All posts by ebg17@duke.edu

Sensing Race in the Pacific World

Post contributed by Chris Blakley, Visiting Assistant Professor, Occidental College and History of Medicine Travel Grant Recipient, 2023-2024

Handwritten document on white paper with text in brown ink. Across the top is written the title "Joint Committee on the Library of Congress, June 14, 1850" with one paragraph of text below.
14 June 1850 resolution of the Joint Committee of the Library of Congress, Box 15, Wilkes Papers

 

Upon successfully passing the motion at their meeting in June 1850, the Joint Committee of the Library of Congress resolved to compel Charles Wilkes to “notify Mr. Pickering that the Committee think he was not authorized to devote his time” as a member of the United States Exploring Expedition between 1838 and 1842 to jotting notes for his book The Races of Man.[1] Nevertheless, Pickering published The Races of Man as the ninth volume of the multi-volume Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition in 1848, six years after returning from their voyage under the command of Lieutenant Wilkes. The committee’s resolution to Wilkes and Pickering is among the Wilkes Papers held by the David M. Rubenstein Manuscript and Rare Book Library, which generously funded my research at the library in the summer of 2023.

During their time in the Pacific Ocean––including stopovers in the Tuamotu Archipelago, Tuvalu, Tahiti, Samoa, Fiji, Hawaii, and the Philippines––Pickering resolved to produce a classificatory schema of “all eleven races of man.”[2] At the start, he found “difficulty arose, in fixing in the mind, while passing from place to place, the relative shades of complexion” of the people the Exploring Expedition, or Ex. Ex., encountered during their voyage.

Fijian skin, for instance, upset English-speaker’s reliance on vision to discern race in the early nineteenth century. In May, 1840, Pickering looked through a spyglass from the deck of the Vincennes, the squadron’s flagship, toward a cluster of people gathered on the shore of Levuka, a town on the eastern coast of Ovalu, to obtain “evidence of the lightness of the Feejeean complexion.” Ovalu is one of the more than three hundred volcanic islands that make up the Fiji archipelago in the South Pacific.

At first, Pickering incorrectly hypothesized the group contained a mixture of “Malayan”, “Polynesian”, and “Negro” peoples rather than Fijians. Seeing people from afar thus proved to be inadequate for the purposes of collecting scientific facts concerning skin color in the Pacific Rim. Pickering improvised by terming them “purple men” on closer inspection. Ocularity and visibility, then, proved to be incomplete methods for knowing race.[3] So, Pickering concluded, his racial scientific program required collecting “more obvious distinctive characters” to serve as an evidentiary basis for his racial taxonomy. Some of these characters included notes on Papuan skin as “harsh to the touch, and the hair crisped or frizzed”, hearing Pa‘umotus “making a kind of purring noise”, and wincing at “the strong ill odour” of Fijians that “make them thoroughly disgusting to persons newly arrived.”[4]

Handwritten document on yellowed paper with text in black ink. At the top of the document is the title "Organization for the Exploring Expedition" with several paragraphs of text below.
“Organization for the Exploring Expedition”, Box 3, Folder 1, Wilkes Papers

 

Pickering’s inability to fully rely on vision matters for historians of science and the senses. Relying on prior analyses of race as a phenomenological apparatus, in particular the scholarship of philosophers including Sachi Sekimoto and Christopher Brown, I am investigating how the Ex. Ex. produced scientific ideas about race via the sensorium. What is at stake here is the place of vision and visibility in histories of science in the Enlightenment as hallmarks of modern scientific epistemology. Forms of visualization equipped what Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison term the disciplinary eye that lay at the ethico-epistemic foundations of contemporary science.[5] Yet, scientists like Pickering used hearing and ideas about noise, smell and notions of cleanliness, and mores around touch and taste, to articulate race as a scientific fact through the itinerary of the Ex. Ex. Put simply, ocularcentrism was too brittle an epistemological basis for the Ex. Ex. to taxonomize the various groups they “discovered” through their transpacific itinerary. Rather, the Ex Ex used olfactory disgust, sonic boundaries, and norms surrounding touch and gustation to classify Pacific Islanders as racialized others through the body and the senses.

Before the Ex. Ex. departed from Hampton Roads in 1838, Wilkes argued that the operation would prove to be “useful to the Navy, honorable to this Country, and highly advantageous to the Commercial interest of the Country” and to “Science generally.”[6] In his “Organization for the Exploring Expedition”, Wilkes did not propose sending a race scientist like Charles Pickering––who joined the Ex. Ex. as the scientific corps’s zoologist––along with the other “Scientifics” like the geologist James Dwight Dana, the botanist William Rich, or the artists Alfred Thomas Agate and Joseph Drayton.[7] The Wilkes Papers at the Rubenstein contain material on these figures, as well as the John Torrey Papers, which pertain to the Ex. Ex. Torrey––a botanist who did not travel with Wilkes––later classified the plant collections made by the scientific corps and prepared specimen catalogues as an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, and his papers contain letters with people associated with the SI like Spencer F. Barid, Joseph Henry, and Louis Agassiz. Torrey’s correspondence also contains letters from the phrenologist Johann Gaspar Spurzheim, and Josiah Nott, a leading race scientist of the antebellum era.

Moving forward, my aim is to produce a phenomenological account of the Ex. Ex. that provides insight into the formation of the racist ideas that undergirded Indian removal and Manifest Destiny via the senses. Like Sachi Sekimoto––who argues that “race constantly renews its material presence through latching onto our bodily felt, sensorial experiences, making itself feel-able and sensible and therefore ‘natural.’”––I claim that the narratives produced by the scientific corps and the naval personnel of the Ex Ex justified beliefs in American Indian and Polynesian “savagery” in Jacksonian America.[8]

[1] Wilkes Papers, Box 15.

[2] Charles Pickering, The Races of Man: And Their Geographical Distribution (London: H. G. Bohn, 1850) 2nd edition, 2.

