool (ArcGIS Web Maps). Shout-out to Drew Keener and Mark Thomas, members of the library’s Data and Visualization Services Department who gave great GIS tips along the way. It was a fun design challenge to come up with a method that could allow the user to filter the interviews by topic, as well as link out to interviews for a given village in the Digital Repository.
After reflecting on the overall experience of building the website, here are some of my major take-aways for future digital humanities endeavors:
Decide on your priorities. I found that the tools I was using could not always achieve what I envisioned. Sometimes finding a solution was just around the corner, and sometimes it could mean getting sucked down the rabbit-hole for hours. Having an understanding of what is important in the long-run helps prevent wasted time.
Consult with colleagues. The excellent members of the Digital Scholarship and Data Visualization Departments provided lots of good advice and saved me from wandering around in the aforementioned rabbit-hole on several occasions.
Give yourself time to play around. I discovered some of the cooler mapping features just through experimenting with ArcGIS. Sometimes no amount of guide-reading can replace trying things out for yourself.
Working with digital tools was great, but the best part of the project for me was the opportunity to reflect on the aspects of the collection that are most valuable and how best to highlight them. The tools stand in service to providing alternative means of access to the collection, visualizing its scope, and bringing the human stories contained in it to a broader audience.
This post was contributed by Sean Swanick, the Librarian for Middle East and Islamic Studies at Duke.
This past summer I was fortunate to visit Turkey and Morocco. In my previous blog post, I documented some of my experiences sleuthing for books in the Maghreb. This post concerns my time in Turkey, where I was again on the lookout for books, ephemera, and related materials to enhance Duke University Library’s growing Middle East and Islamic Studies Collections.
Turkey is a remarkably diverse country with a population of some 85 million people. My purpose was to find (elusive) books, make new contacts, and to continue expanding my knowledge of Turkey, Turkish, Ottoman, and related matters to better help students and researchers.
In Turkey, I spent time wandering the many delightful sahaf çarşılar (second-hand book markets) of Istanbul, the country’s cultural capital city. This was followed by visits to Diyarbakır and Mardin, two smaller cities in the south.
When I arrived in Istanbul, a second mayoral election was in full swing.. There were lots of posters, booklets, and related ephemera for the major political parties. I personally was able to collect some of these materials, which will be added to our growing Turkish political ephemera collection.
Spray painted official ephemera for Mayoral candidate, Ekrem İmamoğlu. Mr. İmamoğlu would eventually win the election. This was his campaign slogan and reads: Everything will be fine.
Besides visiting numerous sahaflar, I also went to a number of museums in Istanbul, such as the Pera Museum, Istanbul Modern, Sakıp Sabancı Museum, Museum of Innocence, Istanbul Photography Museum, Istanbul Research Institute, and the recently opened Yapı Kredi Vedat Nedim Tor Museum. At the Yapı Kredi there were two excellent exhibitions. The first concerned photographs of Ataturk called Hoş Geldin Gazi: Atatürk’ün İstanbul Günleri (1927-1938) (the catalogue will soon be at Duke Library for you to explore further). This was the first image of the exhibition:
It reads: Yaşasın Reis-i Cumhurumuz (Hooray for the President of our Republic.)
The other exhibition displayed the archive of Turhan Selçuk, aptly called Turhan Selçuk Retrospektifi. Turhan was a famous and influential caricaturist, who had a knack for finding humour or satire in most subject matter. We have many satirical journals for you to peruse, and two years ago I led the curation of Yasak/Banned, a Duke University library exhibit highlighting these collections. The Turhan exhibition had many highlights, including the following:
Istanbul is a city known as Der Saadet, an Ottoman-Turkish combination of an Arabic word (saadet) and a Persian word (der) together meaning the “Abode of Happiness.” Certainly, anyone who has visited Istanbul would agree. The city offers everything a curious traveler might want: books, diversity, museums, restaurants, spectacular views, incredible history…in short everything that is the abode of happiness.
So-called ‘umbrella-street’ in Beyoğlu, Istanbul.
From Istanbul, I flew to Diyarbakır in southern Turkey. Diyarbakır has witnessed inhabitation since at least the 1300 BC, during the time of the Assyrian kingdom. In its current conception, there are two cities: yeni ve eski (old and new). The old city contains the historic walls dating back to the 4th century, when the Romans colonized the city, while the new city contains shops, new housing, military barracks, and government offices. Diyarbakır is home to a wide variety of people, languages, foods, and traditions.
