All posts by Kate Collins

Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen: The Joys of Jell-O (1962)

Post contributed by Lucy Dong, Middlesworth Social Media and Outreach Fellow

The Nicole Di Bona Peterson Collection of Advertising Cookbooks is a frequent source of test kitchen projects, featuring members of the Rubenstein staff documenting their attempts to create delicious and sometimes very odd recipes. We were inspired by the popularity of Buzzfeed Tasty and Bon Appetit cooking videos, however, to show a test kitchen that was fast and digestible. With their simple captions, overhead angle, sped up chopping, and quirky music, the cooking videos trending on social media are made to grab your short attention. And what better attention grabber than a triple tiered Jell-O cake and a Jell-O salad?

Chart showing chilling times for different Jell-o consistency
Guide to chilling times

Lucky for us, many people have abandoned their fish molds of kitchens past, and my cooking partner, Sonia Fillipow, was able to find one easily at the Durham Scrap Exchange. The triple tiered molds were harder to find so we settled on a recipe that could look colorful and exciting in one layer. Old recipes often use unfamiliar jargon or lack specifics, and test kitcheners have sometimes had to do some educated guesswork or extra research. The recipe book we referenced, “Joys of Jell-O Gelatin Dessert” (1962) includes a very helpful graphic for how long you should chill your Jello to achieve your desired consistency. Our molds held much more Jell-O than the recipe created, so we had to do some math. Getting the Jell-O out of the molds was a whole other ordeal that we were not prepared for–we decided to save you from our failed attempts in the final cut.

Vintage Jell-o advertisement, showing a woman with an old-timey telephone. The text reads "Yes, Jell-o, please, all seven-flavors."
Cover of an early 20th-century Jell-O promotional book.

Along the way, we got to learn some of the history of Jell-O. The Nicole Di Bona Peterson Collection of Advertising Cookbooks spans the years 1851-2005 and covers promotional materials addressed to cooking and kitchen arts. Materials in the collection were used to educate consumers and promote the use of a variety of foods. “Joys of Jell-O Gelatin Dessert” (1962) was one such educational recipe book that served marketing purposes.  As seen in this early 20th-century when the owner of Jell-O, Otto Frank Woodward, invested in advertising that proclaimed it to be ‘America’s Most Famous Dessert’, marketing was crucial to getting the gelatin product into American kitchens. Woodward published recipe books, handed out Jell-O molds to immigrants, and aired a jingle on the radio. The brand’s messaging towards women has changed over the years, but perhaps the one thing that hasn’t changed its aesthetic potential. As the New York Times reports, “queer and female artists are now revisiting Jell-O as both subject matter and material, creating work that challenges society’s fixations on traditionally feminine realms and behaviors.”

We lack the artistic talent to make stunning Jell-O art worthy of fashion campaigns, but thanks to a lot of patience, and some YouTube tutorials on removing Jell-O from Jell-O molds, we ended up with a ‘cake’ and a ‘salad’ that looked great (and the Crown Jewel cake even tasted okay).

Recipes:

Crown Jewel Dessert / “Broken Window Glass Cake”

“A spectacular dessert that fits busy schedules–the gelatin for cubes may be made on day, remainder of dessert can wait until the next day.”

1 package (3 oz.) EACH of 3 different flavored (and different colored) Jell-O
3 cups boiling water
2 cups cold water
1 cup pineapple juice
¼ cup sugar
1 package (3 oz.) Jell-O Lemon Gelatin
2 envelopes Dream Whip Dessert Topping Mix or 2 cups whipping cream

  1. Prepare the three flavors of gelatin separately, using 1 cup of boiling water and ½ cup cold water for each. Pour each flavor into an 8-inch square pan or tupperware. Chill until firm, or overnight.
  2. Mix pineapple juice and sugar; heat until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and dissolve lemon gelatin in the hot juice; then add ½ cup cold water. Chill until slightly thickened.
  3. Prepare dessert topping mix as directed on package and blend with slightly thickened lemon gelatin.
  4. Cut firm gelatins into ½ – inch cubes. Layer cubes in Jell-O mold with cream/gelatin mixture so that the cubes are relatively dispersed throughout. Chill at least 5 hours or overnight.
  5. When removing dessert from mold, submerge the bottom of the mold in a bowl of hot tap water for 5-10 sec. Separate the gelatin from the edges of the mold either by running a knife/spatula between the dessert and the mold or gently pulling at the edge with the flat part of the fingers. Place a plate (or a clean cutting board) on top of the mold and invert. Other tips from the book pictured below. You can also use this video for reference.

