All posts by Kate Collins

Work and Love are Impossible to Tell Apart: The Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Papers

Post contributed by Laura Micham, Director, Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture and Curator

Photograph of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. She is wearing a black top and pants, with a gold necklace with a large pendant. She is standing in a gallery that features fabric sculptures in the shape of bodies without heads, arms, or feet.
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick at an exhibition of her artwork titled “In the Bardo,” at Stony Brook University, The State University of New York, 1999. Photographed by H.A. Sedgwick.

The Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture is pleased to announce that the Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Papers are now available and open for research. Sedgwick (1950-2009) was a poet, artist, literary critic, and teacher. As a faculty member in the English Department at Duke from 1988-1997, her work helped establish this institution as an intellectual leader in the critical study of sexuality.

Sedgwick is best known as one of the founders of the field of Queer Theory, a field of critical theory that emerged in the early 1990s. Her call for reparative work and for reading practices grounded in affect and performance have transformed our understandings of intimacy, identity, and politics. She published several groundbreaking books such as Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985), Epistemology of the Closet (1990), and Tendencies (1993). Her works and her collection reflect an interest in a range of issues including queer performativity; experimental critical writing; the works of Marcel Proust; non-Lacanian psychoanalysis; artists’ books; Buddhism and pedagogy; and material culture, especially textiles and texture.

handmade purple vase, white with some purple accents.
Hand-built purple ceramic vessel by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, ca. 2001. Photographed by Kevin Ryan.

The Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Papers are comprised of 130 linear feet of materials that document Sedgwick’s scholarly career, her artistic expression, and her personal life. Researchers will find Sedgwick’s writings and speeches as well as the writings of others; her notebooks and calendars; research, teaching, and activism files; event and travel files; correspondence, photographs, and memorabilia; legal, medical, and financial materials; and books and other published material. The collection also includes Sedgwick’s art such as works on paper, textile, clay, glass, ceramic, and other works which are currently being carefully housed by our conservation department.

The Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Papers join an extensive body of collections documenting the work of theorists, poets, and writers such as Kathy Acker, Dorothy Allison, Ann Barr Snitow, Chris Kraus, Kate Millett, Robin Morgan, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Alix Kates Shulman, and Meredith Tax.

In order to facilitate the use of the collection, the Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Foundation is generously funding research travel grants. In addition to supporting academic research aimed at producing publications and dissertations, the Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Grants will support a wide range of other creative projects such as educational initiatives, exhibitions, films, multimedia products, and other artistic works. The grants are administered by the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture. The deadline for the first grant cycle is April 30, 2022. For more information please visit our Grants and Fellowships site.

Excerpt of a handwritten draft written on yellow legal pad.
“It is speech and visibility that give us any political power we have. It is speech and visibility that apparently make us threatening.” Detail from a manuscript essay by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick that was published in 2014 with the title, “Censorship & Homophobia,” by Gullotine, New York, NY. The publisher, printer, and binder, Sarah McCarry, discovered the manuscript during her work helping to prepare the collection to come to Duke.

It is truly thrilling to us in the Rubenstein Library, as well as to faculty across the university, that Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s papers have come back to Duke. During her time here she left an indelible mark on our community and her work continues to have a significant effect in shaping the lives and thought of many people.

What I’m proudest of, I guess, is having a life where work and love are impossible to tell apart.
– Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

Good Vibrations!

Post contributed by Roger Peña, MLIS Student at UNC Greensboro and Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern

19th century printed illustration reading "The Electric Era." In the center is a man standing, holding an electric belt above his head with lightning bolts behind him. “We give a written guarantee that our appliance will cure the diseases mentioned…”

 “Indoresed[sic] by the government!”

 “Every man and woman troubled with weak and languid feelings, nervous, rheumatic, or organic disorders should wear the… electropathic belt”

 “Diseases that are now treated successfully by vibration… (colic, gallstones, impotency, insomnia, paralysis, spinal curvature)” See Image for full list.

 “Vibration and Electricity are the most natural remedies known.”

