Forceps, Women’s Rights, and Professional Turf War: American Pregnancy and Childbirth in the Twentieth Century

Post contributed by Haleigh Yaspan, Independent Researcher

Pregnancy and birth, as universal and unvarying phenomena, can offer a revealing and reflective view into a specific historical chapter. Careful attention to the dynamic nature of the circumstances that have historically defined the experiences of pregnant and birthing women can help us contextualize and better understand our present moment. The relationship is bidirectional: so too does an exploration of historical factors help shed light on the rationale for trends in the medicalization of birth. The aid of a generous History of Medicine travel grant allowed me to spend time with a number of fascinating collections at Duke’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library that can offer such insight. These included, for example, the collection of medical instruments from the practice of Dr. LM Draper, the Louise Hortense Branscomb papers, and the Wilton G. Fritz Collection Artifacts.

In the United States, the circumstances of birth changed dramatically toward the end of the Progressive Era. Prior to the twentieth century, the care of pregnant and birthing women was most commonly the domain of midwives and other female practitioners, who were not incorporated into a recognized professional body. The shift toward a physician-centric approach can be traced back to a revolution within the medical profession, beginning in the late 1800s and continuing well into the following century. The wide variety of obstetrical tools surviving from Dr. LM Draper’s twentieth-century collection offers insight into standard practices of American physicians of the day. I was particularly intrigued by the array of various iterations of forceps, insinuated as they are in the medical profession’s early- and mid-century proclivity toward instrumental intervention in labor, an intentional move to set physicians apart from low-interventionist midwives.

a pair of metal forceps
Obstetrical forceps had been invented in the seventeenth century, although their use was not widespread until much later.

 

The glass slides for Dr. Carter’s OB/GYN lectures provided a window into the education aspect of the medical approach to obstetrics. Such primary sources set forth the gold standard of mid-century medical education of the day. The use of visuals in the slides informs an understanding of the historical pedagogical practices in this field, while the language employed clues us into the sociocultural milieu that circumscribed and defined medical education of the day.

American medical students learned about the history of childbirth, which had not traditionally been considered the purview of medical practitioners.

 

The medicalization of birth that took shape in the early twentieth century has attracted both celebration and criticism. Many have critiqued physicians, both in this period and since, for their quickness to instrumentally intervene in birth and their failure to outperform more hands-off midwives in terms of clinical outcomes. In the early twentieth century, Abraham Flexner, under the aegis of the Carnegie Foundation, set out to survey the state of medical education in the United States and Canada. His 1910 report eviscerated the medical profession, suggesting that a vast majority of American doctors were woefully unqualified and had received what little education they possessed from institutions of highly dubious rigor and quality. “But the very worst showing,” he noted, “is made in the matter of obstetrics.”

The Consumer Reports Archive

Post contributed by Joshua Larkin Rowley, Reference Archivist, John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History

The Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History acquired the archive of Consumer Reports, the consumer advocacy and education non-profit, in October of 2019.  Staff were thrilled with the new acquisition and eager to make these fabulous collections available to researchers as soon as possible.  Then…the pandemic hit.

Finally, after nearly three years and hours of work by staff and interns in the Rubenstein Library’s Technical Services Dept. approximately 65 individual collections have been fully described and made available.  To mark the occasion we’ve published a website dedicated to highlighting the breadth of the Consumer Reports Archive, the history of the organization, a selection of archival collections, recently cataloged print items, and its interdisciplinary potential in teaching.  Explore the site here and check out some highlights from the collection below.

Two fake mouths mounted on a cylinder with red lipstick residue from testing.
Lipstick tester from the testing equipment collection.
Image showing cover of Consumers Union Reports.
First issue of Consumer Reports, May 1936.
Letter on Consumers Union letterhead.
Consumer Reports founder Colston Warne’s sworn statement that he’s never been a member of the Communist Party, April 1953, from the Colston Warne Papers
Image showing pen testing equipment with six pens writing on a white sheet of paper.
Pen tester from Consumer Reports Iconographic Collection.
image showing a room of television sets
Television set test from the Consumer Reports Iconographic Collection.

