Date: April 7, 2021 Time: 3:00 pm ET Location: Zoom Register Here
Interested in archival and library work? Come learn about the internships being offered at the Rubenstein Library in Fall of 2021!
On April 7th at 3:00pm Rubenstein Library staff will be hosting an information session and open house where you can learn about the Rubenstein Library, meet the intern supervisors, get details on the internship projects, and ask questions.
The following internships available at the Rubenstein Library in the coming academic year:
Consumer Reports Processing Intern: The Consumer Reports Processing Intern will primarily arrange and describe archival materials held in the Consumer Reports Archives collections, part of the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing in the Rubenstein Library. The intern may also participate in outreach, programming, and instruction activities, depending on opportunities and the intern’s abilities and interests.
Josiah Charles Trent Internship: Working closely with the History of Medicine Collections, this position will provide support for public services and collection development activities of the History of Medicine.
Human Rights Archive, Marshall T. Meyer Intern: Working with RL Technical Services and Research Services staff, you will primarily provide support for research services, technical services, and collection development activities of the Human Rights Archive.
John Hope Franklin Research Center Internship: The John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture seeks a reliable candidate to fill the position of Franklin Research Center intern. Working closely with the center’s director, you will provide support for public services and collection development activities. This internship provides an opportunity to work closely with the center’s collections which include rare books, personal papers and manuscripts, oral histories, audiovisual, and ephemeral materials that document the African and African Diaspora experience from the 16th century to present day.
Post Submitted by Patrick Stawski, Human Rights Archivist
The Human Rights Archive recently purchased two historical publications documenting the Attica Prison Uprising of 1971. The Rubenstein Library’s Technical Services/Print Materials Cataloging Section has expertly cataloged these items and they are now available for consultation in the Rubenstein reading room.
In September of 1971 inmates at Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, New York, rebelled against prison authorities and took control of the facility. After four days of attempted negotiations the state police violently suppressed the rebellion leading to the death of 43 staff and inmates. The Attica Uprising was a watershed moment in the on-going fight to establish respect for human rights within the penitentiary system and to recognize and reform the racist practices and policies of the criminal justice system which feed the carceral machine. We can thus understand that Attica is a direct ancestor of social movements such as Black Lives Matter that continue this fight today. Attica: slaughter at Attica: the complete inside story is written by journalist James A. Hudson and published in 1971, soon after the uprising. The publication begins with a quote from Attica inmate Charles Horatio Crowley who was also known as Brother Flip, “If we cannot live as people, then we will at least try to die like men.”
Hudson then sets out to provide the details of the actual events of the uprising and oppression, including first-hand accounts from those who were there, a map of the prison grounds with key locations noted, and photographs of the rebellion, the negotiations, and the state’s attack on the inmates and the horrifying aftermath. Hudson also explores what led up to the riot, investigates if the living conditions at Attica were as inhumane as the inmates claimed, and asks readers to consider what role racism played in the state’s deadly response to the rebellion.
Another newly available item is Attica, it is a right to rebelauthored by the Revolutionary Student Brigade, circa 1972. Printed in stark black and red, the pamphlet is a collaboration between the RSB, some of the Attica brothers, as well as their supporters. The pamphlet proclaims that “ATTICA IS NOT A TRAGEDY, but a symbol of militant resistance of oppressed people against a system that tries to crush them.” In contrast to Hudson’s journalistic tone, The RBG invokes a clear call to solidarity and action with the Attica inmates by all people involved in resisting a racist system that terrorizes Black people. The back sheet of the pamphlet includes the 33 demands of the Attica rebels, many of which we today recognize as basic human rights, “provide adequate food and water and shelter for this group”, “allow true religious freedom”, “Apply the New York State minimum wage law to all work done by inmates. STOP SLAVE LABOR.”
These new items join the Human Rights Archives extensive collections on the experiences of the incarcerated, and the impact detention and incarceration have on their families and communities. These include the papers of Jomo Joka Omowale, one of the Attica Brothers who went on trial in the wake of the uprising, and the papers of Elizabeth Fink, a human rights lawyer who represented prisoners killed and injured during the Attica uprising. To learn more about these collections and how to access them please visit our research guide.