The statements above were just a sample of the testimonials and claims found in advertisements, sales brochures, and user manuals for electrotherapy devices on display in Good VibrationsElectrotherapy, or the “use of electric currents passed through the body to stimulate nerves and muscles” gained notoriety from the mid 1800s and into the 1920s. Consumers and patients were eager to explore the endless possibilities of electricity to cure their medical ailments and improve their vitality. Eager to reach new customers and with little-to-no government oversight, producers of medical batteries, electric suspension belts, and electric rejuvenators claimed that their devices could cure nearly all diseases – many with a money-back guarantee if it didn’t work!

Ad for "White Cross Electric Vibrator" listing "Diseases That Are Now Treated Successfully By Vibration." There is a long list of disease and conditions including asthma, dandruff, deafness, falling hair, gout, lameness, ovarian neuralgia, stomach troubles, and weak eyes. Though widely regarded as a modern innovation, the use of electricity in medicine dates back to ancient Rome, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece. Centuries ago, these civilizations attempted to harness electricity from eels and catfish to cure ailments such as gout and baldness. We all remember the story of Benjamin Franklin flying a kite. Turns out: this may have been an experiment with medical purposes. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein has its protagonist experiment with electricity to bring life back from the dead.

Black and white photograph. In the foreground is a man seated with his shirt unbuttoned. Behind him is another man in a suit holding what looks like a small metal rod to the other man's head. The rod is attached to a device on a table next to them. The invention of the battery in the early nineteenth century revolutionized the capabilities of electricity, and its uses for medical purposes were widely studied. From the 1850s to the early twentieth century, once-unimaginable discoveries in battery power and electricity transformed the world. Many people began to believe they could harness this new power for medical, health, and beauty purposes.

Cities around the world became home to university departments, medical societies, and practices devoted to electrotherapy. At the same time, mass consumerism and mass production allowed average citizens to purchase cheap electrical therapy devices from sales catalogs, local electricians, and medical supply companies and salesmen. Portrayed as an alternative to pills and medicine, electrotherapy devices (through low current shock waves or vibrations applied to different areas of the body) claimed to treat a wide range of conditions, such as arthritis, sciatica, gout, impotency, glaucoma, and “nervousness.”

Although such devices were often dismissed as quackery by many in the medical profession, their low cost and widespread marketing attracted a large audience eager to consume all things electric.

The items on display in Good Vibrations explore the history of electrotherapy from the mid-19th century and into the Roaring 1920s. Several of the items on display, including the Davis-Patent Electric Machine for Nervous Diseases, the Overbeck Electric Rejuvenator, and the Violet Ray Machine, serve as early examples of electrotherapeutic devices. All items on display come from the History of Medicine Collections and the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Good Vibrations will be on display in The Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room from April 26, 2022 until October 15, 2022 .Box containing an "Overbeck Rejuventaor." The box is black with a leather texture and a clasp. Inside are electrodes and wires connected to handles.

“Under the Blessed Arm of Freedom” A Blog Series Documenting the Search for Jacob Chiles

Post contributed by Kelsey Zavelo, Doctoral Candidate in History and Eleonore Jantz Reference Intern 2021-2022.

Chapter 2: Digging Deeper

In my previous post on this blog, I wrote about finding an 1847 letter written by Jacob Chiles, a formerly enslaved person, in the Joseph Ingram Sr. Family papers here at the Rubenstein Library. In his letter, Chiles explains what slavery and freedom meant to him and his family.

This week I dig deeper into Chiles’s story by exploring what other documents in and beyond the Ingram papers can tell us about him.

Donated to the Duke University Library’s Manuscript Department (now the Rubenstein Library) in 1953, the Joseph Ingram Sr. papers includes approximately 1130 items covering 2.5 linear feet. The bulk of the collection consists of family, business, and transactional correspondence as well as bills and receipts, arranged chronologically, primarily dating to the first half of the nineteenth century.

handwritten bill of sale
Chiles, Thomas, bill of sale to Joseph Ingram, Sr., 13 June 1803, Anson County, North Carolina, Folder 2, Box 5, Joseph Ingram Sr. papers, 1795-1935 and undated, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Based on his reference to having spent “some three score years” in bondage, Chiles may have been around sixty years old by the time of his writing. With Chiles’s possible age and surname in mind, a bill of sale dated June 13, 1803 could be the beginning of his paper trail in the Ingram papers.