Vegetable Salad

“Your favorite vegetable can be used in this very versatile salad”

1 package (3 oz.) Jell-O; any citrus flavored gelatin like lemon or lime
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 teaspoons grated onion
1 dash of pepper
1-2 cups of any 3 vegetables, chopped finely

  1. Dissolve Jell-O Gelatin and salt in boiling water. Add cold water, vinegar, grated onion, and pepper. Pour into fish mold and chill until very thick.
  2. Chop vegetables into matchsticks or florets.
  3. Fold chopped vegetables into thickened gelatin and chill overnight.
  4. Unmold

Houdini: Magician, Escape Artist, Collector

Post contributed by Steph Crowell, Trent History of Medicine Intern

While searching through Duke’s Parapsychology Lab materials, I uncovered some evidence that Houdini himself had at one point contacted J.B. Rhine. As an amateur magician and great fan of the folks over at the Rhine Research Center, I had to know more.

After doing some digging, I found this photo in the Rubenstein’s Picture File:

On the left a photograph of Houdini, wearing a suit, sitting with what appears to be the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. On the right, the back side of the photo with a handwritten note that reads "J.B. Rhine. Best Wishes, Houdini"
Houdini, Harry, 1900s, Picture File, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Front and back.

The writing on the back of the photo may be difficult to read, but it says, “J.B. Rhine Best wishes, Houdini.” Armed with proof, I scoured the guide to the Parapsychology Lab Records for the letter that I was sure accompanied this photo.

I soon found this to be much more difficult than anticipated. Although the correspondence folders have been kindly indexed, I saw no entry under Harry Houdini or under his other names (Erik Weisz, Ehrich Weiss, or Harry Weiss). It seemed that The Handcuff King had found his way out of our records.

This is an item that I immediately wanted to share, but I wanted to share it with some context so I expanded my search. As it turns out, Houdini was a great admirer of President Lincoln (you can read more about the quirks of his personality here) and the Harry Ransom Center in Texas has some proof of this in their collection of Houdini’s personal papers. Wondering if perhaps staff had some answers to my question of how this photo came to be at Duke, I sent an email to what I thought was the reference librarian for this collection.

That email address was no longer operational. I then tried to email someone in an admin position in the center to ask them to refer me to the right person, and I await a response.

Even though I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for in time to write this post, I think the things I found during my search are just as valuable. As a long-time fan of Houdini, I had heard stories of his passion for debunking fraudulent soothsayers and mystics but I didn’t realize just how deep his fascination went.

In addition to the collection of personal papers at the Ransom Center, I discovered that throughout his life, Houdini had also been an avid collector of books- to the point that his collection is considered to be one of the largest in the world on the topics of magic, witchcraft, demonology, psychic phenomena, and spiritualism (this post has some great links to see what some of those are).

It’s the biggest collection I’ve never heard of, and it’s remarkable to think that someone who lived on the road like Houdini did had the time, space, and motivation to hunt all of these down- I can only imagine the shock on librarians’ faces when, after his death, the collection was delivered to the Library of Congress.

While I was digging through the Library of Congress’ holdings, I found a digital copy of the photo that started this whole adventure: Houdini and the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. As it turns out, the photo was a result of one of Houdini’s many efforts to debunk a mystical fraud. As the Library of Congress describes, the photograph was created to illustrate “how a photographer could produce fraudulent ‘spirit photographs’ that purportedly documented the apparition and social interaction of figures from beyond. Demonstrating the company he could keep if the right technique were employed, Houdini had himself photographed with the ghost of Abraham Lincoln.”

To tie this back to J.B. Rhine, Houdini’s efforts with the Lincoln photo were published in the read Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, a publication that later declined to publish one of J.B. Rhine’s own papers debunking a medium named Mina Crandon.

Thank you for reading this long post about the beginning of my journey down this rabbit hole, and I hope you’ve found something in it that piques your interest. Houdini and J.B. Rhine were pioneers in the study of psychic phenomena and we’re very fortunate in the Rubenstein to have a wealth of materials on the topic because of the Rhine Center- who knows what might still be waiting to be found in one of those boxes?

Correction: An earlier version of this post had the incorrect name for the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Reserach. Thanks to an astute reader for alerting us.

Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen: Cooking with Duke Power

Post contributed by Ashton Merck, Graduate Intern for the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History

In the mid-twentieth century, the Duke Power Company Home Service wished its customers a “Merry Christmas” and a “Happy New Year” with an annual collection of holiday recipes.