[3] Charles Pickering, The Races of Man: And Their Geographical Distribution (United Kingdom: John Chapman, 1849), 146-147.

[4] Pickering, The Races of Man, 3; Wilkes, Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition, vol.1, 324;  Walter Lawry, Friendly and Feejee Islands: A Missionary Visit to Various Stations in the South Seas in the Year MDCCCXLVII, (United Kingdom: C. Gilpin, 1850), 79-80.

[5] Lorraine Daston, and Peter Galison, Objectivity (Princeton: Zone Books, 2007), 48, 148

[6] Wilkes Papers, Box 3, “Organization for the Exploring Expedition”

[7] William Reynolds, Voyage to the Southern Ocean: The Letters of Lieutenant William Reynolds from the U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 (United States: Naval Institute Press, 1988), 3.

[8] Sekimoto, “Race and the senses”, 83.

Enticing Engineers: New Areas of Outreach in the Rubenstein Library

Post contributed by Rachel Ingold, Curator for the History of Medicine Collections.

In September, the Rubenstein Library partnered with colleagues in the Natural and Engineering Sciences (NSE) for an open house event. While our Engineering Exposition targeted students, faculty, and staff from Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, all were welcome to attend.

Photograph showing a large room with several tables displaying books. At one table, three people look closely at two books.
Faculty from the Engineering School examine works on engineering from the 16th and 17th centuries! Photo by Deric Hardy.
A woman with brown hair wearing a green dress talk with a student, whose back is toward the camera. On a table between the two people, is a toothpaste testing device composed of metal parts and sets of fake teeth.
Robin Klaus, graduate Intern in the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History talks with a student about the toothpaste testing device found in the Consumer Reports archive. Photo by Janelle Hutchinson.

 

Items from a variety of collecting areas within the Rubenstein Library were available for visitors to examine and handle. Some highlights included

Photograph of a table with three examples of microscopes on display.
Examples of 18th and 19th century microscopes that visitors were encouraged to handle and try out! Photo by Deric Hardy.
Photograph of table displaying several small, plastic anatomical figures as well as a laptop playing a video showing the making of those figures. The table also displays several books featuring pop-up components.
Examples of moveable books from the History of Medicine Collections and samples of 3D printed anatomical manikins made from items in our collection! Photo by Deric Hardy.
Image from an anatomical flap book. The left side of the image shows an artistic representation of a human eye and human ear and shows the flaps closed. The right side of the image shows the paper flaps lifted to reveal, underneath the original images, the anatomy of the inside of the eye and inside of the ear.
Pages from an anatomical flap book where the flaps can be lifted, as shown on the right, to reveal detail about the human body. Photo by Janelle Hutchinson.

Anyone is welcome to view our items in-person during our open hours. We also have great digital collections.

We look forward to our continued partnerships with colleagues across the Library and campus. Let us know what you might like to see at our next Engineering Exposition!

Elephants and Autos and Ads, Oh My! How Photographs of a Circus Side Hustle Tell the Story of the American Auto Industry

Post contributed by Robin Klaus, Graduate Intern, Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History.

During the golden age of circuses in America, a circus performer-turned-advertiser named Bert Cole offered a unique marketing opportunity: banner advertisements draped across the sides of circus elephants. Cole capitalized on the massive spectatorship of the circus, as well as the elephant’s identity as a symbol of the spectacle, to transform elephants into walking billboards promoting retailers, services, and consumer goods of all kinds. The Rubenstein Library’s Bert Cole Collection archives this circus side hustle—a fascinating episode in the history of American advertising that provides a glimpse into the auto industry boom of the early twentieth century.

Background: The Turn-of-the-Century Circus

The traveling circus was a ubiquitous cultural presence in the United States at the dawn of the twentieth century. Upcoming shows advertised months in advance with eye-catching posters plastered on every surface in town—brightly colored images of wild animals and scantily clad performers advertised the eroticism, exoticism, and danger to come.  “Circus Day” became an unofficial holiday as stores closed, schools cancelled, factories shut down, and enormous crowds gathered to watch the free parade and attend the show.

The turn-of-the-century circus owed its success to a unique combination of social and economic factors. The construction of a transnational railroad network after the Civil War accompanied the Western expansion of the nation (ten new states were admitted to the Union from 1889-1912). Circuses relied on these routes to transport their shows to small towns and urban centers, also taking advantage of new markets across the growing nation. Meanwhile, industrialization brought advances that transformed the economic landscape—incomes increased, costs of living decreased, and the number of hours in a standard workweek was its lowest in decades. Newfound time and discretionary income led to the rise of national leisure culture, also accompanied by an explosion of consumer goods, services, and mass media advertisements for them.

With the film industry still in its infancy (the “golden age of Hollywood” was during the 1930s and 40s), circuses became the preeminent form of mass entertainment—and the circus elephant played an essential role. The actual production of the circus relied on labor that elephants performed; only elephants had the strength to raise the masts of the largest circus tents, for example, or dislodge heavy circus wagons when they became stuck in mud. The elephant was also visually significant as a symbol of the American circus; everyone agreed that a show could not be a circus without an elephant. Consequently, the circus elephant was a mainstay in the cultural imagination of early-twentieth-century America.

Collection Spotlight: Elephant Advertising and the American Auto Industry

Photographs from the Bert Cole collection document how Cole leveraged the popularity of the circus and the elephant as a potent cultural symbol to develop a hallmark advertising strategy. Little is known about Cole, but circus route books (much like theater playbills) reveal that he was a drum corps member for the Walter L. Mains Circus in the 1890s. The collection’s earliest photograph dates from this era (1897), likely when Cole began experimenting with elephant advertisements while still primarily a circus performer. Banner ads from this early period tend to feature specific sales promotions (“Worsted Suits from $6.87 to $12”) or directly associate the client with the elephant icon (“Webster’s Market Owns This Elephant Today”). As time went on, the advertisements began to include more traditional signage with product slogans and recognizable branding.