Marc L. Nerlove Papers Open for Research

Black and white headshot of a white man in his late 30s in a suit and tie.
Marc Nerlove, circa 1972-1974, photograph, 8 x 10 in., Box 91, Folder Requests for Publications, 1972-1974.

Post contributed by Zachary Tumlin, Project Archivist for the Economists’ Papers Archive.

The Marc L. Nerlove papers are now open for research as part of the Economists’ Papers Archive, a joint venture between the Rubenstein Library and the Center for the History of Political Economy. Marc Leon Nerlove is a white American agricultural economist and econometrician who was awarded the John Bates Clark Medal from the American Economic Association (AEA) in 1969 and held appointments at eight different universities from 1958-2016: Johns Hopkins (where he earned his PhD), Minnesota, Stanford, Yale, Chicago (where he earned his BA), Northwestern, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. The Clark Medal is awarded to an economist under the age of 40 who “is judged to have made the most significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge,” and when the AEA appointed him as a Distinguished Fellow in 2012, they cited his development of widely used econometric methods across a range of subjects, including supply and demand, time series analysis, production functions, panel analysis, and family demography.

Nerlove was born and raised in Chicago and credits his father, S. H. (Samuel Henry) Nerlove, for his interest in economics. In addition to being a business economist at Chicago and a founding member of the Econometric Society (of which Marc would become President in 1981), S. H. “inadvertently” became the trustee of a large, bankrupt midwestern life insurance company in 1933 during the Great Depression. This company “held mostly foreclosed farm mortgages,” with the farms now being “operated by their former owners as tenants.” S. H. would share stories around the dinner table of his visits to these farms, since the family did not have one of their own in Hyde Park.

Two-page spread of a black and white magazine article about the unveiling of a sculpture. Besides text, there are five photographs, including of the sculpture, the sculptor, and people speaking at the event.
“Hunt’s ‘Why’ Unveiled,” issues/ideas, 1974, 10-11. Located in Box 91, Folder Issues/Ideas, 1974. This is a sculpture on campus at Chicago that was commissioned by S. H.’s widow and Marc’s mother Evelyn in S. H.’s memory.

The Nerlove papers consist of 195 linear feet (137 boxes) of physical material and a little over 0.1 gigabytes of digital material that primarily document Nerlove’s professional life through his correspondence, writings, teaching, research, and professional service. Other economists who appear most frequently in the papers include Kenneth Arrow, José Carvalho (student), Carl Christ (dissertation supervisor), David Grether (student), Zvi Griliches, Lawrence Klein, Tjalling Koopmans, Ta-Chung Liu (teacher), Theodore Schultz (teacher), and Lester Telser. To a lesser extent, there is some correspondence, teaching material, and two writings from Milton Friedman (teacher) and one handwritten letter from John Nash.

First and second pages of handwritten letter on MIT letterhead. Directed to "Mr. Nerlove." Signed "yours truly, John Nash."
John Nash to Marc Nerlove, March 1953, Box 2, Folder Nash, John, 1953.

One unique aspect of the collection is how much of it comes from others besides Nerlove. There are 134 files of teaching material from others, 228 files of dissertations, and 343 files of writings by others, compared to 143 and 421 files of his own teaching material and writings, respectively. Although his own files are richer, the files from others give us a sense of what was happening around him and his professional interests and network.

The teaching material from others was acquired from coworkers and professional colleagues for reasons such as Nerlove teaching/researching a similar course/subject or sent in exchange for his own teaching material. The dissertations are not only ones that Nerlove supervised or sat on the committee for, but that he received from his department for review as a faculty member, received from the author due to citation/similar research interest, or personally requested. While it is not unusual for there to be writings by others/reprint files, what was unusual was the quantity of them—they were originally around a quarter of the collection/90 linear feet and occupied 20 filing cabinets in a separate room on campus at Maryland. These files were thoroughly weeded to focus only on items with correspondence, annotations, or that appeared to be unpublished (primarily pre-1990).