Covers of two Duke Power cookbooks. Both feature their mascot, a stick figure made of lightning bolts.
“Merry Christmas,” circa 1950s (Item 1950s-0499); “Recipes,” circa 1950s (Item 1950s-0504)

The John W. Hartman Center has at least two of these pamphlets in the Nicole di Bona Peterson Collection of Advertising Cookbooks. These cookbooks focused almost exclusively on holiday baking. One cookbook included separate sections for cakes, pies, candy, cookies, and desserts, while “salads, sandwiches, and breads” were combined into one category.

In the spirit of the holiday season, I decided that I would give one of these recipes a try. Quite a few of them looked recognizable as something my great-grandmothers used to make, like “Cheery Cherry Cake” or “Skillet Cookies.” Others, like a “Chocolate Yule Log” – which involved an unholy combination of mashed potatoes, confectioner’s sugar, and shredded coconut – sounded completely inedible. But one recipe, for “Spiced Cherry Bells,” caught my eye. Somewhat inexplicably, the recipe called for ginger and instant coffee, in lieu of the usual holiday spices like cinnamon, allspice, or nutmeg. It also required more advanced assembly than the other cookies or cakes, through the creation of the “bell” shape. It seemed like something that was unusual enough to be worth trying.

Original recipe
“Spiced Cherry Bells,” from “Merry Christmas” cookbook

As soon as I mixed the dry ingredients, it was clear that there was not enough of either the ginger or the instant coffee to overcome the 3 ½ cups of flour called for in the recipe. I took note of that fact, but did not adjust the recipe for my taste, resisting the temptation to add copious amounts of cinnamon and nutmeg. I next realized that the ingredients as mixed was simply too crumbly to form a stable dough that I could roll out, even with the use of a stand mixer. I had to add about another 1/8 cup of heavy cream to get the dough to come together. Even still, it called for so much shortening that it was tricky to roll out to the thickness specified. I eventually managed to get the cookies onto the (mercifully, ungreased) cookie sheet, where I shaped them into something that, if you squint your eyes, could be imagined as “bells.” I then baked them for the allotted time of 15 minutes.

I considered what the small quantity of the “spices” might indicate about the time and place in which this recipe was created, and imagined several possible hypotheses: Perhaps instant coffee or ginger were expensive or hard to come by; or, the far more likely scenario, they were so ubiquitous that they might already be in the pantry anyway. That got me thinking – when was instant coffee invented? Could it have been a new or trendy product at the time?

For an initial answer to these questions, I requested a box from the J. Walter Thompson “Competitive Advertisements” collection. The ads in the folders depicted instant coffee drinkers as married couples engaged in energetic outdoor activities or home improvement projects, like this campaign from 1956:

Vintage advertisement for instant coffee. Illustrated with a picture of a woman pouring coffee for a man. The headline reads "Richer Coffee Instantly!"
“When the Moment Calls for Coffee,” Hot Beverages – Coffee (1 of 2), 1956, Box 1956-15, Competitive Advertisements 1955-1997, J. Walter Thompson Company, Rubenstein Library, Duke University.

Advertisment Martinsons Instant Coffe, featuring "Swedish Beef Puffs"

From looking at these ads, it seemed like instant coffee was one of many “convenience foods” that became tastier and more widely available in the post-WWII era, along with TV dinners and canned foods. I then requested another box from the Alvin Achenbaum collection, which contained several market research studies on coffee. The studies further emphasized that consumers valued instant coffee primarily for its convenience and low cost.

I also noticed that a few ads included recipes that contained small amounts of instant coffee, like this one for Swedish Beef Puffs at right.

But these ads were few and far between. As I perused the market research, I looked to see if the consultants recommended promotion of alternate uses of instant coffee in recipes, or baking, but they did not. Instead, the market researchers were far more interested in carefully segmenting the coffee buying market by their tastes and preferences, rather than by inventing new and creative uses for the product.

So, after this investigation – using Rubenstein collections, of course – it seems that instant coffee was already cheap and ubiquitous by the time it made it into the “Spiced Cherry Bells,” but the choice to use it in a recipe might have seemed as unusual then as it does now.

The Verdict: The cookies were … okay. The flavor of the baked, slightly caramelized maraschino cherry was delicious, and the “filling” mixture which called for pecans, brown sugar, and butter was something of a foolproof combination. But, as I expected, neither the instant coffee nor the ginger came through at all in the final bake.