By the early 1920s, Bert Cole had an official advertising job with the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. Collection photographs show that Cole started to promote his elephant billboards as an actual system of advertising around this time. “Cole System N.Y.” appears at the bottom of a banner advertisement from 1921, becoming just “Cole System” by 1923.

Black and white photograph of three circus elephants posed in front of a row of white circus tents. A clown sits atop the one of the elephants and that elephants also wears a white, cloth sign reading "Dependable Dodge Brothers, H.A. Paxton."
Bert Cole with elephant advertisement,
“Cole System N.Y.” at bottom, 1921
Black and white photograph of an elephant posed in front of a circus tent. A clown, in costume and makeup, sits atop the elephant and the elephant also wears a sign reading "Own a Star Carver Bros. Motor Co., Longmont & Boulder."
Bert Cole with elephant advertisement,
“Cole System” at bottom, 1923

 

The collection documents a range of consumer goods and services advertised by the Cole System, including flour brands, furnaces, banks, and retail stores. Cole even dabbled in political advertising, as seen in a Republican primary campaign ad for George H. Milemore for County Judge—a rider, presumably the candidate himself, sits atop an elephant with a banner declaring that Milemore, “will win by a mile or more.”

Sepia-toned photograph of an elephant in a grassy field wearing a sign reading "Will Win by a Mile or More. Geo. H. Milemore, County Judge." A man in a dark suit, bow tie, and hat rides the elephant.
Elephant campaign advertisement for George H. Milmore for County Judge, circa 1910s.

 

Interestingly, the most popular category of elephant advertisements in the collection are those for cars, tires, and auto shops.

Black and white photograph featuring an elephant wearing a sign reading "General Jumbo Tires, General Tire, Co." A clown, holding a car tire, rides the elephant. The elephant is posed on a paved street with houses in the background and several men in suits standing to the side.
Lou Moore, a clown with the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, wears a car tire while riding an elephant advertising General “Jumbo” Tires in Cincinnati, OH, circa 1920.

 

In fact, nearly half of the brands and products in the collection relate in some way to the American automobile industry—frequently appearing as partnerships between local dealerships and national brands. Car companies appearing in the collection include Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, Hupmobile, Oldsmobile, Star, Studebaker, and Willys-Knight.

Unlike other products advertised on elephants, collection photographs show that new car models were often staged alongside their elephant ads on circus grounds, showcasing the industry’s latest designs to a massive audience.

Black and white photograph of an elephant in a grassy field standing next to a black car. The elephant wears a white sign reading "Own a Willy's Knight." A clown in makeup and costume rides the elephant and several other men stand around the elephant.
Bert Cole (right) and Lou Moore (top) with a Willy’s-Knight ad and automobile at the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus in Hutchinson, Kansas, 1912.

 

The collection also includes several letters from satisfied clients—all motor company executives expressing their enthusiasm for the incredible reach of Cole’s elephant advertising. One wrote, “The idea is original and novel and I have never heard of any method of making a direct appeal to such a large number of people as is possible for $112.00 with your show.”

Letter from a Hudson and Essex Motor Car dealership in Portland, Maine, 1920

 

An identifiable market trend within an advertising platform as niche as circus elephants speaks to the dominance of the American automobile industry at this historical moment. Annual automobile sales in the United States rose from 130,000 vehicles in 1909 to over 2 million in 1920.  As industry production and advertising shifted their focus from initial demand to replacement demand, novelty became an important selling factor; car companies concentrated on annual model changes and product innovations to compete with the emerging used car market—evidence of which can be seen throughout the Bert Cole collection.

For more insights into the unique intersection of circus mania, advertising history, and the American automobile industry in the early twentieth century, see the collection at Duke University’s Rubenstein Library.

 

Bibliography

Cole, George S. Route Book of Walter L. Main’s All New Monster Railroad Shows: Circus, Menagerie, and Real Roman Hippodrome. Hackettstown, NJ: Gazette Steam Book and Job Printing Establishment, 1891. https://digital.library.illinoisstate.edu/digital/collection/p15990coll5/id/470

Dassbach, Carl H. A. “The Social Organization of Production, Competitive Advantage and Foreign Investment: American Automobile Companies in the 1920s and Japanese Automobile Companies in the 1980s.” Review of International Political Economy (Autumn 1994) 1, no. 3: 489-517.

Davis, Janet. Circus Age: Culture and Society Under the American Big Top. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus: Official Route Season 1921. West Baden, IN: Hagenbeck-Wallace Show Company, 1921. https://digital.library.illinoisstate.edu/digital/collection/p15990coll5/id/7801

Langlois, Richard N. and Paul L. Robertson. “Explaining Vertical Integration: Lessons from the American Automobile Industry.” The Journal of Economic History (June 1989) 49, no. 2: 361-375.

Nance, Susan. Entertaining Elephants: Animal Agency and the Business of the American Circus. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.

Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen: Asparagus Cream Mold and Bing cherry/Coca-Cola salad (1972)

Post contributed by Michelle Wolfson, Research Services Librarian for University Archives.

For as long as I have worked at the Rubenstein Library, I have heard about the Test Kitchen—staff members trying out recipes from our collections and experiencing the complete surprise or regret of trying the tastes of a simpler time.

When I joined the Rubenstein as a full-time staff member (I was an intern before), I thought it would be a safe time to dip into the archives and get cooking. Loving the #girldinner trend, I gathered as many cookbooks that seemed to fit that particular bill, such as The American Girl Cookbook, The Barbie Party Cookbook, and The Political Palate: A Feminist Vegetarian Cookbook (all from the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture). I also pulled from University Archives the Law Dames records, 1951-1973. The Duke Law Dames was an organization mainly made up of law student wives (though it was also open to women law students and wives of the law school faculty and alumni) and the records contain two member-made cookbooks.