Lastly, 11 items from these papers will occupy a large case in an upcoming exhibit on administrative assistants scheduled to be installed in the Michael and Karen Stone Family Gallery. These items are from the early 1970s and related to three of Nerlove’s secretaries at Chicago and Northwestern: Elizabeth “Betty” Ann Percell (1936-2005), Gloria Feigenbaum (1922-2006), and Stina Leander Hirsch (1919-2008). Such staff members have job duties that include basic records management—maintaining working files while they are still held by their creator before they are donated—and it is important to name them when they appear in the archival record because they are essential workers. A “good” secretary gives professors the ability to focus more on their research, and they make it easier for archivists to prepare these papers for long-term preservation (which ultimately benefits the archival user).

Candid photo of two white people in an office in the early 1970s. A woman sits at a desk of papers with a typewriter to one side while a man is bent at the waist looking at the camera while they exchange a paper or envelope.
Gloria Feigenbaum and Marc Nerlove, circa 1972-1973, photograph, 3.5 x 5 in., Box 1, Folder Feigenbaum, Gloria, 1972-1973.

The Rubenstein Library’s disruptive copy of A Curious Herbal

Post contributed by Janet Stiles Tyson, independent researcher.

colored picture of fig plant
Hand-colored etching of fig, from Rubenstein copy of A Curious Herbal. Photo credit Janet Stiles Tyson.

This blog post concerns a copy of a historically significant English herbal, held by the Rubenstein Library. Along with its producer Elizabeth Blackwell, A Curious Herbal[1] comprised the topic of my PhD thesis for Birkbeck College, University of London. It remains the focus of my post-doctoral research.

She was born in London in 1699 as Elizabeth Simpson, and married to a Scotsman named Alexander Blackwell. She made 500 life-size watercolor drawings of medicinal plants and translated those drawings on to etching plates, which were then sent to a printer to be produced as black-and-white multiples. After printing, Blackwell used watercolor paint to color many of the imprinted images. Between mid-1735 and mid-1739, those images were sold in fascicules or gatherings of four pages each. Each fascicule also included a page of text explaining the use of the four illustrated plants. Gatherings that contained four uncolored images cost one shilling; each group containing four colored images cost two shillings. Buyers compiled their pages (along with title pages, indexes, and other leaves that were printed and distributed) and had them bound—typically into two folio-format volumes.

Image showing text from title page of A Curious Herbal
Volume One title page from Rubenstein copy of A Curious Herbal. Photo credit Janet Stiles Tyson.

Blackwell’s first publisher was Samuel Harding, whose name is found on title pages dated 1737. The name of Blackwell’s second publisher, John Nourse, is found on title pages dated 1739 and 1751. Copies also exist that were published under the name of Charles Nourse and dated 1782. However, composition and dating of extant copies isn’t as straightforward as this summary suggests, which is why much of my ongoing research involves finding and viewing as many copies as I can. Thus far, I have found about 110 copies, and have examined every single page of about sixty-five.

This brings me to the Rubenstein Library copy, which I visited in early August of this year [2022]. I first learned of it from catalogues for auctions held by Sotheby’s and Christie’s between 1981 and 2017. Online color photographs and verbal descriptions left me in no doubt about its beauty and importance. It was printed on extra-large folio sheets of paper, such that it measured about 18-by-12 inches in height and breadth. Pictures showed that its two volumes were bound in gold-stamped black morocco leather, and that the edges of its pages had been finished in gold. It also was evident that the plates had been colored with great care and subtly.

It originally had been owned by a London apothecary named Josiah Messer (1753-1830), whose signature was inscribed on the verso of the title page. A watercolor drawing and a hand-colored etching had been inserted at the back of volume one. Bookplates for another, presumably later, owner named George Hubbard were affixed to the marble endpapers in each volume. Assuming that its last sale at auction had been to a private collection, it seemed that I would never see Josiah Messer’s copy of A Curious Herbal.

Thus I watched, incredulously, as Rubenstein librarians removed the two volumes of the Messer copy from their archival boxes.

image showing page of text from preface
Blackwell preface from Rubenstein copy of A Curious Herbal.