Ten sort of bell shaped cookies on a baking sheet. They look dry and not particularly attractive.
Unfortunately, they taste as good as they look.

Described by taste-testers as “aggressively neutral” and “a bit dry,” the dough was definitely the weak point in these cookies. “You almost get bored with it halfway through,” one observed. Yet the cookies also had a confusingly familiar flavor to them; there was plenty of room for the individual housewife to give the recipe her own spin enough to call it her own. As another taste tester noted, the recipe is “very much of the era.”

In Search of Their Anti-Racist Lineage

Contributed by Amanda Mixon, PhD Candidate, Comparative Literature, University of California, Irvine. Read more in their recent article: Amanda Mixon (2019): “Not in my name”: the anti-racist praxis of Mab Segrest & Minnie Bruce Pratt, Journal of Lesbian Studies, DOI: 10.1080/10894160.2019.1678964

With the assistance of a Mary Lily Travel Grant, I visited the Sallie Bingham Center in the summer of 2018 to carry out research for my dissertation, which analyzes how a group of white southern lesbian writers theorize whiteness and practice anti-racist activism. The project is as much invested in tracing friendships and influences as it is in elaborating a single individual’s political thought. Therefore, when perusing the papers of Dorothy Allison (1949-), Minnie Bruce Pratt (1946-), and Mab Segrest (1949-), I was especially interested in how the holdings might give voice to these women’s relationships with each other and the two other figures in my study, Rita Mae Brown (1944-) and Lillian Smith (1897-1966).[i]

Conference brochure featuring a portrait of Lillian Smith on the cover.
“‘Listening to Sounds Larger Than Our Own Heartbeat’: A Conference on Lillian Smith” brochure listing talks by both Mab Segrest and Minnie Bruce Pratt, held at Georgetown University, October 7-9, 1994. From the Mab Segrest Papers, Box 63.

I knew that Smith, arguably the most outspoken white southern critic of Jim Crow segregation, had a profound impact on Pratt and Segrest. Her lifelong partnership with Paula Snelling (1899-1985) and searing critiques of white supremacy offered Pratt and Segrest a foundation from which to learn and build. However, when scanning Pratt’s papers, I was surprised to find an unpublished stage play that Segrest wrote about the couple in the late eighties. There, Segrest prioritizes Snelling’s experience, allowing her to criticize Smith for closeting their same-sex relationship. As Segrest told me in person, this centering is an ode to the significant amount of unrecognized work that Snelling contributed to Smith’s career and their collaborative projects. But what I found most compelling was Segrest’s creative license with the couple’s relationship: that is, no primary or secondary sources confirm the dynamic that Segrest depicts. As such, the untitled play is not only an example of how we represent historical figures in order to do them justice, but also an account of what those figures emotionally do for us. In their published nonfiction, both Segrest and Pratt express a yearning for a Smith not bound by the closet’s silence. In the play, Snelling becomes the voice of that desire. She asks: what would it have meant—for Smith’s own career and life, for Snelling, and for the countless women inspired by their work—if Smith had claimed a lesbian identity?

“Scenes from play about Lillian Smith” by Mab Segrest, original pictured here from the Mab Segrest Papers, Box 63. Another copy is located in the Minnie Bruce Pratt Papers, Box 57.

[i] Rita Mae Brown is author of the 1973 lesbian coming of age novel Rubyfruit Jungle. Lillian Smith was a white civil rights activist, known for her 1944 novel Strange Fruit, which featured an interracial couple.

The Disappeared and Their Editor: the Robert J. Cox Papers

Post contributed by Michelle Runyon, Marshall T. Meyer Intern for the Human Rights Archive.

This semester I have had the pleasure of processing the Robert J. Cox papers, the collection guide for which is now available.

Although he wouldn’t know it at the time, 1979 would become the most eventful year of Robert Cox’s life. A British journalist who spent most of his adulthood up to this point in Argentina, Cox found out that his son Peter had received a highly detailed anonymous death threat. The threat came as a result of Cox’s work covering the Dirty War as the editor of the English-language newspaper the Buenos Aires Herald. Cox and his family decided to flee from Argentina. His wife Maud Cox and their five children all came to England and then the United States with him at Harvard where Cox held a Nieman Fellowship. They later came to Charleston, South Carolina where Cox became the assistant editor for the Post & Courier.