The bill details the purchase by Joseph Ingram, Sr. of Anson County, “two certain negroes named Jacob and, other named Ruth, and one horse named Ball for the sum of six hundred Dollars” from a friend of the family, Thomas L. Chiles. The purchase agreement included a clause that essentially boils down to a rent-to-buy-back scheme: Chiles agreed to pay Ingram $60/year to hire Jacob and Ruth on an annual basis, with the understanding that if he were to do this for at least 10 years, thereby paying Ingram up to the original $600, Ingram would “return the said negroes to the said Chiles.” It is likely that Jacob Chiles continued to live in close proximity to both families after 1803, which might explain why he kept Chiles as a surname. In his Last Will and Testament dated 1820, Thomas L. Chiles reaffirmed his agreement to sell Jacob to Joseph Ingram, stating, “It is my will and desire that the Bills of sale I gave Jos. Ingram Sr. for Jacob…to stand good…” Perhaps it was only after this time that Jacob came to live permanently on the Ingram plantation.

The John Hope Franklin Center has digitized scores of similar bills of sale and other items documenting the sales, escapes, and emancipations of enslaved people from colonial times through the Civil War. Browse the American Slavery Documents Collection.

In his letter, Chiles mentions that his two sons, one named Walter, started attending Harveysburg High School during their first winter in Ohio. Founded by Quakers Jesse and Elizabeth Harvey—the latter of whom was also an abolitionist—the Harveysburg School was established in 1831 as the first free school for African Americans in Ohio. Since 1977, it has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places as “Harvey, Elizabeth, Free Negro School.” In addition to telling us something about his dreams for his children’s future and possible educational training prior to leaving North Carolina, Chiles’s naming of the school provides a solid foundation upon which historians and others might dig deeper into the historical record to find more traces of him and his family after slavery.

Continue reading “Under the Blessed Arm of Freedom” A Blog Series Documenting the Search for Jacob Chiles

“Under the Blessed Arm of Freedom” A Blog Series Documenting the Search for Jacob Chiles

Post contributed by Kelsey Zavelo, Doctoral Candidate in History and Eleonore Jantz Reference Intern 2021-2022.

Chapter One: Finding the Extraordinary

While browsing the Joseph Ingram Sr. papers to answer an ordinary reference question, I came across an extraordinary letter. From his new home in Warren County, Ohio, on March 4, 1847 a man named Jacob Chiles wrote to John M. Ingram of Lilesville, North Carolina to satisfy John’s request that Jacob write him once resettled—in Jacob’s words—”in order that you may know how I feel under the blessed arm of freedom.”

I paused, and I read the line again. “…under the blessed arm of freedom.” At that moment I knew I was reading something special: a letter written by someone special. In 1847, Jacob Chiles was a free man writing to someone who once claimed him as property.

If for no other reason, Jacob’s three-page handwritten letter is remarkable for the simple fact that it exists. Because of the literacy skills and resources needed for their production, letters are historical documents that privilege the retelling of some people’s stories over others’. While letters written by political and social elites, business leaders, literary figures, and other (mainly white) educated adults were common to the US antebellum period, letters penned by enslaved- and formerly-enslaved persons were rare. And while some “slave letters” were transcribed by a literate person on behalf of the author, Jacob appears to have penned his letter himself.