I began carefully turning its pages. Messer’s signature was on the reverse of the title page. There were the customary two pages of endorsements by various medical men. There were five lavishly etched and engraved dedicatory leaves that I knew from other copies. And there was a blank leaf where the first explanatory page should have been. Briefly perplexed, I decided that explanatory pages had been arranged to face the first image of each group of four. I’d seen that in other copies and would duly note.

I turned the page to find its verso filled with words from top to bottom, facing the front of another densely printed page. The word ‘Preface’ topped the first, and at the bottom of the second was the name ‘Elizabeth Blackwell’, and the legend: ‘Chelsea April ye 12th 1739’. After some preliminaries were the words:

I from my very Infancy shew’d an Inclination to imitate Pictures and

to attempt drawing such Things as pleased me; Whether this

proceeded from the strong impressions made on my tender Brain by

the agreeable Objects I was daily surrounded with (my Father Mr.

Leonard Simpson being a Painter) or a Genius born with me I can’t

determine.

A shiver of excitement shot from my head to my fingertips at ‘my Father Mr. Leonard Simpson being a Painter’. Hurriedly I told the librarians about this discovery, then returned to my table to email my Birkbeck supervisors, Vanessa Harding and Carmen Mangion. Both promptly messaged their kudos. Then, as I finished reading Blackwell’s preface and proceeded to examine and photograph further pages, Harding sent me another email.

Applying decades of research experience, Harding quickly found two other documents that cited Leonard Simpson by name. One announced the birth of a daughter to ‘Mr Leonard Simpson Designer in Paintings’, who lodged with a ‘Mr Simpson shoomaker of the Parish of St Mary Woolchurchhaw’. Dated ‘Aprill 1699’, it stated that daughter Elizabeth was born on the ‘three and twentith day of this moneth’ and  ‘baptized the 4th of May following’. The second document further noted that shoomaker Simpson’s dwelling was ‘next door to the White Horse in Poultry’.

color image of white waterlilly against a green lily pad
Hand-colored etching of white waterlily from Rubenstein copy of A Curious Herbal. Photo credit Janet Stiles Tyson.

Over the years, I’ve found other Simpson references, including information that identified Blackwell’s mother’s name as Alice. But the Rubenstein copy holds the key to confirming Elizabeth Blackwell’s birth date and place. So much more could be said about this book and its illustrations, and the myriad curious tales of Elizabeth Blackwell. And perhaps further research will find further copies of that preface. For now, however, I hope that I have communicated the importance of this object at Duke University.

Works cited

Blackwell, Elizabeth (1737). A Curious Herbal. Containing Five Hundred Cuts of the most useful Plants, which are now used in the Practice of Physick. Engraved on folio Copper Plates, after Drawings, taken from the Life. By Elizabeth Blackwell. To which is added a short Description of ye Plants; and their common Uses in Physick. London: Printed for Samuel Harding in St Martin’s Lane, MDCCXXXVII (1737) Rubenstein QK99.A1 B53 1737 folio v.1 c.1.

London Metropolitan Archives. Parchment register of the parish of St Mary Woolnoth, 1686-1726: LMA, P69/MRY15/A002/MS07636.

London Metropolitan Archives. Paper register of the parish of St Mary Woolnoth, 1695-1706: LMA, P69/MRY15/A/002/MSo7636.

[1] Full title: A Curious Herbal. Containing Five Hundred Cuts of the most useful Plants, which are now used in the Practice of Physick. Engraved on folio Copper Plates, after Drawings, taken from the Life. By Elizabeth Blackwell. To which is added a short Description of ye Plants; and their common Uses in Physick.

 

 

In Memoriam: Michael Malone

Left to right: Michael Malone, Allan Gurganus, Will Hansen (former Rubenstein Library Assistant Curator of Collections) and Deborah Jakubs (University Librarian Emerita) at a 2009 Duke University Libraries event celebrating the acquisition of Malone’s papers.