Post contributed by Amelia Verkerk, Graduate Intern, Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture
The Brown Papers were a series of publications written and produced by the National Institute for Women of Color (NIWC) as a platform to raise awareness and examine issues and concerns of women of color including lack of representation in politics, harmful and derogatory stereotypes, and systemic silencing of their experiences and voices. NIWC was founded as a non-profit institute in 1981 to create a national network for women of African, Alaska Native, American Indian, Asian, Hispanic, Latina, and Pacific Island heritage. NIWC started organizing annual conferences around the United States in 1982 and began publishing The Brown Papers in 1984 along with another periodical called Fact Sheets on Women of Color.
The mission of NIWC’s Brown Papers and its other projects was to create a “cross-racial/ethnic communication vehicle to identify or define issues, educate and raise awareness about those issues, and encourage coalitions and alliances to address the common concerns of mutual issues” (The Brown Papers, 23). While the NIWC organized and published The Brown Papers, the periodical was written and funded by individual contributors and outside grant organizations. The Sallie Bingham Center holds a copy of the first issue of The Brown Papers which was written by Suzanne Brooks, Aileen Hernandez, Marta Cotera, and Victoria Siu. This issue focuses on the importance of women of color in local, state, and federal offices, such as district court judges, mayors, and ambassadors. Additionally, the authors examine the significance of women holding traditionally male positions (i.e., tribal leaders, professors, business owners, etc.) because “the twin legacies of racism and sexism in the United States have had double the impact on women of color.” (The Brown Papers, 11)
The Brown Papers explores the impact of historical experiences of women of color. Contributor Marta Cotera analyzes the ways in which many matriarchal tribes were further harmed by the American white, patriarchal laws passed in the 20th century, after already facing hundreds of years of legal discrimination. These laws undermine the importance of women in these cultures which has led to the disenfranchisement of indigenous women and the Federal government refusing to recognize matriarchal tribes, both of which perpetuate the lack of proper representation of Native women. The Brown Papers provide a unique insight to these types of discussions women of color were having in the 1980s and continue to have in 2021. Here are a few particular trenchant examples:
“Few women of color have been able to reach the pinnacle of national elective office; no woman of color has sat in the sanctum of the United States Senate; a total of six have left their mark on the House of Representatives… Their life histories are a chronicle of risk-taking, commitment, and involvement.” (The Brown Papers, 4).
“Therefore, this paper would not be complete without a look at American governmental policies that have restricted the political participation of people of color. While this effort is only a preliminary look at the tapestry of American politics in which women of color are woven, it is a look long overdue.” (The Brown Papers, 11).
“But institutionalized racism in society postponed the opportunity for women of color to reap the benefits of this victory [the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment]. Jeanette Rankin of Montana was the first woman elected to Congress (1916); but it took nearly an additional half a century for a woman of color (Patsy Mink) to achieve this goal.” (The Brown Papers, 17)
On February 23, 2021 author Blake Hill-Saya and sponsor C. Eileen Watts-Welch discuss “Aaron McDuffie Moore, An African American Physician, Educator, and Founder of Durham’s Black Wall Street” (2020). Hill-Saya is a classical musician and creative writer. Watts-Welch was former Associate Dean of External Affairs in the School of Nursing at Duke University. The conversation was moderated by John B. Gartrell, director of the John Hope Franklin Research Center at Duke University.
Aaron McDuffie Moore was one of the nation’s most influential African American leaders in the early 20th century and a co-founder of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company and Lincoln Hospital in Durham, NC. Hill-Saya and Watts-Welch are both descendants of Moore and this project had deep personal connections. They share how their research in the NC Mutual archive (jointly held by Duke and North Carolina Central University) and the collections at Shaw University’s archives aided in illuminating his life and legacy.
This event was co-sponsored by the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History & Culture and the History of Medicine Collections in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University.