Slave letters were rare, but they do exist. Anti-slavery newspapers reprinted the correspondence and other writings of hundreds of black people who escaped or otherwise left bondage to further the abolitionist cause. Still others, especially persons laboring as house servants, artisans, and drivers wrote—sometimes frequently—to family, friends, masters and mistresses, businesspersons, and others. Published in 1974, 1977 and 1978 respectively, Robert Starobin’s Blacks in Bondage, John W. Blassingame’s Slave Testimony and Randall M. Miller’s “Dear Master” reflect a few historians’ conscious attempts to assemble, analyze, and render accessible a rich sampling of letters by persons that the institution of slavery had intended and functioned to silence. Over the years, researchers and staff at the Rubenstein Library have identified dozens of “slave letters” in across its collections.

The content of the Jacob Chiles letter is as extraordinary as is its materiality; it requires no editorial note. (Take, for instance, Jacob’s personal wager to John about the benefits of wage labor: “If you will not pay your hands[,] treat them well…feed them well[,] use the whip but little[,] incourage [sic] them a great deal & I will agree to become your slave again if you do not get more labour from their hands & and that performed in a better manner.”)

In a coming post [now available], I elaborate on what other documents in the Ingram family papers and beyond may suggest about Jacob’s biography and life in bondage. At this point, I simply implore you, dear reader, to read and contemplate Jacob’s letter, his own words.

Page 1 of Chiles Letter

You can also download a transcript of the text and PDF scan of the original letter. Read the second post in this series.

Applications Open for 2022-2023 Research Travel Grants

The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library is now accepting applications for our 2022-2023 research 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!

Research travel grants of up to $1500 are offered by the following Centers and research areas:

  • Archive of Documentary Arts
  • Harry H. Harkins T’73 Travel Grants for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History
  • History of Medicine Collections
  • Human Rights Archive
  • John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture
  • John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History
  • Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture (Mary Lily Research Grants)
  • Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Papers

We encourage applications from students at any level of education; faculty members; visual and performing artists; writers; filmmakers; public historians; and independent researchers. (Must reside beyond a 100-mile radius of Durham, N.C., and may not be current Duke students or employees.) These grants are offered as reimbursement based on receipt documentation after completion of the research visit(s). The deadline for applications will be Saturday, April 30, 2022, at 6:00 pm EST. Grants will be awarded for travel during June 2022-June 2023.

An information session will be held Wednesday, March 23rd at 2PM EST.  This program will review application requirements, offer tips for creating a successful application, and include an opportunity for attendees to ask questions.  Register for the session here. Further questions may be directed to AskRL@duke.edu.

Image citation: Cover detail from African American soldier’s Vietnam War photograph album https://idn.duke.edu/ark:/87924/r4319wn3g

Happy 213th Birthday, Abraham Lincoln!

Post contributed by Naomi L. Nelson, Associate University Librarian and Director, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in a one-room log cabin in Kentucky, which was on the western frontier of the young United States. His father was a hardscrabble farmer who moved his family several times in search of better opportunities, but the family never escaped poverty.

Lincoln was an avid reader from an early age. He grew up in Indiana and later remembered that he had less than a year’s schooling there—total. He was ambitious and learned by reading. Over his lifetime, Lincoln is known to have read in many disciplines, including the Bible, law and legal history, classical literature, world and American history, and political economy.

In an address to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society in 1859, Lincoln noted “A capacity, and taste, for reading, gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others. It is the key, or one of the keys, to the already solved problems. And not only so. It gives a relish, and facility, for successfully pursuing the [yet] unsolved ones.”

These are words to warm a librarian’s heart. David M. Rubenstein’s Americana Library includes many of the books that Lincoln is known to have read. He has loaned Duke a number of these titles for the exhibition “To Stand by the Side of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the American Nineteenth Century,” now on view in the Rubenstein Library and online.

Interested in learning more about Abraham Lincoln and his place in American history? Please join us on February 16 for “Abraham Lincoln and the American Experiment: a conversation with David M. Rubenstein and Thavolia Glymph.”

John Ridlon and Early Orthopedics in America

Post contributed by Lisa Pruitt, Ph.D., Professor of History and Director, Graduate Program in Public History at Middle Tennessee State University, and a recent recipient of our History of Medicine Travel Grant.