Guest post by Deborah Jakubs, Ph.D., University Librarian Emerita

Michael Malone, former Duke professor of Theater Studies and English and Durham native who died on August 19, 2022, was truly many things to many people. Novelist, television writer, crafter of mysteries, gifted teacher, award winner—he was all that, as well as the producer of local plays and musicals, host of cabarets and soirees, a true community builder with a generous heart and a wicked wit. As his close friend writer Allan Gurganus noted, Michael “was so many people and… had so many gifts. You’re not sure which Michael to mourn. You feel like you’re losing more than one person.”

Malone was the author of fourteen works of fiction, including Handling Sin, Uncivil Seasons, and Dingley Falls, and wrote short stories and nonfiction as well as plays and musicals. He gained success and renown as the head writer for the daytime soap opera One Life to Live, winning an Emmy in 1994. He also won the Edgar Allen Poe Award and the O’Henry Award for his short fiction.

I was fortunate to know Michael and his wife Maureen Quilligan, the R. Florence Brinkley Distinguished Professor Emerita, and count them as friends. We met not long after Maureen came to Duke from the University of Pennsylvania in 2000 to chair the Department of English, and Michael joined Theater Studies. We developed a fast friendship. It was impossible not to fall under Michael’s spell, to be won over by his irrepressible creativity and curiosity about people and their lives. Being in his company was always joyful.

From the moment of their arrival on campus, Michael and Maureen were enthusiastic fans of the Duke Libraries. They often expressed their gratitude for the extensive collections and the expertise of individual librarians and archivists. That appreciation led Michael to give his papers to the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library in 2008. The Libraries celebrated the acquisition of his archive as well as the publication of his ninth novel, The Four Corners of the Sky, with a reading and book signing in April 2009.

Malone was an unabashed fan of Charles Dickens. He and Gurganus (whose papers are also in the Rubenstein) collaborated for over a decade on the annual two-man performance of A Christmas Carol at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Hillsborough. In 2012, to celebrate the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens and in conjunction with the library exhibition, Charles Dickens: 200 Years of Commerce and Controversy, the Libraries hosted “consummate Dickensian” Malone impersonating characters from Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, and Great Expectations. In a DukeToday story about the event, he said: “Keep a Dickens novel around you always. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry, you’ll be eager to know what happens next.” I’d say keep a Malone novel around, too, for the same reasons.

Michael will be missed by many, many people whose lives he touched. As photographer and Hillsborough resident Elizabeth Matheson noted, “He believed so thoroughly in community and that at its best, life should be a feast where everyone is invited.” Thank you, Michael, for hosting the feast.

Malone and his wife Maureen Quilligan (R. Florence Brinkley Distinguished Professor of English Emerita) at a 2012 library event where Malone performed dramatic readings from the works of Charles Dickens.

Nuestra Historia: Developing an Exhibit on the History of Duke’s Latinx Students

Visitors gather at the opening of “Our History, Our Voice/Nuestra Historia, Nuestra Voz.” The exhibition was on display in the Chappell Family Gallery, January-July 2022.

The following excerpt is from Dr. Cecilia Marquez, Hunt Family Assistant Professor of History. Dr. Marquez was one of the speakers at an event celebrating the exhibition, Our History, Our Voice/Nuestra Historia, Nuestra Voz. The exhibition was on display in the Chappell Family Gallery from January through July 2022.

I came to Duke as an Assistant Professor in the History Department in August 2019. Nine months later, just after I had found a doctor, a grocery store, and a routine, the world shut down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with my students, I was reaching for some kind normalcy and some kind of optimism in what was an increasingly bleak world of quarantines, Zoom calls, and isolation. The exhibition Our History, Our Voice/Nuestra Historia, Nuestra Voz can’t be understood outside of this context. As much as the exhibition was a call for recognition, it also became a way to build community when we were scattered across several states.

It feels almost clichéd to say I learned as much from my students as I taught them, and yet it’s true. The students I have encountered at Duke, and those who curated this project, are some of the most resilient and dedicated young people I have ever known. I watched these undergrads withstand an unprecedented and generational trauma because of COVID-19. Through that they produced something truly beautiful and supported each other in the process. Their vision and dedication to this project was the fuel that made it all possible.