Post Contributed by Patrick Stawski, Archivist, Human Rights Archives
Reagan’s Gun-Toting Nuns: The Catholic Conflict over Cold War Human Rights Policy in Central America wins 2020 Juan E. Méndez Book Award for Human Rights in Latin America
Theresa Keeley’s important and wonderfully detailed book, Reagan’s Gun-Toting Nuns: The Catholic Conflict over Cold War Human Rights Policy in Central America (Cornell University Press, 2020), is the winner of the 2020 Juan E. Méndez Book Award for Human Rights in Latin America.
This is the twelfth year of this prestigious award. The award is supported by the Duke Human Rights Center@the Franklin Humanities Institute, Duke’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and the Human Rights Archives at the Rubenstein Rare Books and Manuscripts Library.
Reagan’s Gun-Toting Nuns is a deep dive into a formative period in human rights, Central American history, and the role of the faith community, in particular the Maryknoll order, on US policy. Keeley will accept the award via a Zoom event that is open to the public. The event will take place on March 16 from 5:30-7 pm.
The judges were unanimous in their praise. Prof. James Chappel, Hunt Assistant Professor of History at Duke University, noted that the book “tells a great story that most people, myself included, know little about. Catholicism, like human rights, is both global and local, and it takes a special kind of historian to explore it with humanity, moral passion, and archival rigor. By integrating geopolitics, theology, and gender into one beautiful narrative, Keeley does all of us a great service.”
Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, currently a senior legal adviser to Human Rights Watch and a former Méndez award winner, commented that the book “covers a history about which I’ve long been curious and that has been central to US human rights policy toward Central America. It does so comprehensively, seriously, and with great care. The author did an impressive amount of research.”
Robin Kirk, chair of the judging committee and the co-director of the Duke Human Rights Center@the Franklin Humanities Institute, commented, “I learned so much from this book: about Central America, US policy, the Maryknolls, and continuing repercussions of divides within Christianity and their links to human rights. Even as an advocate in Latin America, I was unfamiliar with much of this history. So much of this framed the early development of human rights as US policy and a generation of American and European rights activists.”
When notified of the award, Keeley stated, “I am humbled to have my work recognized. At times, I struggled to find ways to convey Central Americans’ and missionaries’ experiences during the 1970s and 1980s. But it was nothing compared to what the people who lived through these difficult, and often violent, times endured. I am thankful to all of the human rights advocates, in the United States and Central America and especially the women religious, who trusted me with their stories. I hope the Méndez Award will bring recognition to them and to the greater need for the U.S. government to consider how its foreign policies affect the human rights of others.”
The judges would also like to extend congratulations to Dan Werb and his excellent City of Omens: A search for the missing women of the borderlands (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019), our runner-up. The judges praised the book’s epidemiological approach and the richly detailed research paired with the stories of the women Werb worked with on the US-Mexico border. Werb’s text was “very compelling and human,” wrote one, “and I loved that it shed light on worlds that most readers do not know about or care to know.”
First awarded in 2008, the Méndez Human Rights Book Award honors the best current non-fiction book published in English on human rights, democracy, and social justice in contemporary Latin America. The books are evaluated by a panel of expert judges drawn from academia, journalism, human rights, and public policy circles.
For more information on the award and previous winners, see https://humanrights.fhi.duke.edu/programs/wola-duke-human-rights-award/.
For this Cabinet of Curiosity activity, I was required to find an item in nature, describe it using only sensory vocabulary, and attempt to classify it based on categories I would create myself. These categories were not intended to reflect the knowledge we possess today. I was supposed to embody a Renaissance naturalist and organize what I found in nature based on characteristics from direct observation. I ended up taking a stroll through Duke Gardens with another member of my focus cluster to begin my search. It didn’t take long for us to pass the Koi pond and walk by the most elegant type of bird. We ended up staying about half an hour just to watch its behavior and actions. I decided to take a picture of it and, inevitably, it became my object for the activity. I described it as being a blueish gray color, having expandable appendages, and as something which possessed the marvelous ability to fly. If I were to have a cabinet of curiosities of my own, it would be centered around exotic creatures, with this creature in particular being classified as an aviation animal, one with the occult ability to lift itself off of earth’s bounds.