A strong theme throughout Cox’s papers is the disappearances of political activists and dissidents, especially those of Jewish descent, throughout the country. Cox himself wrote about the desaparecidos (disappeared) and advocated for the Buenos Aires Herald to cover the violence enacted against them. Articles within the collection that cover the kidnappings range from brief passages to notices created by family members of the “disappeared.” However, one format that stands out above others in the collection never made their way into being published in an official formats – pamphlets created by the family members of the disappeared.

These pamphlets, almost zine-like, were created by Xeroxing official documents, photographs, newspaper clippings, and passages written by the creators alongside one another to create a narrative about what was known about the disappearance of this individual or group of individuals.

We know that at least one of these pamphlets was mailed to Robert Cox himself, as evidenced by Robert Cox’s mailing address on the back of the pamphlet. Working with the ERP (the People’s Revolutionary Army), Jorge Marcelo Dyszel Lewin and his wife Mirtha Nelida Schwalb de Dyszel were disappeared May 18, 1978. They were 22 and 21 years old respectively. Jorge was from a Polish Jewish immigrant family. This pamphlet was likely created by Jorge’s mother, Beatriz Lewin, who was very active in Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo).

First page has "Habeas Corpus a Dios!" in large text at the top, plus additional typewritten text, including a quotation attributed to Albert Einstein. The second page of the pamphlet has additional text, as well as a photographed of a man and a woman, presumably orge Marcelo Dyszel Lewin and Mirtha Nelida Schwalb de Dysze, in the back of the car on what looks like their wedding day.
Pages from pamphlet of the disappearance of Jorge Marcelo Dyszel Lewin and Mirtha Nelida Schwalb de Dyszel

Another pamphlet tells the story of the disappearances of Graciela Antonia Rutilo Artes and her daughter Carla Graciela Rutilo Artes. Graciela’s mother Matilde Artes Company created the pamphlet and became active with Las Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo.

Black and white pamphlet that reads at the top "Quiero a mi hija y a mi nieta." The rest of the page includes columns of text and photographs.
Pamphlet on the disappearance of Graciela Antonia Rutilo Artes and Carla Graciela Rutilo Artes.

The Grandmothers and the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo continue to work to hold  accountable those who disappeared their grandchildren and children.

Cox did not return to Argentina for over a decade. However, from afar, Cox wrote about Argentina with continued urgency and commitment. His personal papers reflect this engagement, consisting of his own personal writings and those collected by him written by colleagues or other interested parties about Argentina. When democracy was restored to Argentina with the election of Raúl Alfonsín, Cox reported on this and outlined the challenges that lay ahead of the new president as he grappled with the aftermath of the Dirty War. His reporting continues shape how Argentines and the outside world view Argentina and its recent history.

His story is also told through two books written by his wife Maude, Salvados del Infierno: A 25 años de la dictadura Argentina, and his son David, Dirty Secrets, Dirty War: The Exile of Robert J. Cox.

If you are interested in learning more, a documentary film about Cox’s life and work called A Messenger on a White Horse is available from the Lilly Library.  A shortened version of the film is also available on Amazon Prime.

Applications Now Accepted for the 2020-2021 Travel Grant Program

The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library is now accepting applications for our 2020-2021 travel grants. If you are a researcher, artist, or activist who would like to use sources from the Rubenstein Library’s research centers for your work, this means you!Black and white, undated, but vintage seeming United Airlines ad. The headline reads "Compare these Travel Costs." It has an illustration of a female flight attendant holding a chart showing the cost of travel to various destinations by train in comparison to fare on United Airlines.

The Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture, the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, the History of Medicine Collections, and the Human Rights Archive will each award up to $1,500 per recipient ($2,000 for international applicants to the Human Rights Archive) to fund travel and other expenses related to visiting the Rubenstein Library. The Rubenstein Library also awards up to $1,500 for individuals who would benefit from access to our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender history collections through the Harry H. Harkins, Jr. T’73 Travel Grant.

The grants are open to undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, independent scholars, artists, and activists who live more than 100 miles from Durham, North Carolina, and whose research projects would benefit from access to collections held by one of the centers listed above.

More details—and the grant application—may be found on our grants website. Applications must be submitted no later than 5:00 PM EST on January 31, 2020. Recipients will be announced in March 2020.

Medicine and Magic in North Carolina

Post contributed by Steph Crowell, Trent History of Medicine Intern.

Frank Clyde Brown was an English professor at Trinity College in 1909. Although, to call him just an English professor is a bit of a disservice- he was also the chairman of the English department, the University Marshal, the Comptroller of the University… he wore many hats while he was here. But, most importantly for today, he was an avid folklorist throughout his career.