An assortment of foods arranged on a table top including a log of cranberry goat cheese, a small bowl of strawberries, a plastic sleeve of crackers, a pear, and a small cupcake with white icing.
Example of a #girldinner, which are, essentially, a bunch of snacks that you maybe put on a charcuterie board if you are feeling fancy. The centerpiece of mine is a cinnamon cranberry goat cheese. Also loads of sugar.

Again, feeling safe as a full-time staff member, I decided it would be perfectly fine to subject my taste testers to…the asparagus cream mold.

A white bowl containing a scoop of white Cool Whip next to a scoop of off-white mayonnaise.
The unfortunate photo I sent in the group chat to entice the team to come to the official cutting and tasting of my first Test Kitchen/#girldinner experiment. That is Cool Whip and mayonnaise. Together. Ready to be mixed up.

This simple dish needed only four ingredients (Cool Whip, mayonnaise, gelatine, and canned asparagus) and minimal time. Perfect for a busy gal who wants to entertain new friends on an unassuming Monday afternoon.

Thick white asparagus mold in a  square glass container. The mold is cut into small pieces with a few stalks of green asparagus showing between the slices.
The asparagus flopped out as I cut into it. It was equally terrifying and unappetizing, and I am pretty sure I screamed.

The first observation from the small but supportive group that had gathered was that the color of it was…unexpected. It looked in color and texture a bit like tofu, which many of us are big fans of, but we were not big fans of the canned asparagus that flopped out as I cut the cream mold into bite-size chunks. The asparagus had floated down to the bottom of the dish, like a mysterious and dangerous deep-sea creature lying in wait.

Square pieces of the cut asparagus mold showing the layers of green asparagus inside.
I still feel sick just looking at these photos.

Three of us (out of maybe ~70 people) tasted the asparagus cream mold. It was described as “shocking”, “special”, and “wild”, three adjectives I pictured in explosive bubbles on a poster featuring the latest 1950s movie monster, The Asparagus Cream Mold. For me, the asparagus taste was overwhelming, while a coworker found the mayonnaise flavor to be prevalent. 0/10, do not recommend you put on a charcuterie board and serve to your besties.

Page from a spiral bound recipe book with typed recipes, including ingredient lists and cooking instructions, for asparagus cream mold and bing cherry salad.
Would the cream mold have tasted better garnished with tomatoes, radishes, and cream cheese? I somehow doubt it.

Luckily, right above the asparagus cream mold recipe was the recipe for Bing cherry/Coca-Cola salad. (Have I mentioned we are in the salad section of the cookbook?? We are so healthy.) The very next week, to clear the palates and memories of my coworkers, I made this, another quick and minimal-ingredient dish. I did not have Coca-Cola in my fridge, so I went with the Wild Cherry Pepsi that I did have because who can say no to extra cherries? (Some people might say ‘no’ to Pepsi and I would not blame them.)

Ingredients for the bing cherry salad displayed on a kitchen countertop including a package of cherry Jell-o, a small can of crushed pineapple, a jar of Bada Bing brand cherries, a small plastic container of walnuts, and a can of Wild Cherry Pepsi.
The leftover cherries are still in my fridge, front and center when you open the doors, and I obnoxiously shout, “Bada Bing! Cherries!” each time.

I attempted to make the Bing cherry/Coca-Cola salad into a more appealing shape, on a prettier dish (as if that was the main problem with the previous recipe). At least six people participated in the official taste test, and we were all surprised with how it was actually…good? I do not think we would have been as surprised if we did not have the asparagus monstrosity to compare it to, because how can one go wrong with a salad made of Jell-O and soda? Mostly we were all wondering how the pineapple would taste, as we had some self-proclaimed canned pineapple-haters (barely noticeable!) and how the pecans fared (the texture they provided was nice!). It was declared by some to be a bit too sweet (but it’s salad!) and it was not as tasty the next day (when two of your taste-testers were actually kind of craving it??).

Dark red, circular jello mold with cherries visible inside on a round glass plate.
Say it with me now, “Bada Bing! Cherries!”

The Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen: Once again, up and running to provide both regret and surprise from the archives.

 

 

Understanding the World Through a Home Medicine Chest

Post contributed by Sarah Bernstein, Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern.

Wood medicine chest, with doors open to show several glass medicine bottles inside. Each medicine bottle includes a brown paper label describing the contents.
Home medicine chest, ca. 1830 from the History of Medicine Artifacts Collection.

The History of Medicine artifacts collection presents such a unique opportunity to work with material sources in the history of medicine. In the same way that there is a difference between viewing manuscripts through photographs and seeing them in person, there is something striking about being able to hold an object that you have only read about in books and pamphlets. In my training as a historian, I have been largely trained and relied on primary sources in the form of written materials. It is precisely because of this that I have been thrilled to be able to view and work with the History of Medicine artifacts collection.

Amongst the many marvelous and unexpected items in the collection, from amputation sets and bone saws to carved ivory manikins and elaborate anatomical flap books, I found myself drawn to the multiple British nineteenth century medicine chests within the collection. These stately century solid wood boxes contained custom glass bottles, fitted to each box’s measurements, with some still filled with powders and liquids. Going through them was nothing short of opening a time capsule and a treasure chest at the same time.

Medicine chests like these can provide a window into the past to understand not only nineteenth century medicine, but global, local, and cultural developments as reflected in the items in these chests and the existence of these chests themselves. There are some medicine chests that are smaller than others, with a variety of cork-stoppered bottles, and were likely meant to be portable and used while traveling. Other medicine chests are heavier and equipped with preparatory tools and medical instruments. These large medicine chests were meant to be stationary, within homes or on ships. In England, both types of medicine chests emerged in the context of newfound social and physical mobility for the Victorian public.

Black and white advertisement for a "Tabloid" brand medicine chest featuring an image of a box with the top open to reveal many small medicine bottles.
Advertisement from the back of a book within the Rubenstein Library collection, How to Live in Tropical Africa (1912) by John Murray, for a travel medicine chest made of metal.