While the city structure, architecture, food (especially ciğer/ceger, or liver), and people are incredibly generous, thoughtful, and helpful, for me it is always about the books. There are several terrific bookstores in Diyarbakır, in both the new and old cities. In the old city, I spent several hours in bookstores while also taking-in some of the cultural activities, like visiting the Diyarbakır Dengbej Evi, Dengbej is a traditional form of story-telling. Two bookstores were of particular interest. Ensar Kitapevi holds an enormous collection in Turkish, Kurdish (Soranî and Kurmancî), Arabic, Persian and a few English titles. Subjects are as diverse as the languages represented: history, literature, cultural studies, language manuals, etc. But even more, the building was awe-inspiring with many reading nooks to sit and read at one’s leisure while also being offered local teas and coffees. Here’s a photo to entice you:
The other noteworthy bookstore in Diyarbakır, and the one with which Duke will be working closely to acquire Kurdish and Turkish materials is Pirtukakurdi. Based in the new city, the shop opened a few years ago. I spent most of a day with these bibliophiles as we discussed issues related to Kurdish languages and books. Here’s a photo from their warehouse:
From Diyarbakır, I hired a taxi to Mardin, a trip that should normally take one hour; my trip took a bit longer, since we stopped a few times to take-in the views and to help a fellow with a flat tire. A gorgeous drive through Mesopotamia on a new highway was enriched by conversation with the taxi driver and the radio playing Selda Bağcan.
Mardin is another city that divides the new from the old. The new city contains the famous state-run university, Mardin Artuklu University. The old city is built on a hill, a mountain really, overlooking the vast expanse of Mesopotamia and its farmland. Mardin is famous for a number of reasons, including its diversity, its Churches, Mosques, and formerly Synagogues. Süryani (Syriac language) is still spoken and taught here; in fact, the people of Mardin speak Süryani, Kurdish, Turkish, and Arabic, sometimes in the same sentence: a truly remarkable experience of linguistic diversity. There is certainly some truth in the Turkish proverb: Dil bilmek, bilgeliğe açılan kapıdır, which translates as “knowledge of languages is the doorway to wisdom.”
In addition to the cultural sites mentioned above, the Sakıp Sabancı Mardin Kent Müzesi museum is a tremendous resource, offering exhibitions of its permanent collections, Mardin city history, as well as travelling exhibitions, such as the one on modern photography, to which I was treated during my stay in Mardin.
Mardin is also near the Syrian border. Prior to 2011 and the pain and devastation that has been inflicted on the locals by so many domestic, national, and international actors, the border was open with more-or-less free passage, especially for the trading, bartering, and buying of goods and services. Those days are now long gone, replaced with a heavy military presence and ubiquitous checkpoints. Shortly after I visited the border town of Nusaybin, for example, a Church in neighbouring Qamishli, Syria was bombed. The ramifications of these actions are felt by many people, not just the victims.
On my last night in Mardin, I was able to meet with Engin Emre Değer, an incredible person, originally from Istanbul, who moved to Mardin a few years ago. Engin works with a theater troupe, whose main purpose is to help the many Syrian refugees living in Turkey, particularly children. Listening to his stories of the encounters he has had and the joy he hasbrought to so many was remarkable. One of Engin’s projects is the Flying Carpet Mardin Children’s Music Festival: https://muzikhane.org/fcf. The festival takes place over a few days with free music and a circus-like atmosphere.
This summer’s book buying excursion was full of remarkable experiences. The books Duke University Library is acquiring continues to enhance the reputation of the Library, as well as the scholars for whom it primarily serves. Over the coming months, I will highlight some of these collections while also providing suggestions and ideas on how to make the most of these unique materials.
Each year the UNC/Duke Consortium for Latin American & Caribbean Studies offers competitive fellowships for scholars who want to use our library resources. Priority goes to researchers from officially recognized Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Predominately Black Institutions, Minority Serving Institutions, and community colleges. Holly Ackerman talked with the two fellows selected by the Duke Libraries for 2019-2020. The conversations will be published in two parts starting with the exchange below with Professor Shearon Roberts.
Photo: Shearon Roberts, Ph.D. Summer 2019
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Walk us through your CV.
I teach both Mass Communication and African American/Diaspora Studies courses at Xavier University of Louisiana, a historically black university in New Orleans. I earned my doctorate from Tulane University’s Roger Thayer Stone Center in Latin American Studies where I studied Caribbean media, specifically Haitian media. Prior to academia, I worked as a reporter covering Latin America and the Caribbean. I research Caribbean and Latin American media, media discourse from the region, and media discourse on race and gender.