For several interrelated reasons during the Renaissance, the distinct discipline of wonder–the careful examinations of natural marvels–provided a means of elaborating on the inquiries which developed about the unknown. The studies by Renaissance naturalists and physicians like Giovanni Dondi and Michele Savonarola explained the reasons natural marvels were able to satisfy such queries. First, it was speculated that “most marvels… derived their wonderful properties from occult properties… Second, their intrinsic fascination and charisma set them apart from mundane phenomena,” and third, the mere expansion into the New World further broadened the heterogeneity of marvels simply given their novelty (Daston 136). Thus, a “marvel” or “natural wonder” was a label for an entity with captivating, inexplicable, and unfamiliar physical and functional properties. Such a determination relied on that fact that the emergent study of wonder was empirical and collaborative. To the former, a marvel’s intrinsic properties could not have been recognized from their superficial features but had to be deduced from the senses which were viewed as infallible. To the latter, many of the mysterious properties of marvels had to be described for the first time by Europeans, requiring diverse expert knowledge to generate complex associations as a way to classify such unusual phenomena. In light of the unknown, wonder differed from traditional natural philosophy because it embraced “the emotion of wonder itself” (Daston 144). Characterized by the sense of awe, studying the marvel provided a way to comfort the limitations of the human mind and satisfy the need to regain human control of the unknown. Some additional aspects of wonder worth mentioning include its focus on diversity as opposed to universality and the notion that the people who studied the marvelous were deemed wonders themselves.
Post contributed by Hannah Ontiveros, Marshall T. Meyer Human Rights Archive Intern
Fall semester 2020 was an odd one, with new challenges, global uncertainty, and everyone stepping out of their comfort zones to find a way to continue learning and working. For me the semester brought unfamiliar work and novel scholarly considerations. As intern for the Human Rights Archive, I spent the semester processing an addition to the Center for Death Penalty Litigation collection. The CDPL is a Durham-based organization that handles post-conviction appeals for indigent people on Death Row in North Carolina. Their ultimate goal is death penalty abolition. Processing this collection raised productive challenges and questions, creating for me a fresh vantage point from which to consider archival practices and the study of human rights.
The process of rehousing documents, seemingly a simple task of moving papers to a fresh, neatly labeled folder in a fresh, neatly labeled box, comes with unexpected challenges and questions. If the documents weren’t organized and separated into folders to begin with, where do they go now? How do we label folders to be succinct and descriptive for future researchers while reflecting the documents’ original use by the CDPL? What does one do when they come across, as I did, a folder containing one single piece of paper, with nothing on it but letterhead? (I kept the document alone in its folder—some future researcher might come across it and glean meaning that I can’t see.)
And then there are the photographs. Photographs need to be placed in protective Mylar coverings. This preserves the paper and ink and protects the photos from librarians’ and researchers’ hands when handling them. Again, a seemingly standard task with unexpected challenges. In the CDPL collection, the Human Rights Archives house the organization’s case files, which are expansive. CDPL keeps records from clients’ entire legal history, including their original trial and subsequent appeals, even those not argued by CDPL attorneys. The case files for George Goode, for example, include discovery from his original trial, including crime scene photos. This raised two problems: how do I process these photographs while watching out for my own mental well-being, and how do I describe these photographs for future researchers?
Some of the crime scene photos in the Goode subseries and in others (most notably, David Junior Brown) contain really graphic imagery, including substantial gore. It was very difficult to place the photos in Mylar protectors and rehouse them without looking at them. But I determined that, for the sake of my mental health I couldn’t look at them too much. So I devised for myself a simple and makeshift system of keeping photos faced away from me as much as possible, and keeping them covered with a piece of scrap paper. Having needed to glance at these images in order to process them, I knew the collection required careful description so researchers won’t come across these images without proper warning and preparation.