Ridlon stands in a back corner of his office, near some sort of metal apparatus. Also in the room are various pieces of wooden furniture.
Image of John Ridlon in office, 1911. Box 15

What is your research project?

My project looks at the evolution over time of the concept of the “crippled child.” Of course, physically impaired children have always been present and in all societies.  But in the mid-19th century US (a little earlier in Europe), reformers began to see physically disabled children of the impoverished and working classes as a social problem requiring both social and medical intervention. The word “crippled” began to show up in the names of charitable organizations and institutions in the 1860s; their numbers proliferated from the late 19th century to the mid-20th.  In the early years, a “crippled child” was usually understood to be a child with a physical impairment, but “normal” intelligence, whose condition physicians and surgeons believed could be improved to the point of allowing the child to achieve economic self-sufficiency in adulthood.  More severely impaired children were called “incurables” and were typically excluded from medical or surgical treatment and rehabilitation. The most common conditions that caused physical impairment in children were tuberculosis of the bones and joints, rickets (amongst the poorest classes), and congenital defects such as clubbed feet or congenital dislocation of the hip (now referred to as developmental dysplasia of the hip).  Impairments resulting from polio began to increase after the turn of the twentieth century.  With improvements in sanitation and the development of antibiotics and the polio vaccine, infectious disease became less significant as a cause of physical disability in children by the mid-20th century.  At the same time, the emphasis on treating only those children who could be made self-sufficient began to fade.  Charity organizations, like the Association for the Aid of Crippled Children in New York, were surpassed in importance by advocacy organizations such as the National Society for Crippled Children (now Easter Seals).  By the 1950s, the medical and advocacy communities began to focus on conditions that earlier would have been considered “incurable” – notably, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and spina bifida.

What did you use from Duke’s History of Medicine Collections?

Image of John Ridlon in office, 1911. Box 15

I used the John Ridlon Papers (1846-1936). Ridlon was a prominent orthopedic surgeon who spent his early career in New York in the 1890s and then practiced in Chicago in the early 20th century.  I was drawn to his collection in hopes of learning more about the day-to-day work of orthopedic surgeons at that time and especially the impact of x-ray technology on their practice with children.  I am also interested in the Home for Destitute Crippled Children in Chicago, with which Ridlon was heavily involved; I hoped I would find some information about that institution as well.

What surprised you or was unexpected?

I found more than I expected about a controversy in 1902-03 involving the highly publicized visit to the United States of Austrian orthopedic surgeon Adolf Lorenz.  Lorenz claimed a very high success rate for his “bloodless” cure for congenital dislocation of the hip.  In the fall of 1902, J. Ogden Armour (of the Armour meatpacking fortune) brought Lorenz to Chicago to treat his 5-year-old daughter, Lolita, who was born with bilateral dislocation of the hips.  Until I accessed the collection, I did not realize that Lolita Armour had been Ridlon’s patient up until that time.  Lorenz’s visit was hyped by the Hearst media empire and provoked a wildly enthusiastic response from the general public.  American orthopedic surgeons, including Ridlon, were hostile in their responses to Lorenz.

I also did not expect to find such a rich vein of material about the early years of the American Orthopedic Association.  Ridlon was a prominent member and corresponded extensively with other leaders of the profession.  Early concerns and conflicts surface a lot in that correspondence.  I did not have time to delve into this correspondence, but I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the professionalization of orthopedics.

One thing I learned about Ridlon’s practice that surprised me was its national scope. I wasn’t even looking for this information, but in the small amount of correspondence that I sifted through, I found that he had long-term patients in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, and (less surprisingly) Ohio.  They traveled to see him, but I was surprised to find that he also traveled to them.  Talk about house calls!

Anything else you’d like to share?

The Ridlon Papers are a rich resource. The correspondence is extensive. I was lucky that a separate folder on the Lorenz controversy had been created by Ridlon at some point, but I suspect that relevant correspondence is also scattered throughout the collection.  Allow lots of time!