What was your research project this summer?
It is titled, “Learning the Black Diaspora through Latin American & Caribbean Media.” After leading four years of grant-supported student field visits to Latin America and the Caribbean, the number one feedback from participating students is how much people of the region consume media about African American culture and experiences, and how little access African American students have to media about communities of color in the Americas. I want to change that through my courses and through use of materials such as those at Duke.
For example, Duke University’s Robert Hill collection provided me with a wealth of teaching resources for African American students to discover how vast and how interconnected Black Diaspora movements were. Hill’s collection dates back to Marcus Garvey and the UNIA (founded in 1914), and he is also the executor for C.L.R. James’ (1901-1989) work. It was fascinating to see how closely Black movements in the Caribbean were intricately connected to African American movements and African movements. Hill also dedicated himself to the teaching of the Black Diaspora and within his collection are both his and his contemporaries’ syllabi – a valuable find for re-introducing materials out of print or that have been ignored in the teaching of the Black Diaspora in the Americas. Below are two sample teaching guides/syllabi I found in the Robert Hill collection at the Rubenstein that I will use for teaching my courses:
Source Citation: Hill Personal Box 14, Robert A. Hill Collection, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
For my own research, Hill’s collection was invaluable in laying out Caribbean intellectual thought and movements and how Caribbean intellects connected to media and to the public. I originally applied for the College Educators Research Fellowship (CERF) to research the Radio Haiti Archive’s non-digitized records and I was not disappointed. The archive is not just a Haitian one, but a Caribbean one, and it provided a window on many of the movements taking place around the region. The Radio Haiti archives are impeccably well-cataloged, a nod to the archivist Laura Wagner’s hard work. Because of the archives’ detailed descriptions, I located a little-known dissertation from the eighties, well at least little-known to me, documenting press history in Haiti. I also discovered through this archive how regional in scope many important media outlets in the Caribbean were during this time.
Source Citation: Radio Haiti Box 14: Aux Origines De La Presse Folder, Radio Haiti Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
Both staff at the Rubenstein and the UNC-Duke Consortium in Latin American and Caribbean studies were extremely helpful in shaping a successful visit to Durham this summer. Patrick Stawski pointed me in the direction of the Ecumenical Program on Central America and the Caribbean (EPICA) records and helped me to conceptualize a project from this collection that I had not conceived of prior to my time at the Rubenstein. Sara Seten Berghausen helped me navigate digital collections and took time to send me documents from digital collections for course teaching. Corin Zaragoza Esterra helped me think through the connections of my research projects and find my away around Durham during my stay. Natalie Hartman made sure that my access to Duke’s resources were seamless. I thank all the staff at the Rubenstein who worked with lightning speed to ensure I had access to every rare material requested during my stay. Finally, I am extremely grateful to Holly Ackerman for getting me to think across the collections and starting me off in the right scholarly directions before and during my stay.
How will the info you gathered at the Duke Libraries be used?
I have updated my coursework and course lectures to include materials I researched at the Rubenstein. I have incorporated materials from digital collections for course unit assignments. These range from sections of constitutions from the region to photographs showing civic activism in the region, and music and films from the region. My research, both current and those in development stages have been greatly enhanced by documents located in these collections. The manuscripts I am writing about Haitian media, Caribbean media and Caribbean movements will include documents from the collections of the Rubenstein.
Ernest (“Erik”) Zitser is the Librarian for Slavic and East European Studies, library liaison to the International Comparative Studies (ICS) Program, and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies at Duke University.
In recent years, this turbulent region has produced a significant volume of websites likely to be of value to contemporary and future humanities, social science, and history projects, and the archive was established as an attempt to identify, capture, and preserve this material.
The thematic and generic scope of the archive is deliberately broad, and includes websites published by political parties, non-governmental organizations and activist groups, artists and cultural collectives, as well as individual historians, philosophers, and other intellectuals.
Campaign Against Homophobia (Poland)
Memorial Society (Russia)
Party of United Democrats (Macedonia)
The Archive represents an effort to preserve research-valuable web content from Eastern Europe and the territories of the Former Soviet Union by a group of research librarians responsible for that part of the world. This cooperative collecting initiative was developed, and is being curated by Russian and East European Studies librarians at Columbia, Princeton, Yale, New York and Duke Universities, as well as the New York Public Library, as part of the Web Resources Collection Program of the Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation.