Regardless of whether they were meant for travel or to be stationary, the existence of these chests speak to the common practice of self-healing, an anticipated absence of a physician, an expected level of medical literacy, and an interest in maintaining one’s own health. These chests are more similar to our contemporary medicine cabinets and in the household, functioned less like a first aid kit or a form of triage support. Rather than immediately, and always, calling upon a doctor, people would often utilize herbal and botanical knowledge to create remedies at home to alleviate and treat their ailments before turning to a physician. And what exactly did people use as medicine?

In one “home medicine chest” there are bottles of Ipecacuanha (Carapichea ipecacuanha) in various forms. Ipecacuanha is a slow growing plant native to Central and South America that has a long history in British medicine as to treat dysentery, poisoning, fever, and colds. It was commonly prepared as syrup of ipecac, or simply “ipecac,” which would be used to empty the stomach to combat poisoning. Ipecacuanha was also used in Dover’s Powder, a bottle of which also appears in the same home medicine chest, which was a mixture of powdered ipecacuanha, potassium sulfate, and powdered opium as a pain reliever and to treat fevers and colds by inducing sweating.

Section of text from  William Buchan’s Domestic Medicine describing the uses of ipecacuanha and rhubarb.
Mention of ipecacuanha and rhubarb to treat dysentery in an American second edition of William Buchan’s Domestic Medicine (1774) held in the Rubenstein History of Medicine Collection.

The same home medicine chest also contains multiple instances of rhubarb: tincture of rhubarb, one simply labeled as “Rhubarb,” and the other specified as “Powder of Turkey Rhubarb.” While today rhubarb may conjure thoughts of confectionery sweets and strawberry and rhubarb pie, rhubarb has historically been prized for its medicinal properties and was highly sought after. Rhubarb itself refers to a species of plant, Rheum palmatum, that native to parts of western China and northern Tibet. It was used to aid in cases of indigestion and as a laxative.

Similarly to ipecacuanha, rhubarb and its various preparations can reveal the rich history and practice of herbal and botanical medicine that persisted into the nineteenth century. Despite both of the plants being non-native to Britain, where these chests were created and their clientele were located, ipecacuanha and rhubarb were popular and common treatments utilized throughout the nineteenth century. The prevalence of ipecacuanha and rhubarb not only serves as an indication of the widespread use of purgative medicine during that era but also hints at the emergence and growth of industries, trade networks, and international relationships necessary for the accessibility of these medicinal plants.

Q&A with Archival Expeditions Fellow Katie Carithers

Katie Carithers was an Archival Expeditions fellow in Spring 2023. Archival Expeditions introduces Duke graduate students to teaching with digital and physical primary sources. Each student partners with a Duke faculty sponsor to design an undergraduate course module that incorporates primary source material from the Rubenstein Library’s collections tailored to a specific class taught by that faculty member.

Katie’s excellent course module, as well as previous modules created through the program and program information, can be found on the Archival Expeditions website

Archival Expeditions is generously funded by the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies, Ed Balleisen.

Tell us a bit about yourself. 

Photograph of young woman with light colored hair and glasses wearing a green scarf.
Katie Carithers.

I am a third-year doctoral student in the English Department here at Duke, and I am also pursuing a Certificate in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies. My research interests are located at the intersection between Victorian Studies and contemporary postcolonial, feminist, and queer theory. Currently, I am thinking about how nineteenth-century novels figure consenting, desiring, and gendered subjects and how those notions transform across the nineteenth century.

I applied to the Archival Expeditions out of an excitement to work with the Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Papers. In April 2022, Rubenstein announced that the collection was now open to researchers, and this fellowship seemed like a wonderful opportunity to engage such an expansive and heterogenous collection in a way that would allow the archive to shape the project. I think that my faculty sponsor, Gabriel Rosenberg (History and Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies), was similarly excited by the possibility of exploring this archive, not knowing what would be in the collection, and letting the collection inform where we would go with the module.

What is the focus of the course module you created and what did you learn from the experience of designing it?

The module was designed for an “Intro to LGBTQ Studies” course. Since Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick is often considered one of the founding thinkers of queer theory and LGBTQ studies as a discipline, this collection opened numerous pathways to think about central concepts as well as field formation (and transformation) over time.

Ultimately, the module revolves around one of Sedgwick’s seminal monographs, Epistemology of the Closet, which students will study in the class. Over the course of the module, students will encounter a range of archival artifacts—from teaching material and grant proposals to letters and marginalia—that span the creation and reception of Epistemology.

In addition to being able to spend time exploring the collection, one of my favorite aspects of the fellowship was its emphasis on pedagogy. Given the constraints of a module, I could focus on the reasoning behind each part of the lesson plan and modify as the semester progressed. As a fellow, I had the opportunity to shadow archival visits, workshop the conceptual plan for in-class activities and assessments, and receive feedback on the lesson plan and worksheets. The structured opportunity for that kind of attention to pedagogy was immensely valuable.

Meetings with my faculty sponsor as well as with Brooke Guthrie (Rubenstein Research Services,) Seth Anderson (Duke Learning Innovation), and Laura Micham (Director of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture) were especially instrumental.

Also, since archival visits are usually already different from a regular class session, the module encouraged experimenting with activities and projects in its design, which was fun to think about!

What do you hope undergraduate students will gain from the experience of working with archival sources like the Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick papers?

The overall goal of the module is for students to use these archival materials to situate Sedgwick as a thinker within a cultural history. Through the selected archival materials, students will encounter Epistemology as thinking and writing that is in progress and in dialogue with other scholars and writers. And not just academic writing! There are zines, newspaper clippings, comics, and other written/visual artifacts. The aim is that, by close reading these materials, students will analyze how the taking up of sexuality as an analytic framework is tied to authorial and historical politics — and how that this is true for Sedgwick as well as scholars of LGBTQ studies today. I think that can help students reflect on the kind of questions they want to animate their own work and how they perceive their own writing in relation to their current moment.

Hopefully these archival artifacts will also showcase disciplinary formation as students encounter LGBTQ studies as something that is in the process of being thought of as a discipline, which may help highlight how that disciplinary formation is continuous and ongoing even now.