I found many interesting things in my research, but I’ll share one document that stood out to me.  In this copy of one of his out-going letters from 1899, Ridlon comments on how an x-ray changed his diagnosis.  The letter is 3 pages; he makes a humorous comment on the x-ray near the beginning.

The letter reads, "My Dear Dr. Sheldon: I have been down into Ohio since Mrs. Snell left for hom, and this with some extra work I have not found the time to write to you. After having made such an elaborate diagnosis, which was so satisfactory to both the patient and myself, it was quite disconcerting to have this X-ray picture so completely overthrow it."
Letter to Dr. Sheldon, December 14, 1899. Letterbook 1896-1903, Box 12.

 

 

Contextualizing Insurrection in the Archival Far Right

Post contributed by Richard Branscomb, PhD Candidate at Carnegie Mellon University and a recent Duke Human Rights Archive Travel Grant Recipient.

By many accounts, the riot on January 6, 2021 at the U.S. Capitol building was an unprecedented day of violent, far-right insurrection. Indeed, an attack of that magnitude on the nation’s capital has not occurred since this country’s Civil War. The events of that day drew together various far-right factions with a propensity for antidemocratic violence, including QAnon conspiracy adherents, so-called militia or patriot groups like the Oath Keepers, and the “western chauvinist” group the Proud Boys.[1] While the unfolding violence on January 6 may have been unprecedented, the “revolutionary” narratives undergirding those events are not. And the ultimate incapacity of those rioters to overturn national election results will not preclude others from trying again through other violent means.

My research uses digital and historical archives to trace the sort of conspiratorial narratives that resulted in the January 6 riot. The Rubenstein Library’s exceptional special collections have contributed to the goals of my larger dissertation project, in which I examine particular tropes in the history of firearms advocacy in the U.S. as that history is inflected by ideologies of far-right vigilantism and white supremacist subtext. As a scholar of rhetoric, I’m particularly interested in the ways social movements build and circulate narratives that establish certain senses of identity, urgency, or, in extreme cases, justifications for terroristic violence.

In the Rubenstein Library’s collections, I was primarily examining the periodicals circulated by the civilian militia movement that rose to prominence in the U.S. in the early 1990s. These materials include newsletters and propaganda that these militia groups circulated for recruitment and political antagonism. Overall, what these archival materials help illustrate is that the sort of antidemocratic violence seen on January 6 is neither a new phenomenon of far-right sedition, nor will it be the last. Though hundreds of rioters have now been criminally charged,[2] little accountability appears on the immediate horizon for the sitting members of Congress who refuse to condemn the participants or the election falsehoods that precipitated the riot.[3]

The civilian militia movement has been characterized by a deeply libertarian suspicion (and/or paranoia) of the federal government, and a stalwart dedication to the Second Amendment as a means to reclaim “liberty” for the militias’ overwhelmingly white and male members. This is despite the fact that militias were and are extrajudicial in all 50 states, and that judicial precedent on the Second Amendment does not support private militia formation.[4] The civilian militia movement originated amid a longer history of racist backlash to the incremental victories of the civil rights movement of the twentieth century, which were (and still are) framed on the political right as encroachments of federal government power on everyday American lives. Then, a series of lethal blunders by federal agencies in the early 1990s accelerated militia mobilization across the country: First, in the deadly standoff with a white separatist family at Ruby Ridge, Idaho in 1992, and second, the 51-day explosive siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas in 1993. This movement initially peaked in 1996,[5] but it declined amid the fallout from the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building by white supremacist, anti-government extremists that killed 168 people and injured hundreds more.

Drawing of a large boot about to step down onto a foothold trap. The boot has written on the bottom "Federal Tyranny" and the trap says "Citizen Militias." To the left of the illustration is text "It ain't no fun, when the rabbit's got the gun!!"
Cartoon from the Gadsden Minutemen Newsletter (1995) illustrating the purported function of citizen militias in combatting militarized federal tyranny.