Know of an endangered website from the region? Please use this online form to nominate a website for inclusion in the Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Union Web Archive.
This post was contributed by Sean Swanick, the Librarian for Middle East and Islamic Studies at Duke.
This past summer I was fortunate to visit Turkey and Morocco. I was on the lookout for books, ephemera and related materials to enhance Duke University Library’s growing Middle East and Islamic Studies Collections. This post concerns my two weeks in Morocco. A second post in the coming weeks will detail my adventures in Turkey.
Egyptians make the claim Masr Umm al-duniyā (مصر أم الدنيا), Egypt is the Mother of the World. Moroccans have come to accept this but with a sense of humour add Masr Umm al-duniyā wa al-Maghrib abūhā (مصر أم الدنيا والمغرب أبوها), Egypt is the mother of the world and Morocco is the father.
While in Morocco I visited Casablanca, Rabat, Fes, and Tangier. I was able to meet with colleagues, visit some incredible museums, make a pilgrimage to the tomb of the famous world traveller Ibn Battuta and, of course peruse many, many bookstores.
Morocco’s book publishing industry is thriving with reportedly 6,000 books published in 2018. Books are published in Arabic followed by French, Amazigh and Spanish. For further reading about the Morocco’s book culture, Anouk Cohen published Fabriquer le livre au Maroc that explores many of these aspects. Duke’s collection though young contains approximately 3,000 titles from Morocco mostly in Arabic and French though we are working to acquire some works in Amazigh, especially language manuals. Amazigh is the language spoken by the Berber population of Morocco, which is approximately 10-12 million or 40% of Morocco’s total population. As the Librarian for Middle East and Islamic Studies, I strive to collect the documented heritage of all peoples who live within these boundaries.
My first stop was Casablanca, the capital. A visit to the Hassan II Mosque (cf. Elleh, Nnamdi. 2003. Architecture and power in Africa. Westport, CT: Praeger), the largest in Africa, is compulsory. Photos cannot translate its magnitude, though I have attached one that I took. It is set on the seaside with the calm sounds of the waves of the Atlantic Ocean crashing into the shore. The mosque fits some 100,000 worshipers, 25,000 of whom will be inside the mosque while the rest will be in the large adjacent courtyard. This is the only mosque in Morocco that non-Muslims are permitted to enter.
A large concentration of Casablanca’s bookshops is located in the Habous neighbourhood. Habous has an interesting history as Henri Prost, the famed French architect, redesigned it during the French Protectorate (1912-1956). Hosting suqs (Arabic for market or commercial place within an inhabited area) and cafes, Habous is also home to some 20 bookstores including the important Arab Cultural Center.
Casablanca also has the only Jewish museum in Arab majority countries. A terrific museum hosting a wide variety of cultural artifacts dedicated to preserving the history of Moroccan Jews. There remain approximately 2,000 Jews living in Morocco.
The next stop was Fes, founded at least in the 9th century during Idrisid Rule (788-974). Fes remains the intellectual capital of Morocco, with many schools, writers, and scholars calling it home. While all cities will contain a suq, Fes’s suq is a UNESCO heritage site. It is an amazing tour de force and nothing short of a labyrinth. Small alleys and corridors with high walls help the beginner become confused and even lost. Navigating the suq is best done by trial and error. After a few confusing moments, one learns the routes without the help of the local ‘guides.’ The suq is designed in such a way as to minimize direct sunlight – Fes in summer averages in the 40s Celsius (110s Fahrenheit). However, the reward of adventuring is an incredible array of crafts, arts, carpets, leather works, cafes, restaurants and historic sites like the University of al-Qarawiyyin (جامعة القرويين), considered the oldest center of learning. The traditional arts of mosaic tilework and leather production in the tanneries are ubiquitous.
While in Fes, I was also fortunate to meet up with fellow Blue Devils Profs. Mona Hassan and Mustafa Tuna and their family for a late afternoon lunch in the Rcif neighborhood.