He was so interested in North Carolina and Appalachian folklore that he helped to begin the North Carolina Folklore Society. Although busy with his many university roles, he still found the time to roam about North Carolina (or send his students to do so) and collect people’s stories and beliefs. The resulting collection of all these research materials, the Frank Clyde Brown Papers, 1912-1974, is absolutely massive. Alongside the huge print collection, there is a digitized collection of audio performances Brown collected during the course of his research- the physical wax cylinders and discs that they come from are still in the collection to be seen, but the only way to listen to them is through Duke’s Digital Repository.

But, in the spirit of the season, I took a look at box 45 of the print collection. Folk medicine is a wonderful and often strange portion of the history of medicine, and I quickly found that this collection reflected that idea. In this particular box are folders full of small pieces of paper that have bits of folk knowledge printed on them, as well as the source of that knowledge, be it a person or a book.

Four pieces of paper with folk remedies Brown collected. 1 is binding a frog to your head to cure a headache. 2 is washing your face in a stream of water that runs north to cure a headache. 3 is using beetle blood to cure a earache and 4 is putting ground pepper in your ear to cure a earache.
3:B:Z(8)-3:B:Z(16), Frank Clyde Brown papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Click to enlarge.

As you can see, some of these cures may not be quite what you expect. You couldn’t expect that washing your face with cool water may help alleviate a headache, but water that runs north? Why is that significant? Do beetles really only have two drops of blood in their bodies?

The thing that’s most interesting about this box is how the materials transition from folk medicine cures of diseases and insect bites into the supernatural. Some of these cures could arguably be called magical, but conceptually they still have to do with curing something wrong with the body- but what about spiritual health? What bad omens are out there that could impact my health? How do I know if he loves me or not? How can I get an edge on my exam tomorrow?

Four slips of paper describing various folk charms Brown collected.
4:A-4:C, Frank Clyde Brown papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Click to enlarge.

In a context where the supernatural is accepted and has an effect on one’s personal health, it also stands to reason that one should be afraid of witches. Someone who has the power to bedevil you against your will, curse you with bad luck, make you sick? Because of this fear, the next few folders that follow the common sense cures and the charms are things to directly deal with witches. There are counter-spells, ways of identifying witches, and, most importantly, ways to keep them as far away from you as possible.

Four slips of paper describing signs that someone is a witch or can practice magic, as well as charms to keep witches away.
4:A-4:C, Frank Clyde Brown papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Click to enlarge.

It can be difficult these days to think that medicine can or should be magical, but in the spirit of the season I would invite you to try. These materials are available to you to look at with many more cures and curses, all you have to do is register and request and we’ll be happy to retrieve them for you.

A note about the collection: if you’re looking at the collection, just keep in mind that these papers directly quote real people; as such, there are a handful of these items that contain racial slurs and some other outdated language that we find offensive today.

Staff recommendations from the collection:

If you’re someone who’s more into stories, we would recommend checking out this paper on Witches in Old Salem, this one on vampires, or this one about werewolves.

Honorable mentions for Halloween:

The inspiration for the movie Poltergeist, Ruysch’s dancing skeletons and anatomical sketches, and some of our materials about the famous Lizzie Borden Case, which you can read about here.

A Punk Female Divine

Post contributed by Chiara Amoretti, PhD candidate, University of Bristol, UK

Kathy Ackers astrological chart
Natal Chart found in Box 32, Folder 6 of the Kathy Acker Papers

After the generous award of a Mary Lily Research Grant, I travelled to Duke University this winter to conduct research for my doctoral dissertation, a study on modern and contemporary women writers and the creation of a female divine. My project focuses on three authors, including Kathy Acker, so I was excited to have the opportunity to consult the Kathy Acker Papers housed here at the Rubenstein Library. The collection spans notebooks, drafts, typescripts, annotations, correspondence and much more. My research goal was to find any evidence that Acker engaged with religion and religious discourse or texts, but more importantly how she engaged with it. To better understand her published work’s fragmented use of such suggestions, I wanted to see how Acker had originally worked them into her texts.

In order to do this, I studied the many notebooks containing Acker’s drafts for her novels and other unpublished material. Her drafts amazed me not just for the evidence of relentless work and self-editing that she put her writing through, but especially for the many different uses of heterodox religious language that appear therein. I was particularly struck to find one of her notebooks containing a discussion of her cancer treatment, in an extended metaphor, as a Shamanic initiation rite. This seems to highlight the spiritual significance, for Acker, of her choice of alternative medicine, and a way to reclaim her lived experience in response to her diagnosis.