 

“In high school, as an AP US history student, my burning question was constantly: where are Latinos in US history? Where were we in the Civil War? Where were we in World War II, and in other big moments in US history? That was my constant burning question.”   Elizabeth Barahona

 

The exhibition is a testament to all parts of Duke really working together: faculty, staff, and students. Too often the emphasis at Duke is on faculty and students but this exhibition would not have been possible without library staff who led the way as we learned what it meant to create an exhibition.

Members of the exhibit curatorial team (left to right): Joan Munne’, Senior Lecturer of Romance Language, Elizabeth Barahona (T ’18), Carlo-Alfonso Garza (T ’22), Benjamin Romero (T ’21), Juanita Vargas Ibanez (T ’23), Karina Moreno Bueno (T ’21), Gabriela Fonseca (T ’22), Leticia Flores, Senior Clinical Research Specialist at Duke University Health System, Damary Gutierrez Hernandez (T ’22), Cecilia Marquez, Hunt Family Assistant Professor of History.

During this project, Assistant University Archivist Amy McDonald taught dozens of my students how to discover and engage with archival material. Meg Brown, head of Exhibition Services, taught them how to make an exhibit, construct a project, and reimagine it again and again. Teaching Latinx history these past two years was a collaborative endeavor with Amy, Meg, and my co-conspirator in this project, Senior Lecturer in Romance Studies, Joan Munné, as we imagined this exhibition and brought it to fruition. At every step, I was reminded that the work we do at Duke is a collective and community effort that is not possible without the library and its staff.

 

“[This exhibit] It’s history in the making. You are witnessing history right now. It’s time to hear about those other stories. Those brown stories that have been here, but are not told because no one is asking us or writing about us.” Elmer Orellana

 

It is my hope that this exhibition is the beginning of telling the history of Latinxs at Duke, not the end. There are many voices that were not represented in the exhibition, maybe some reading this now. The exhibit opened during Black History Month, making us acutely aware that Black Latinx students could not attend Duke until March 1961, when Duke first accepted Black students. Generations of Latinx students were systematically excluded as a result of Duke’s racist admissions policies. Early research from Dr. Javier Wallace, a Postdoctoral Fellow at Duke, suggests that during this time Black Latinx students found a home at North Carolina Central University (NCCU). The absence of their stories in the early period of the exhibition is notable and an urgently needed future direction of this project. In the process of constructing this exhibition and future projects like this one, we also construct a fuller and more representative archive of what the Latinx community looks like at Duke.

Nuestra Historia was sponsored by the Duke University Libraries and the following Duke entities: Latino/a Studies in the Global South Program, History Department, Romance Studies Department, the Provosts’ office, Dean Valerie Ashby, the Dean of Humanities, the Forum for Scholars and Publics, and the Franklin Humanities Institute who funded a Story+ Program to continue the work of this exhibit in the digital sphere.

Witness to Guantanamo

The data from detainees in Guantanamo was adapted from the ACLU website “Guantanamo by the Numbers”. In an attempt to humanize the information, the graphic was hand painted on the wall of the gallery by local artist Renzo Ortega.

Post by Caitlin Margaret Kelly, Curator of the Documentary Arts & Director of the Power Plant Gallery, and Patrick Stawski, Human Rights Archivist

On January 11, 2002, the first prisoners in America’s War on Terror arrived at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Roughly seven hundred and eighty detainees have been housed at the prison thus far. Most of the men were never charged with a crime, yet many were imprisoned for more than a decade. Over the past twenty years many other lives were drawn into Guantanamo: families of the detained, defense lawyers, prosecutors, doctors, interrogators, military personnel, journalists, and diplomats.

Peter Honigsberg has recorded the stories of the people who lived and worked at the naval base, voices that speak truth to power. He founded the Witness to Guantanamo (WtG) Video Collection to draw the history of Guantanamo out of the shadows and reveal its impact on the lives of individuals as well as our nation. He donated the collection to the Human Rights Archive at the Rubenstein Library in 2018.