From Fes I travelled by train to Tangier, the famous port-city that has been a point of cultural diffusion and trade since Phoenician times. Tangier is also home to the world traveler Ibn Batutah. Batutah traveled around not just Muslim majority countries but also to China and beyond. Unfortunately, his tomb in Tangier pales in comparison to his contribution to literature and knowledge. There are four tremendous bookstores in Tangier: Librairie des Colonnes, Les Insolites, ARTingis, and Librairie Papeterie Marocaine (المكتبة المغربية). Librairie des Colonnes was founded in 1949 and became the literary culture center with such characters as Jane and Paul Bowles, Samuel Becket, Jean Genet, Juan Goytisolo, Tennessee Williams, and Truman Capote as well as others who frequented, if not entrenched themselves in this beautiful landmark building. Les Insolites and ARTingis are relatively new stores with a nice variety of new, old, and popular works in French, Arabic, Amazigh, and English. Librairie Papeterie Marocaine is the largest of the stores containing almost exclusively Arabic publications from Morocco.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the historic and important Cinema Rif, perhaps the most important movie theater in Morocco. Its history is documented in this recent publication: Album cinématheque de Tanger by Azoury, Philippe, Yto Barrada et al., soon to be at your favorite research library.
My last stop was Rabat, which was hosting a small book festival with some 15 publishers and vendors displaying their materials in tents on Avenue Mohammed V and Rue Gaza au centre ville. There are three very important bookstores in Rabat: Dar al-Amane, Kalilah wa Dimna, and Librairie Livre Services. Dar al-Amane offers a terrific array of Arabic books on religion, philosophy, traditions of Islam, law, etc. while the other two shops offer books in Arabic and French on a wide variety of topics including literature, poetry, popular culture, photography, etc. Rabat also contains a variety of historic sites and a lovely suq, which is decorated in street art like this incredible mural.
There is much more I could say about this trip; Morocco offers a unique experience with its diverse population, climate, foods, and, of course, books. I would like to thank the Duke University Libraries for this opportunity. A special thanks to our esteemed Arabic cataloger, Fouzia el-Gargouri.
Come see a new exhibit from the International and Area Studies Department which displays anti-American materials spanning 130 years and four continents. Inspired by the recent acquisition of a Cold War-era comic collection from the People’s Republic of China, the exhibit expands to capture a broad range of responses to America’s presence on the world stage throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
The earliest materials on display date from the time of the Spanish-American War at the turn of the 20th century. These include famous critiques of American imperialism by Latin American thinkers like José Enrique Rodó and José Martí, as well as political cartoons from the period which reveal both Cuban responses to the war and dissenting voices from within the United States.
Moving through the 20th century, the exhibit features reproductions of Italian World War II propaganda posters which can be found in the Rubenstein Library’s Broadsides and Ephemera Collection. The bulk of the materials focus on the Cold War and the anti-American sentiment invoked by lingering U.S. military presence in East Asia. Highlights include the allusion-rich and satirically humorous Chinese comics from the 1950s and 1960s, as well as published photograph collections documenting anti-American protests in Korea and Japan.
From archival posters to reproductions found in secondary sources, the Duke Libraries’ collections provide a wealth of visual anti-American material to research and explore. Come to the second floor of Bostock Library by the Nicholas Family International Reading Room to view the highlights, and learn about the complex and competing narratives which have shaped international perceptions of the United States through the years.
Special thanks to Yoon Kim and to the Exhibit Services Department for their kind help in providing resources for the exhibit.
This post was contributed by Kristina Troost, the Japanese Studies Librarian at Duke.
In my job as Japanese Studies librarian, I often visit Japan. I do this largely to build ties to other librarians or vendors. There are many things that can be accomplished one-on-one that cannot be done remotely. These ties also stand me in good stead when I need to request favors. I think this is true everywhere, but personal connections matter a lot in East Asia. I also visit museums, temples and universities to deepen my knowledge of areas in which I support faculty and students. Personal conversations allow me to understand what is going on in Japan in ways not possible to achieve in the US.
My first day in Tokyo, I visited Waseda University library since my main contacts have retired, and we have relied on them in the past for special favors. Afterwards, I visited the Gender and Sexuality Center, the first such center set up to provide support and information to LGBT students and their allies at a Japanese university. It has several fully trained professional staff as well as a cadre of student volunteers.
The next day, I visited the National Women’s Education Center (NWEC). Established in 1977, it is dedicated to promoting gender equality. It has an extensive library of books and ephemera on women worldwide, as well as lodging for researchers if they wish to stay to use the material. While I have known about it for some time, since Women’s Studies has been a focus of our collection and the faculty I support, I had no idea of its size or the variety of its activities. Known for the databases they have created of their holdings and the digital versions of their ephemera, they also create exhibitions using those materials. The exhibit I saw was on Beate Sirota Gordon, who compiled the human rights clauses, particularly those concerning women, for the Japanese postwar constitution. I wasstruck by Article 23 and its emphasis on the equality of the sexes.