As evidenced by archived materials of far-right groups, Ruby Ridge and Waco inspired militia mobilization for years afterward. For instance, the Missouri 51st militia was named for the length of the Waco siege. These events also inspired varying degrees of exhortative rhetoric in militia group publications, up to and including insurrectionary violence.  In a March 1995 periodical for the Alabama-based Gadsden Minutemen Unorganized Militia, one writer reflected on how the movement ought to respond to government overreach, particularly incidents like Ruby Ridge and Waco. The writer concludes by emphasizing the “divine” spirit of the movement, even drawing a timeline from the American Revolution to the 1995 anniversary of the Waco siege’s disastrous end—the date that would in fact coincide with the Oklahoma City bombing:

“As on April 18, 1775, on July 4, 1776, on April 19, 1995, we are ‘ … endowed by our Creator … ’ Not endowed by government. I, we are free, independent and sovereign, with full authority over our lives, our bodies,  and our property. We are rightly answerable to outside authority only for direct infringement of the rights of others. Otherwise only divine authority will obtain. It is our duty, laid on us by God and the generations, to defend our, our children’s, and our neighbors’ liberty. In extremis, to kill; if necessary to die. We, I, individuals, each alone, are individually responsible.”

Masthead and headline for "Taking Aim" newsletter. Headline reads, "Closure or Coverup? Does the FBI really believe McVeigh acted alone?"
Heading for a 1997 issue of Taking Aim, the Militia of Montana’s newsletter, highlighting the persistence of “false flag” and coverup conspiracies centered on federal agencies.

Though this militia group was not responsible for the terrorism in Oklahoma City, these bald exhortations resonate —in extremis—with the broader rhetorical strategies of these civilian militias then and now. Groups like the Gadsden Minutemen and the Missouri 51st militia publicly decried the horrendous violence in Oklahoma City, while asserting that their mission was not to overthrow the federal government but instead to compel the government to “return” to a nostalgic constitutional past. Still other groups like the influential Militia of Montana circulated “false flag” conspiracies about the bombing, claiming it to be yet another federal ruse to dismantle their movement.  After the failed insurrection on January 6, 2021, some on the far-right recapitulated this storyline by claiming that the Capitol riot was itself yet another “false flag.” Still others, including members of Congress, have extended that “revolutionary” timeline to include January 6, 2021.[6]

In all, my research is concerned with critically contextualizing the prominence of heavily-armed vigilante groups in the American political system, particularly their violent vision of enforcing governmental accountability. To be sure, the government and our elected leaders must be held to account for their travesties and abject failures. However, civilian militias and their allies rely on armed intimidation and blatantly antidemocratic terrorism, methods that must be situated in the longer history of racist exclusion and silencing that paints a narrow view of just who “we the people” are.[7] This is why archives like the Rubenstein Library’s collections are particularly valuable for reminding us how we got to where we are now, including the far-right normalization of extremist words and deeds.

[1] https://apnews.com/article/capitol-insurrection-charges-roil-far-right-groups-1e0560dbd5572944e3435e225f8be616

[2] https://www.npr.org/2021/02/09/965472049/the-capitol-siege-the-arrested-and-their-stories

[3] https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/01/more-dangerous-capitol-riot/617655/

[4] https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/2021-06/McCord_final_0.pdf

[5] https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/ideology/antigovernment

[6] https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/01/25/among-the-insurrectionists

[7] Carol Anderson, 2021, The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America, Bloomsbury Publishing USA.

Aaron’s Book

By Blake Hill-Saya

Above: Portrait in oils of Dr. Aaron McDuffie Moore painted by his daughter Lyda Moore Merrick. Located in the North Carolina Collection, Stanford L. Warren Branch of the Durham County Library, Durham, N.C.

Too often we relegate the lives of our ancestors to the basket of nostalgia. We think that because our modern times have dressed us up in different clothes and surrounded us with technology that the lives and struggles of our ancestors can’t speak with any real directness to ours. It is easy in the rush and rattle of the present to allow seasoned historians to define us in macrocosm while overlooking the importance of our own more granular history; a thread waiting to be pulled in the warp and woof of who we think we are. Libraries and historical archives exist to help us pull that thread and expand our understanding of history and our place in it.