This raised questions for me of how to describe files with sensitive information in them. We need content warnings that adequately prepare people for the content they’re about to see, but that don’t editorialize too much. Personally, I would describe some of the crime scene photos in this collection as “horrifying,” but that may not be particularly helpful to researchers. Moreover, such description may color researchers’ understanding of the case in a way that’s not productive to grasping the legal stakes at play. With advice from Tracy Jackson in the Rubenstein Library’s Technical Services Department, I opted for describing the images as graphic, and containing gore and deceased persons—at the very least, researchers will know what’s in these folders before opening them. I also opted to place the content warnings in the file and box description in the collection guide, as well as on the physical folder. My hope is that no researcher comes across the photos unaware. It is important that these images, along with the other documents in the collection, are preserved and available for use for productive research on the death penalty and human rights. But it’s also important that researchers are prepared so that their work isn’t hindered by coming across shocking imagery in the archive.
This processing project was also surprising to me on an intellectual level. The study of human rights is important to my own work. But the driving questions about human rights in my dissertation surround issues of global responsibility for refugees, citizenship, and discourses of deservingness. Prior to processing CDPL documents, I had not given much scholarly thought to death penalty abolition, or to criminal litigation as a method for human rights goals. But this processing project made me think about these things. It made me think about how human rights goals are strived for in criminal courts, and the boundaries and possibilities of the law as an avenue for human rights. Through CDPL documents I could see how attorneys understand their clients as whole and deserving people. I can also see how they utilize legal strategies to make whatever gains they can toward their overarching goal of stopping all executions. This is the value of this internship—it broadens my theoretical and methodological understanding of human rights as a field; and it challenges me to think outside of my existing scholarly and political human rights commitments. Ultimately this will make me a better scholar, with a greater appreciation for how documents are created and preserved, and with a more expansive understanding of the field of human rights.
by Laura Micham, Merle Hoffman Director, Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, and Meg Brown, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation Exhibits Librarian
August 2020 marked the centenary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment enfranchising many American women after nearly eighty years of activism. In order to explore the complexities and strategies of the American women’s suffrage movement, students in Duke’s Fall 2019 “Women in the Economy” course examined materials in the Rubenstein Library and then created the exhibition, Beyond Supply and Demand: Duke Economics Students Present 100 Years of American Women’s Suffrage.
One of the biggest challenges for the students was that the full range of contributions to the American women’s suffrage movement is not represented in the Rubenstein Library’s collections, or in the historical record generally. The dominant narrative of the movement, like the historical record of it, has focused on white women who benefited from the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment and neglected the contributions and struggles of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Nevertheless we—students and librarians—tried throughout this exhibit to present a diversity of historical figures and viewpoints.
Because the idea for the suffrage movement began at an anti-slavery conference and borrowed much of its methodology from the abolition movement, it made sense to begin the exhibition there with the first of the ten themes students researched, “Abolition, Racism, and Resistance.” It was equally important to look at all of the themes through the lens of race and resistance because, though much of the current and historical narrative around the suffrage movement has focused on its white leaders, every dimension of the fight for the vote involved BIPOC communities.
For example, BIPOC such as Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, an abolitionist, suffragist, temperance leader, and one of the first African-American women to publish a novel (Iola Leroy, or, Shadows Uplifted, Garrigues Brothers, 1893), fought for human rights through their work in women’s clubs and churches in addition to suffrage organizations. Harper spoke at suffrage conventions in the nineteenth century and often clashed with white leaders. She adamantly believed in acknowledging the racism faced by Black people and how that could not be separated from the struggle for equality, including within the suffrage movement. At the same time, white suffragists and anti-suffragists upheld racist arguments, often dividing the movement and excluding BIPOC.
As the exhibit illustrates in almost every section, BIPOC suffragists were not deterred. For example, in the “Bible as a Tool,” religious leader, educator, and activist Nannie Helen Burroughs advocated for civil rights and voting rights for Black people, citing the lack of Christian values in discrimination and segregation and the moral importance of voting. Anna Julia Cooper, along with her groundbreaking volume AVoice From the South (Aldine Printing House, 1892), are featured in the “Regional Realities” section. Considered to be one of the first published articulations of black feminism, Cooper analyzes African American women’s realities facing racism, sexism, economic oppression, and lack of voting rights. This book was an especially powerful statement in a region of the country where most white pro- and anti-suffragists centered their campaigns on the preservation of white supremacy.