What did you enjoy about working with the Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick papers and what were some of your most interesting finds?

There’s such a range of the kinds of materials. Everything from written materials like drafts, letters, notes, and syllabi to textiles, collages, photographs, and other artwork. The collection continually surprised me! There were days when I would have no idea what the inside of a particular box would look like until I was unwrapping its contents.

For my research, I primarily focused on the first twenty or so boxes in the collection, which include teaching materials, research, and professional correspondences as well as artifacts pertaining to specific monographs. What struck me when reading through these different documents is the presence of Sedgwick as an artist and poet as well as scholar and teacher. That inseparability is apparent in Sedgwick’s published work, and it’s really interesting to see how the archive also cultivates that sentiment.

One of my favorite finds was a notebook that comprises a typescript for “The Warm Decembers.” Stanzas are repeated and reworked and rewritten. I personally loved coming across drafts, writing in-progress, or different iterations of a piece. For example, there are notes on Proust and different sets of binaries that then are described in a grant proposal for Epistemology of the Closet and later in the book’s introduction.

Typed copy of "The Warm Decembers" poem with handwritten revisions done by Eve Sedgwick in black ink and pencil.
Edited typescript of “The Warm Decembers.”

Would you recommend the Archival Expeditions program and, if so, what advice would you offer to future fellows?

Absolutely! I think Archival Expeditions offers a unique opportunity to develop archival research skills and pedagogy. It’s also a great way to become much more familiar with the collections at Rubenstein. I learned about collections that I hope to work with in the future for my own research.

My advice for future fellows would be to let the archive alter and shape what you are going to do! It’s necessary to come in with a plan, but there are so many resources and parts of collections that you may discover during research that can lead to exciting new places.

 

The Stuff of Spies

Post contributed by Michelle Wolfson, Research Services Librarian for University Archives.

On my usual hunt for women in medicine, I came across a biography within the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library entitled Nurse and Spy in the Union Army: Comprising the Adventures and Experiences of a Woman in Hospitals, Camps, and Battle-Fields. A nurse and a lady spy, too? I immediately requested the book.

Portrait of Emma Edmonds showing a woman with should-length dark hair wearing a long black dress standing next to a dark-colored horse.
Emma Edmonds, from Nurse and Spy in the Union Army: Comprising the Adventures and Experiences of a Woman in Hospitals, Camps, and Battle-Fields, 1865.

I zipped around the book to get a sense of Emma Edmonds’s time during the Civil War. She was a nurse and when a need arose to infiltrate the Confederate army, Edmonds stepped up. Edmonds went through a process to test her abilities, and a line that stood out to me was regarding her phrenological examination—it showed that she was capable of being a spy.

Phrenology has been covered here on the Devil’s Tale before, such as in this excellent post about the phrenology of the Dukes, and the History of Medicine collection includes several phrenological books to enlighten us further. To sum up, phrenology claimed to discern the strengths and weaknesses of a person’s character by measuring the distances from the top of their spinal cord (around the opening of the ear) to the surface of the head, with different characteristics assigned to different parts of the brain/regions of the head. Scientific Phrenology: Being a Practical Mental Science and Guide to Human Character, an Illustrated Textbook by Bernard Hollander, offers a guide on cranial measurements that one should start with their children at six months and go until the age of puberty.

Series of sixteen head shot photographs of a man with dark hair, a mustache, and wearing a dark suit. In each photograph, the man's head is positioned slightly differently showing the placement of a metal tool for measuring the skull.
Cranial measuring image from Scientific Phrenology: Being a Practical Mental Science and Guide to Human Character, an Illustrated Textbook, 1902.

 

People could participate in readings out of their own interest, to check their compatibility with a suitor, to aid in the raising of their children, and phrenologists also played a part in court cases. The pseudoscience’s popularity overlapped with the American Civil War, and apparently also guided in the hiring of spies.

Heads and Faces, and How to Study Them, a Manual of Phrenology and Physiognomy for the People by Nelson Sizer and H.S. Drayton give us a breakdown of the characteristics phrenology covers.

Outline of a human head showing lines radiating out from the spinal cord to the skull.
Measuring from the spinal cord to the head from Heads and Faces, and How to Study Them, a Manual of Phrenology and Physiognomy for the People, 1887.

Edmonds mentioned her phrenological exam found her organs of secretiveness and combativeness to be largely developed, then included a vague “etc.”. Regarding secretiveness and combativeness, Sizer and Drayton define it as:

  • Combativeness. Meets duty bravely, has moral courage, intellectual enterprises, energy of character
  • Secretiveness. They do not say or do anything in an open, frank manner, but it is by concealment, by artifice, and there is mystery in all they do
Illustration of eleven facial profiles shown in row.
Facial profiles from Heads and Faces, and How to Study Them, a Manual of Phrenology and Physiognomy for the People, 1887.

 

I then decided to make some guesses on what the “etc.” might include. If I were to guess at the qualities Edmonds was strong in (and I don’t mind guessing because this is quack science anyway, though my enthusiasm was tempered by the gross racism found rampant in phrenology and physiognomy), I would guess the following:

  • Inhabitiveness. Love of home, patriotism;
  • Self-esteem. Gives confidence in the exercise of courage and judgment;
  • Firmness. Working with Combativeness, it produces determined bravery;
  • Imitation. This attribute mostly calls for people to become more refined by imitating others, but it also refers to imitation in common modes of doing and acting;
  • Individuality. Eager to see all that may be seen and nothing escapes their attention;
  • Locality. Remembers where things or places are in respect to themselves; they will remember roads and places and directions in a town (here is where I would completely fail as a spy);
  • Time. Remembers dates and times but also has a sense of time/how long things take; and
  • Finally, I think Edmonds would have been low on Cautiousness, which can cloud over all manifestations, paralyzing courage, energy, determination, and Hope.
Outline of a human head showing the locations of the mental organs. Below the head are brief descriptions of each mental organ.
Model head image from Heads and Faces, and How to Study Them, a Manual of Phrenology and Physiognomy for the People, 1887.