Oral histories are displayed on televisions throughout the gallery during the Witness to Guantanamo exhibition at the Power Plant Gallery.

In January 2022, the Human Rights Archive and Archive of Documentary Arts collaborated to mount an exhibition drawn from the collection in the Power Plant Gallery in downtown Durham. The first-hand testimonies were paired with photographs by Duke professor Christopher Sims and drawings by court artist Janet Hamlin, in addition to psyops flyers, infographics and maps locating Guantanamo within both the visual and historical record.

Reflecting on his experience visiting the exhibition with his class, Zac Johnson T’22 writes, “Both pain and perseverance were noticeable in the voices of detainees. They spoke about hunger strikes, learning to build relationships with others, and losing hours of sleep every night. They spoke about being physically weak, but never losing hope for the future, even if they believed the U.S. would never hand it to them. Their voices switched back and forth across languages as they sought the right words to explain the torturous circumstances that surrounded them at Guantanamo.”

Photographs of the day to day landscapes of Guantanamo Navel Base by Christopher Sims, Associate Professor, Sanford School of Public Policy, and Undergraduate Education Director, Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University.

Another Duke student explained, “This exhibit was a great opportunity to immerse myself in a project that uses storytelling in such a unique and impactful way… the portrayal of these stories forces the viewer to confront the speaker face to face in a way that felt remarkably similar to a personal conversation. I found myself avoiding the speakers’ eyes when they shared particularly tragic or humiliating details, and I somehow felt rude removing my headphones and leaving the station while the speaker was in the middle of telling their story.”

The exhibit was accompanied by a number of virtual and in-person events, including talks by Christopher Sims and Uyghur American activist and WtG interviewee Rushan Abbas and a panel discussion with Peter Honigsberg; Cahalm MacLaughlin, Director of the Prison Memory Archive; and Duke professor Leela Prasad.

Videos and transcripts from the Witness to Guantanamo Collection are available for public viewing through the Duke Digital Repository.

Franklin Research Center Commemorates 25 Years

Post by John B. Gartrell, Director, John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History & Culture

The 2021-2022 academic year marked the 25th anniversary of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History & Culture. The Franklin Research Center used the theme “Black Lives in Archives” as the thread for a slate of programs that built upon the center’s mission of advancing scholarship on the history and culture of people of African descent.

The anniversary events kicked off in September 2021 with a virtual lecture by Dr. Emilie Boone, Assistant Professor of African American Studies at New York City College of Technology, CUNY. Dr. Boone was invited to respond to an exhibition displayed in the Rubenstein Library’s Photography Gallery entitled “James Van Der Zee and Michael Francis Blake: Picturing Blackness in the 1920s.” Curated by Franklin Research Center director, John B. Gartrell and the center’s 2019-2020 graduate intern, Jessica Stark, the exhibit presented selections from two African American photographers who made portrait style images of everyday African Americans at the height of the “New Negro Movement” of the 1920s.

The Black Lives in Archives virtual speaker series featured (clockwise from top left): Dr. Lisa Bratton, Dr. Brandon K. Winford, Dr. Erik S. McDuffie, Dr. Emilye Crosby, and Dr. Emilie Boone.

Black Lives in Archives virtual speaker series during the fall semester featured four scholars who were previously awarded Franklin Research Center travel grants to come to the Rubenstein Library and utilize the Center’s collections. The speakers invited to participate included Brandon K. Winford (University of Tennessee Knoxville), Lisa Bratton (Tuskegee University), Erik S. McDuffie (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) and Emilye Crosby (SUNY Geneseo). This “return to the archive” by each scholar highlighted the critical importance of Black collections as a foundation for new directions in the field of African and African American Studies.

And in January, the center hosted a special Archivist Roundtable featuring Gartrell, Chaitra Powell (Curator, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill) and Andre Vann (Coordinator of University Archives and Instructor of History, North Carolina Central University). The roundtable was an engaging conversation between three Black archivists discussing the arcs of their respective careers and the challenges and benefits of being caretakers for collections documenting the Black experience. All of the aforementioned virtual events were recorded and are now available through Duke University Libraries’ YouTube channel.