The study of modern Japanese art is a significant focus of the East Asian Studies program that I have supported for many years. This trip provided me an opportunity to visit several museums devoted to it. In Tokyo, I went to The Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery and 21-21 Design Sight. The Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery had a special exhibit, “Tom Sachs Tea Ceremony” as well as selections from their permanent collection given by Mr. Terada. The Terada collection contains some 3,700 artworks with a focus on postwar Japanese art and is relatively accessible. The Tom Sachs tea ceremony, however, took me some time. He has been reinterpreting ‘chanoyu’ — traditional Japanese tea ceremony — since 2012 through contemporary elements, materials, tools, and techniques. After seeing the film that was part of the exhibit, it made more sense.21_21 Design Sight has a wonderful exhibit called Sense of Humor. One of the posters I liked best could not be photographed, but many of the exhibits had me laughing out loud.
My final exploration of contemporary Japanese art was on the island of Naoshima in the Inland Sea. In the face of declining population in rural areas of Japan and in the Inland Sea in particular, one industrialist purchased part of Naoshima and has established a number of art museums which hold art by both Japanese and Western artists. These museums have been designed by Tadao Ando to maximize the impact of the art.
For example, one museum has several of Monet’s paintings of water lilies. The number of people allowed in the room at one time is limited, and you remove your shoes before entering. The floor is made from tiny white tiles. There are paintings of water lilies on all four sides. As one of only two or three people in the room, I could appreciate them in a new way. In addition, there are a number of what I would call “installations”. Together they are known as the Art House project. Artists have taken empty houses and turned the spaces themselves into works of art, each of which are in separate locations and all of which are effective. One, Minamidera, entails walking into a darkened temple, holding onto a wall and then sitting very still. Eventually, as your eyes grow accustomed to the darkness, you can see something across the room. I recommend, however, having younger eyes than mine. In another installation, the artist added a glass staircase to a shrine that was being renovated; it links the main building to an underground stone chamber, uniting the worlds above and below.
Each time I visit Japan, I try to explore new areas and go to museums and libraries I have not visited before. Both NWEC and Naoshima have been on my list of places to visit for some time and both exceeded my expectations. Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery and 21-21 Design Sight were recommended this summer by a faculty member I work with. While my primary goal is to deepen my knowledge and extend my connections in ways that I know will support the students and faculty I work with, I usually find that I use the knowledge I gain in unanticipated ways.
Stayed tuned for our upcoming exhibit of anti-American materials from around the world! The display will feature historic Chinese comics from a recently-acquired collection. These visual propaganda pieces were published in the People’s Republic of China in the 1950s and 1960s, when the Cold War drove tensions between the two nations to new heights. The exhibit will also highlight materials from Europe, Latin America and the United States itself. Take a look below to get a sneak peek at two items which will feature.
Entitled “Be Clear about the Nature of American Imperialism,” this comic illustrates American hypocrisy. A serene President Kennedy poses like the Buddha. On his right, arms reading “The Peace Corps” offer gifts of harmony and prosperity, including a sack labeled “Food for Peace.” On his right, arms reading “Preparing for war against Cuba and Lumumba” wield tools of violence.
This comic, “Thus Is America,” vividly depicts the perceived vices of the United States, including the oppression of workers, the Ku Klux Klan, loose morals and international aggression. Can you spot General George MacArthur?
The exhibit will be displayed on the second floor of Bostock Library next to the East Asian Magazine Reading Room starting in July.
Come explore the truly global popularity of graphic novels at the International and Area Studies exhibit on the second floor of Bostock Library, next to the East Asian Magazine Reading Room. The exhibit will be up through next Tuesday.
Since ancient times, human beings all over the globe have been bringing text and images together to tell stories. In this selection of graphic novels and cartoons from Duke’s collection, you will see retellings of classics and tales of adventure that have gained massive popularity in Japan and China. You will see stories of revolution and bold political movements from Russia, India, South Africa, and Colombia. You will see tales of atrocities, survival, and redemption in Germany and Israel. You will see humor, both lighthearted and political, in Turkey, Portugal and Spain, and everyday life in Korea and Côte d’Ivoire. This variety demonstrates the power of graphic narratives to reflect and lend new visual interpretations to all aspects of the human experience. We welcome you to explore one of the world’s most popular modes of storytelling in the Duke collection.
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