 

Lest we get too excited about lady nurses/spies and their exciting phrenological aspects, Scientific Phrenology reminds us that a woman like Edmonds is an exception, because as Hollander says, the average woman is less intellectual and more emotional than the average man “because of their mammary glands […], their sexual organs being concealed in the pelvis […]”, and various differences in their brains, such as their smaller frontal lobes.

Oh, phrenology, also a friend to misogyny.

This sort of reasoning is, of course, one of the reasons I seek out women in medicine, science, and life. And so we do not end on the sour note of misogyny, you can find meaningful resources on this LibGuide about women and their work in science and medicine.

Photograph of nurse Florence Gaynor, a Black woman wearing a Black dress, seated at a table holding an award plaque while other women stand behind her.
From the Florence Small Gaynor scrapbook, 1970-1972, manuscript.

 

Fallout Shelter Fallout

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

The January 1962 issue of Consumer Reports, the flagship publication of the consumer education and advocacy non-profit of the same name, included a much-anticipated article titled “The Fallout Shelter: A review of the facts of nuclear life and the variables that bear on the effectiveness of a shelter.”  Cold War consumers were eager for guidance from a trusted source of product evaluation.  However, Consumer Reports essentially took a pass.  According to the organization, all the variables that might make a shelter effective or ineffective were simply unknowable and unpredictable.  While the organization side-stepped recommending specific shelters, the Technical Department, the unit responsible for creating testing procedures, methods, and reports, retained forwarded letters documenting reader reactions to the article.  For a moment, the fallout shelter article became a flashpoint for the hopes, fears, and anxieties of Cold War citizens.

Front cover of the January 1962 Consumer Reports magazine. The cover is blue and features article titles including "the fallout shelter" and "new compact cars" along with images of several small cars.
Consumer Reports cover, January 1962

Some readers applauded the article as the most objective and thorough review of the facts regarding the effectiveness of fallout shelters.  Others were not so complimentary.  A professor of architecture at the University of Florida and self-described instructor in “Fallout Shelter Analysis,” accused the organization of using the same tactics as cigarette advertisers, “arguing from a conclusion using pseudo-technical jargon.”[1]  Another agreed that Consumer Reports had not “..lived up to its own standards in discharging the awesome responsibility…of giving advice that might mean life or death to large numbers of people.”[2]  Some took an optimistic something-is-better-than-nothing stance.  “You apparently cannot admit that a partial solution is better than no solution at all,” wrote one subscriber.[3]  Yet another reader relays that he is often asked by friends and acquaintances whether he is afraid that the shelter he is currently constructing might not work.  His reply, he shares, is always: “No—My greatest fear has been that it (nuclear war) might happen, and I would be faced with the knowledge that I hadn’t even tried or made the effort.”[4]

Other readers felt the article reinforced their own principled stance concerning nuclear armament.  A letter from a couple from Bellaire, Ohio included their own vision of Civil Defense titled Civilization Defense: A Creed, in which they lay out a list of principled teachings that they plan to instill in their children amid the omnipresent threat of nuclear war which concludes: “This creed is the only shelter I will build for my children.”[5]  A research psychologist at the University of Michigan argued that the greatest threat posed by the fallout shelter fad was not their inadequacy, but their “psychological and political consequences during a time when an attack might still be prevented.”  He goes on to argue that shelter programs are but “a step in the long chain of events” that could actually provoke a nuclear war.  Lynn and Michael Phillips of Berkley, CA, agreed, commending the article’s importance in “preventing people from making the deadly mistake of accepting nuclear war” as a means to rid the world of Communism and survive.  In the mind of the Phillips’s the only way to protect a nation’s people from nuclear war was disarmament.

Typed document on white paper showing "Civilian Deference: A Creed" with the handwritten signature of Milton and Charlotte Levine near the bottom of the page.
Civilization Defense: A Creed, 1962

Consumer Reports was also critical of companies eager to leverage the demand for fallout shelters.  In an article titled “Enter the Survival Merchants,” the magazine characterized the “survival business” as a natural home for “fly-by-night operators, high pressure salesman, and home improvement racketeers” and accused the industry of preying on people’s fear as well as their patriotism.  A letter from an executive at KGS Associates, later to be revealed as a civil defense merchandiser, accused the publication of intentionally setting out to discredit the civil defense industry.  In the case of a nuclear attack, the writer wondered “how fast the Consumer Reports staff…will run for the shelters, eat the food, and drink the water provided by the men they have described as hungry, callous, and even a bit shady.”  Another shelter defender pointedly stated, “your implication that all shelter designers are out to fleece the public is untrue and not up to the high standards I have always looked for in Consumer Reports.”[6] The organization did not let large corporations off the hook either.  General Mills, the processed foods manufacturer, also came under fire for their marketing of Multi-Purpose Food (MPF), a shelf-stable nutritional supplement designed specifically to stock fallout shelters and meant to be mixed with other foods.  Brochures for the product were often displayed alongside fallout shelters at civil defense trade shows, piggybacking on the shelter craze.

Two pages from the Multi-Purpose food brochure. The pamphlet is yellow with red text and features images of canned foods and information about the product.
Multi-Purpose Food brochure, General Mills, September 1961.

Looking back on the controversial issue two years removed from its publication, Consumer Reports staff took time for an LOL moment.  In an internal memo, a staff member noted an article published in the New York Post that day about fallout shelters that cited a local company “…buying up prefabricated fallout shelters for conversion to hot dog stands and cabanas. ‘Swords into plowshares’” he quipped.[7]

 

[1] King Royer to Consumers Union, 12 January 1962.  Consumer Reports. Technical Department Records, Box 54

[2] Jack Hirshleifer to Irving Michelson, Director of Public Service Projects, 15 March 1962, Ibid.