About the Franklin Research Center

In 1995, Dr. John Hope Franklin, James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History at Duke University, donated his personal archive to Duke. In his honor, the Duke University Libraries founded the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture as a designated collecting area specializing in rare book and primary sources documenting people of African descent. Franklin’s archive and his scholarship have been the guiding lights of the Center’s engagement in public programming, teaching, exhibitions, and collaborations. This celebration of “Black Lives in Archives” honored the Center’s role as a premiere destination for researchers near and far over the last twenty-five years.

Black Lives in Archives: Inviting the Community to Explore

Visitors explore Rubenstein Library materials documenting the richness of Black print culture at an open house event in April 2022.

Post by Orilonise Yarborough, Intern, John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History & Culture

This past April, the Rubenstein Library hosted an open house event we called, “I Got a Story to Tell: Black Voices in Print.” On display were a wide range of archival materials covering such topics as Durham’s Black history, pop culture, and literature, including a first edition of the Narrative of Sojourner Truth, flyers and photographs from the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture at Duke, and romance novels written by voting rights activist and Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams under the pseudonym Selena Montgomery. Event organizers poured through the Rubenstein’s collections to locate materials we love and know well, and that illustrate the breadth of Black print materials here at Duke. Based on the sheer volume of material, this was no easy feat!

The Rubenstein Library is open to all, and this event was an opportunity to welcome the larger community outside of academics and researchers. Recognizing that academic libraries can seem intimidating and inaccessible to the general public, the event was designed to demystify the Rubenstein Library and show the multiple ways archival material can be utilized. While historical documents are static, the way we engage with them doesn’t have to be. The event was our own contribution to the current discourse on access to archives and collective histories, showcasing the possibilities that our materials and library spaces hold.

John B. Gartrell, Director of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History & Culture noted that such events remind us of what makes archives special by letting people experience “the kind of metaphysical connectivity where you realize that this was held by someone fifty, seventy-five, one hundred years ago.” In these encounters, time collapses, and the experience of witnessing history becomes a shared experience between the living and the departed.

What’s next? “So many things,” according to Gartrell. “The potential for an event like this is endless.” The Rubenstein Library hopes to make it an annual event, much like Anatomy Day, an open house event every fall that draws on the History of Medicine Collections. With thousands of collections encompassing literature, art, diaries, scrapbooks and rare comics, Rubenstein staff will have the ability to investigate and share Black material culture in a variety of expressions and forms.

New & Noteworthy Acquisitions from the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History & Culture

Broadside: “Abeng, a Description of Nanny the Leader of the Windward Maroons”

This broadside by Michelle Cliff was printed by the Helaine Victoria Press. The press, which took its name from the middle names of founders Jocelyn Helaine Cohen and Nancy Taylor Victoria Poore, brought together lesbian feminist politics with fine press technique and was famous for its extensive body of women’s history postcards. Born in Jamaica, Cliff was the partner of Adrienne Rich, who also had a limited-edition broadside published by Helaine Victoria Press, which is included in the holdings of the Bingham Center.


Tribal Connexions: A Celebration of 2 years of Aché

This booklet marks the two-year anniversary of Aché, a Black lesbian journal based in the San Francisco Bay Area. A pioneering publication, Aché was “born out of our need, as Black Lesbians in the Bay Area, to have our own issues addressed, separate from the larger ‘Woman of Color’ community” (from the introduction to the first issue). The typical issue contains relevant articles on topics including artists and authors, healing and spirituality, international Black lesbian communities, art, poetry, and interviews. This anniversary booklet includes photographs and biographies of contributors, reproductions of journal covers, and a poem by Storme Webber.


Meanwhile, Elsewhere: Science Fiction & Fantasy from Transgender Writers

Meanwhile, Elsewhere is winner of the 2018 American Library Association’s Stonewall Book Award-Barbara Gittings Literature Award. The collection brings together twenty short stories of science fiction and fantasy from transgender writers. When its original publisher went out of business the book fell out of print, LittlePuss Press republished the volume in 2021.

Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University