Black men are also featured in the exhibit, including Archibald Grimké, a lawyer, politician, journalist, founding member of the NAACP, and activist for African American and women’s suffrage. Born into slavery in South Carolina, Grimké was the nephew of Sarah and Angelina Grimké—often referred to as the “Grimké Sisters”—prominent abolitionists and women’s rights activists. In Why Disenfranchisement Is Bad (Press of E.A. Wright; 1904?), published with the support of Booker T. Washington, Grimké links the enfranchisement of African Americans to achieving racial equality and economic growth. The pamphlet was used to educate the public regarding harmful laws that limited voting rights.
The final section of the exhibit, “The Long Tail of Voting Rights,” shows the continued conversation around women’s rights and voting rights after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. After 1920, there were invigorated movements to educate and mobilize new women voters, and to fight against voter suppression tactics like literacy laws and intimidation at the polls that disproportionately disenfranchised Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. One of the leaders of these movements was Fannie Lou Hamer who, having personally experienced literacy tests and poll tax requirements, became a field secretary for voter registration and welfare programs with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In this role and as leader of the Freedom Democratic Party, she helped and encouraged thousands of African Americans to become registered voters. In her 1971 speech which she titled “Nobody’s Free Until Everybody’s Free,” she told the National Women’s Political Caucus in Washington that Black and white women had to work together toward freedom for all.
Dr. Genna Miller, the faculty member who taught the class, observed:
“The learning that went on during the exhibit project went beyond just the names and dates related to the suffrage movement. Students learned research methods and critical thinking skills. Students embraced the opportunity to examine and interpret historical documents written by labor activists, journalists, political and social reformers, and others who offered diverse lenses through which to consider and understand the significance of women’s suffrage, and the vast array of issues that the movement encompassed. Participating in this project with my students and the library staff has been an amazing experience. This could only happen at Duke!”
The “Duke University Libraries Statement of Our Commitment” (issued in June 2020) commits Duke Libraries to expanding cultural competence and combatting racism. One of the statement’s five goals is to “Practice more inclusive metadata creation, with the goal of harm reduction from biased and alienating description and classification.”
Creating “Guiding Principles” for RL Technical Services
The Rubenstein Library Technical Services Department (RLTS) has been seeking to create “inclusive metadata” for much longer than the summer of 2020. But we were inspired by Duke Libraries’ “Statement of Our Commitment” to more formally and concretely define what “inclusive metadata” means. We began this process by collecting and reading library and community literature, listening to panels and presentations on these topics, and researching what our peers and role models are doing. Our staff met and workshopped a draft of new “Guiding Principles for Description,” which was subsequently edited and adopted by the department and is now available here (along with links to further reading).
Developing these guiding principles is only one part of our ongoing commitment to create inclusive description for Rubenstein Library materials. RLTS processes and catalogs a wide range of special collection formats (printed books, serials, ephemera, zines, archival papers, institutional records, film, video, born digital files, objects, and more) and creates description that is shared across a variety of platforms, such as the library catalog, finding aid database, and Duke’s institutional repository. Going forward, we hope the “Guiding Principles for Description” will serve as the foundation for any type of description created or managed by Rubenstein’s catalogers and archivists.
Current and Future Inclusive Description Projects
There is much work already underway across Duke Libraries, and much more planned as Rubenstein Technical Services continues to prioritize the creation of inclusive description. Some of these projects pre-date the coining of our “Guiding Principles” — for example, we are proud of the ongoing cataloging of the thousands of items in the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection, where catalogers are creating name authority records and detailed provenance notes tracing the often hidden role of women in printing, publishing, and book-binding. When developing ArcLight, our finding aid interface (launched in July), an important feature was the addition of a feedback button to encourage suggestions, particularly if a user spots harmful or incorrect descriptive language in our metadata. With the recent addition of a new Filmfabriek HDS+ film scanner, RLTS has launched a new film preservation program. One of the first projects on the scanner was the Civil Rights-era film Ivanhoe Donaldson, digitized in support of the SNCC Digital Gateway project. You can read more about the preservation of this important film here.