The archive also illuminated my understanding of Acker’s fascination with para-religious activities and discourses. Her interest in astrology, which her published work hints at, takes on deeper meaning after seeing the natal charts of herself, and other people in her life, that Acker consulted. This shows her attachment to diverse forms of spiritual meaning-making, especially towards the end of her life. My visit to the Acker Papers has been invaluable for my research, showing me many unexpected ways in which Acker devised her own spiritual narrative experimentation.

The Minor Horrors of War (1915)

Post contributed by Steph Crowell, Trent Intern for the History of Medicine Collections.

In the spirit of the season, and in preparation for Screamfest VI here at the Rubenstein, we’ve been combing through our collections for all things creepy and unsettling. The History of Medicine has plenty of these things to go around, from medical instruments and artifacts to anatomical flap books to scary stories submitted to Duke’s old parapsychology lab (which includes the original material for the movie Poltergeist!), and much more. Being so spoiled for choice, we thought it best to ease into the festivities with some small, humble, yet significant contributors to the history of medicine: insects.

One might expect something called The Minor Horrors of War to contain stories related to the horrors of battle, the horrors of field medicine, or something equally gruesome, but this little volume takes a different direction: it talks about the how different arthropods and annelids may cause and treat illnesses for soldiers in the field. It covers lice, bedbugs, flies, mites, moths, and, leeches.

Two page spread of book showing title page and frontispiece. The frontispiece is an enlarged illustration showing a fly.
Frontispiece and title page

 

The wonderful thing about this book is the author’s ability to break up the technical entomological information he provides with easy-to-understand and frequently witty prose. For example, in the flies section of the book there is a particularly gruesome section on the impact of the Congo-floor-maggot, blow-flies, and others responsible for myiasis (“the presence of… larvae in the living body… as well as the disorders… caused thereby.” pp. 81). He ends this section a kind of silver lining to the discussion and says that we have “at least discovered the reason why Beelzebub was called the ‘Lord of the Flies’” (86).

Left page shows an overhead view of a fly, the right page a side view of the fly

Throughout the book, as you can probably tell by the images so far, are figures depicting many of the creatures being discussed. Throughout, you can see all these different kinds of creatures in varying degrees of magnification depending on the needs of the author. As shown below with a couple pictures of mites, this magnification can range from birds-eye views of different phases of an insect’s development to an incredible zoom-in that can more clearly show the reader each individual extremity and wrinkly that may be found on the insect’s body.

Finally, onto leeching. Leeching is perhaps one of the most famous uses of invertebrates in medicine (you can read a little about why that is the case here), and leeches are the creature that this author spends the most time describing. Unfortunately, you won’t find many images of a leeching session in progress but, just like in the rest of the book, there are many illustrations on the fine details of the leech itself. Despite the author’s claim that leeches are “undoubtedly degenerate earth worms” (124), he spends a great deal of time describing both medicinal leeches and exotic leeches (pictured below).

If you have some time, particularly this month, we would highly recommend stopping by for a little while and taking a look at this book. You can find the catalog record here. It’s as easy as hitting the green request button on the page- just remember to give us a couple of days’ notice of your visit so we can be sure we have time to get it ready for you.

Don’t forget to keep an eye out for news and announcements related to Screamfest VI. It’s on the 30th this year, so be sure to leave some room in your schedule to come take a break with us! If you have any questions, as always feel free to drop by or contact us any time.

Suggested readings:

The insect folk– a more pleasant depiction of various kinds of insects. Dating back to 1903, this book was created to appeal to children and depicts friendlier versions of friendlier insects, such as dragonflies and crickets.

A natural history of the most remarkable quadrupeds– Like the previous book, this is more of juvenile-friendly account of certain creatures. It extends beyond insects to cover other animals like birds, reptiles, and more.

A short discourse concerning pestilential contagion– this could be a drier bit of reading, but if you’re interested in how insects who spread disease such as the plague were dealt with in the public health sphere, this could be a book for you.

Why Do We Trust Doctors?

Post contributed by Laura Smith, a Doctoral Candidate, History Department at the University of Arkansas. She is a 2019-2020 History of Medicine Collections travel grant recipient. 