[3] John F. Devaney to Dexter Masters, Director, Consumers Union, 11 January 1962 Ibid.

[4] Thomas McHugh to Consumer Reports, 8 April 1962.  Consumer Reports. Technical Department Records, Box 54.

[5] Charlotte Levine to Consumer Reports, 14 January 1962, Consumer Reports. Technical Department Records, Box 54.

[6] McHugh to Consumer Reports.

[7] Memoranda, 17 July 1963, Consumer Reports. Technical Department, Box 54

Meet Michelle Wolfson, Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern!

Post contributed by Michelle Wolfson, the 2022-2023 Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am currently studying library science at East Carolina University. I started the program after realizing both of my children would be in school, in-person (the youngest did kindergarten virtually!), and I could get back to work. I enjoyed being a homemaker for nearly a decade; my children are 10 and 8 years old. Instead of returning completely to work, I decided that I did not want my children to one day say about me, “She really wanted to be a librarian but she never did it,” and so I started at ECU’s online, asynchronous program. I currently work part-time at a public library, as well as here at Duke, and it has been so exciting for me to experience both public and academic librarianship, to see how they differ and overlap. At the public library, I work on the youth services side. I have worked for nearly a year to have our public library system become the first in North Carolina to be sensory inclusive certified and have created a sensory room at one of our branches.

What do you finding interesting about working in libraries, and specifically, the History of Medicine Collections?

What I find most interesting about working in libraries is that everybody is on their own learning journey, and I am thrilled when I can be a part of that or helpful in any way. Working with the History of Medicine Collections is especially exciting because whether I am working with medical students or other students, health and medicine affects all of us, and everybody can find something that is relevant and interesting. Regarding the materials, I most like seeing the ways that people from the past got things right or got things extremely wrong (but you can also see why they thought the way that they did). It makes you appreciate that we’re all in this together, trying to muddle our way through, learning and growing from those before us.

What is a memorable experience from your internship?

There have been so many memorable experiences! I really enjoyed when the family and friends of Dr. Richard Payne came into Rubenstein Library to look over some of his things that are part of the Richard Payne papers 1980-2020. There was so much joy and so many stories everybody shared about Dr. Payne that were sparked when they viewed the collection. And they were excited to hear about how his papers would be used to help educate students, future doctors, and scholars. I also enjoyed being able to introduce primary sources to students in Dr. Seth LeJacq’s Writing 101 class. Seth is a fantastic teacher who also taught me, how to be the kind of thoughtful and purposeful teacher I would like to be when engaging with students. Working with Rachel Ingold, the curator, has also taught me some of the same lessons as Seth – being kind and curious is an invitation to students to learn from you while also teaching you things.

Do you have a favorite item you’d like to share?

I’ve been asked to share a memorable experience and a favorite item! I will share two things. I was asked to look over the Four Seasons for an upcoming digitization project the Digital Production Center (DPC) will be working on in the future. I had the task of counting the flaps to help ensure they are all photographed. I enjoyed that I was able to help a bigger team that will connect more people worldwide to the Four Seasons. It’s a genuinely unique and beautiful item, and who doesn’t love flaps? I also enjoyed seeing the many items that were on display at the annual Anatomy Day. Not only were the items themselves each incredibly interesting, but I also felt great joy at seeing the first-year medical students connect with the items and the history of medicine. So many students immediately flocked to a table that included Japanese medical manuscript notebooks from the early 19th century. These manuscripts include colorful hand-drawn illustrations and are a wonderful example of the advancements medicine can make when ideas are shared globally, as Japanese medical practice at the time was already influenced by Chinese, Portuguese, and Dutch medical practices. The entire event was a gorgeous fusion of medicine and art with examples from Leonardo da Vinci and Vesalius and more, with illustrations in pencil to watercolor, ranging from medicinal plants to anatomical theaters.

A Love Letter

Post contributed by Michelle Wolfson, Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern.

This exhibit is based on a lot of things. Its main foci are the horrors and heroes of Hiroshima. Three out of forty-five hospitals remained standing after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, though greatly damaged still, and according to numerous resources, 90-93% of doctors and nurses were killed or injured. The medical staff who survived suffered from pain—physical, emotional, and otherwise—and extreme uncertainty and fear, but gave the best care possible to their community. Even with rumors of the atomic bomb making for unsafe conditions for seventy-five years, they did not leave; and some came from outside the city with offers of help and supplies.

But what are the actual things in this exhibit and what do they mean? For me, it is an exhibit based on letters. Letters to oneself in the form of a diary  as seen in the Japanese manuscript written for the medical journal Teishin Igaku. A letter from an artist friend, relieved and grateful to hear of his friend’s survival, in the form of a beautiful scroll. The scroll’s contents were translated and sent by letter to eventually be included in the book that became Hiroshima Diary: The Journal of a Japanese Physician, August 6-September 30, 1945 . A letter—and it is one of many—about the book and the process of it, which serves as a window into the grace, gratitude, and genuine respect and friendship between two doctors. This even became a quest for a missing letter, perhaps Einstein’s last one before passing, still lost but, for me, an education in the world of archives anyway.

Handwritten manuscript for the medical journal Teishin Igaku.
Hiroshima Scroll.
Portuguese edition of Hiroshima Diary.
Letter from Dr. Michihiko Hachiya to Dr. Warner Wells.
A note from Dr. Wells about Einstein’s lost letter.

It is a story based on letters. This exhibit is my own contribution—a love letter to Hiroshima Diary and its creators, for teaching me about Hiroshima in a new way, and the medical staff and people who survived, as well as those that did not. This is what it is to me, and this is what I wanted to share with you. I hope you find meaning in it as I have.

Warmest regards,

Michelle

The exhibit, The Horrors and Heroes of Hiroshima, will be on display from August 17 to October 1, 2023, in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room. An online exhibit is also available here. This exhibition was curated by Michelle Wolfson, the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern. Wolfson is a graduate student in Library Science at East Carolina University and half-Japanese.