Our projects have continued this fall despite the COVID-19 pandemic. While working remotely, the Rare Materials Section has prioritized creating new manuscript catalog records for the Rubenstein’s American Slavery Documents, which will mean better discovery and access to the names and histories of Black people who were enslaved and emancipated in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Our Archival Processing Section has begun reviewing manuscript collections with outdated, inadequate, or offensive description, and they will be reprocessing, re-describing, and exploring how to be transparent about any changes or updates they make through development of a new style guide for finding aids. This includes finding and correcting our library’s past descriptive decisions or mistakes. This is a long-term commitment—we have tens of thousands of collections!—but we have already gotten started. One example is described here, where a diary recently added to the Appleton Oaksmith Papers led to new subject headings in the collection’s description, plus an edited biographical note clarifying Oaksmith’s occupation as a slave trader. Across the department, we intend to ramp up reparative description projects, particularly for our nineteenth-century Southern white family papers, because we know that the records of enslavers may be the only remaining documentation of those who were enslaved. We are seeking marginalized, hidden, and silenced voices. Even in their silences, our collections have much to say. Please stay tuned, and stay in touch, as we pursue this important work.
by Amy McDonald, Assistant University Archivist, with extensive contributions from Kate Collins, Research Services Librarian
For the past several years, the Duke University Archives has welcomed students from an introductory writing course, “Sports and Social Inequality.” The course provides some preparation for engaging with archival documents—such as photographs of members of a 1930s honorary athletic society dressed in blackface, and stereotypical media descriptions of Asian-American athletes. But confronting those materials in an instruction session can still be a shock. When University Archives staff checked with other Rubenstein Library instructors, we realized that teaching with difficult materials was a challenge we all struggled with.
The Rubenstein Library’s collections document a wide range of history, including some of the ugliest parts, such as racist and anti-Semitic language and imagery, as well as graphic descriptions and depictions of violence. As a group, we began to work toward a shared way of framing these materials in our instruction and were able to introduce our code of ethics—called “Our Approach to Instruction”—in January 2019.
For each course that visits the Rubenstein Library, we often have only one class session to reach all of the students as a group. With such a limited amount of time to make an impression, our code of ethics needed to state our values up-front and clearly, and in a way that demonstrated a commitment to centering students.
At the heart of “Our Approach to Instruction” is a recognition of both the academic knowledge and lived experiences students bring to our classrooms, as these inform and shape their understanding of and emotional reactions to history and primary sources. For this reason, our code of ethics is intended to be used in all classes, not just those with obviously uncomfortable or upsetting material.
It’s been a pleasant surprise to see widespread support for our code of ethics. During instruction sessions, we’ve observed students absorbing and applying it through the questions they ask and the interpretations they bring to the materials in front of them. Faculty members have reinforced its messages over the course of their students’ interactions with primary sources. Instruction librarians across the country have gotten in touch via email and social media with questions and suggestions, as well as the news that they’ve adapted this approach in their own instruction sessions.
We’ve brought the code of ethics along with us as we’ve shifted into online or asynchronous teaching for the 2020-2021 academic year. With our time “in front of” students further limited, our code of ethics has helped us to quickly establish a shared foundation for exploration and discussion. Even our new instruction modules—lesson plans incorporating digitized Rubenstein Library materials that provide an alternative to face-to-face instruction sessions—incorporate the code of ethics. A case in point: the Exploring the Chanticleer module, in which students might encounter offensive images in Duke’s yearbook. Or The Eugenics in North Carolina module, which introduces students to this still-contested and upsetting chapter in North Carolina’s history.
When the Rubenstein Library’s instructors created “Our Approach to Instruction,” we did so with the understanding that it would be a living document, open to frequent reassessment and revision. We commit to keeping it a central and evolving part of our teaching toolkit. And we encourage you to share your thoughts about it with us!
Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University