This question was the starting point for my dissertation research, and it has guided every research trip I have taken in my quest to understand how medical education functioned in the 1800s.  The answer?  It depends on the time period.  In the 19th century, this wasn’t a question easy to answer.  People didn’t always trust doctors, and they didn’t really start until medical schools began to provide enough clinical experience for their graduates to consistently produce better health outcomes for patients.  I came to Duke to better understand the evolution of clinical experience in medical schools of the 1800s.  These pictures trace that history.

Frederick Augustus Davisson went to Lexington, KY in the 1830s on his journey to becoming a physician.  He took classes at Transylvania medical school from its most notable professors, Drs. Caldwell and Dudley, men whose publications and work in their communities initially gave Transylvania a decent reputation as far as medical schools went in this era.  Davisson took good notes.  He recorded the books that were suggested for him to read, books popular at the time.

Page from Davisson's handwritten notebook. At the top he has written "Medical Books" and the rest of the page lists various titles.
Davisson’s entry of medical books recommended to him.

His notes also reflect that medical knowledge in the 1800s was experimental, controversial, and personal as his writings reflect the differing opinions of his professors.  “Dr. Dudley thinks his own plan better than any” for treating the retention of fluid in the genitals as it is “far more certain less painful and greatly more expeditious.”  Dudley used a knife to drain fluid as opposed to a needle, explaining the benefits of each to his students.

Two open pages of Davisson's notebook. Each page is filled with Davisson's handwritten cursive notes
Davisson’s notes describing Dr. Dudley’s approach to a procedure.

The idea that medical knowledge was not solidified but debated in this era hints that a major challenge to the authority of doctors was surprisingly the slander of other physicians and schools.  When Dr. James Conquest Cross, a professor at Transylvania, released a pamphlet on why Louisville, KY needed a medical school, many wondered how another school could be necessary when Lexington already had Transylvania so nearby.  In the pamphlet, Cross argued that Transylvania’s school offered no actual experience in hospitals, no dissections, and therefore practiced antiquated medicine.  Students improved with the advice of practicing physician-instructors, but nothing compared with the experience of practicing medicine themselves.  Questioning the merit of Transylvania, Cross asked, “Who has ever seen a human body opened before the medical class, for pathological purposes?  Which of her numerous alumni ever made, a pathological dissection under the eyes of one of her teachers?  Of that individual we confess, we are just as ignorant as we are of the inhabitants of the moon.”  Until Transylvania aligned with a teaching hospital like a school at Louisville would, it could not graduate credible physicians.  The Rubenstein Library’s collections show rebuttal from Transylvania, however.  The medical class of 1834 defended their professors, argued they had dissecting experience, and claimed Cross invented lies because of disappointment about being refused a higher position on the faculty.  If it’s difficult for us to know who to believe in this debate, it was even more difficult for the public watching this conflict unfold.

Large newspaper clipping from the March 6, 1834 edition of the Lexington Intelligencer.
Statement from the medical students at Transylvania University defending their professors.

In the end, Louisville did build a medical school.  Louisville Medical Institute wooed students with the promise of study in a working hospital, and Duke’s papers from Courtney J. Clark give a rare glimpse into what that early clinical experience looked like.  Clark traveled from Alabama to take courses at the Louisville Medical Institute in the same era that Davisson went to Kentucky, and while Clark had similar lecture experience from Kentucky physicians, he also had notes from real cases he studied that Davisson did not.  As Clark observed patients in the Louisville Marine Hospital, he learned from his practice, but his work and the work of the LMI faculty also benefitted the poor of the community who could receive low-cost medical care.  Clark recorded the prescriptions and health plans of other physicians while closely monitoring the success of patients.  When most medical history books praise the progressive teaching methods of Northern schools, these notes show that the medical schools of the US South made clear attempts to give experience while attempting to foster positive relationships with their communities.

Page of handwritten notes in a notebook.
Clark’s notes describing his examination of a patient.

This comparison between two Kentucky medical schools through the notebooks of students shed light on how division within the medical community hurt physician trust.  Rifts between schools like that between the cities of Lexington and Kentucky turned into ugly and public spectacles partly because for-profit schools competed so intensely for students and prestige.  Ironically, long-lasting feuds between schools presented the public with a feeling that doctors could not be trusted as they could not even come to agreement among themselves, and in this way, doctors in the 1800s eroded their own medical authority.

So why do we trust doctors now? We trust doctors because most of us have agreed to trust science and evidence-based conclusions.  We trust doctors when they time and again heal us.  But perhaps, we also trust doctors because they appear unified, a surprisingly recent development in medical history offering a cautionary tale useful in our own professional and public divisions.  Yes, even in 2019.