Eight years ago, I was chosen by the Durham Colored Library board of directors, led by chairperson C. Eileen Watts Welch, to follow my own ancestral thread and write a biography of my great- great-grandfather, Dr. Aaron McDuffie Moore. The dream of this historical biography of Durham’s first Black physician far predates my involvement; it actually predates me. Dr. Moore’s daughter, my great-grandmother, Lyda Moore Merrick, dreamed of a book about her Papa. My grandfather, Dr. Charles DeWitt Watts, a legendary surgeon and healthcare activist in his own right, also dreamed of this book. His dream inspired his daughter, C. Eileen Watts Welch, to make this biography a reality. The Durham Colored Library, an organization founded by Dr. Moore himself in 1913 and now a non-profit focused on uplifting Black narratives, sponsored the project.

The Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library was the first of many such archives that I would find myself exploring on my journey. The hallowed feeling of that space and the respect with which my ancestral papers are cared for there was in and of itself a revelation. Black history is not, in my experience, often afforded this level of protection or gravitas. Having to make a reservation to review things I remember first seeing on my grandfather’s desk years ago was very emotional for me. One document discovery I made, however, vividly illustrates the importance of these archives.

Several years into my research, I was cross-referencing the papers of Dr. Moore’s contemporaries to glean any possible mentions of him. One day, in Charles Clinton Spaulding’s papers, (Dr. Moore’s nephew and another member of Durham’s “Mighty Triumvirate” along with John Merrick) I noticed a file labeled “Anon. memo book.”[1] I am based in Los Angeles, so I asked my research partner (and aunt) C. Eileen Watts Welch if she had time to go and see what it was. When she finally found it, it took her breath away.

In her hand was a brown leather-bound doctor’s visiting book from Dr. Aaron McDuffie Moore’s first year of practice in Durham (1888-1889). She could actually feel the imprint of his fingers in the leather. She called to tell me. We both cried. She told me it even smelled sort of earthy and sweaty and maybe even like the saddlebags of the horse he rode on his rounds. Together we had unearthed the Rosetta Stone of Black healthcare in Durham.

The entries start neatly and sparsely and, as the year goes on, the pages fill to the brim. Payments are often recorded as produce, a basket of eggs, a dollar here and there. He is attending to everything from burns and pellagra to child birth and gunshot wounds. His stress level and commitment are visible in the pressure of his pencil on the paper. This miraculous connection was made possible because the Rubenstein Library cared enough to preserve, itemize and digitally list this precious artifact. I will be forever indebted to C. C. Spaulding, the NC Mutual Life Insurance Company’s staff and archivists through the years, and every librarian and archivist who made sure that, 129 years later, his ancestors would get to feel the imprint of his fingers in his visiting book.

Archives and historical collections have the power to heal, inspire and affirm the many diverse threads in the fabric of our national tapestry. History includes all of us.

I hope our adventure sparks the beginning of yours.

Aaron McDuffie Moore: An African American Physician, Educator and Founder of Durham’s Black Wall Street by Blake Hill-Saya is available from UNC Press and can be found wherever books are sold. Contact The Durham Colored Library for official autographed copies.

[1] This item was previously identified as “Anonymous memo book.” Due to Blake Hill-Saya and C. Eileen Watts Welch’s research, the Rubenstein Library was able to rename the description for this item. It can now be found as, Dr. Aaron McDuffie Moore doctor’s visiting book, Charles Clinton Spaulding papers, 1889-1990, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

A Year of Reflection, Adaptation and Change

The many disruptions of the past year required RL staff to re-envision all aspects of the ways that we support research and teaching. Adapting to virtual work and social distancing forced us to slow down and to check in on our personal and work priorities. In the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and the national reckoning about race, we committed to recentering our strategic objectives around anti-racism. Here are some highlights from the year:

Focusing on Digital Access & Digital Collections

  • With our reading room closed, staff focused on digital delivery, sending nearly 170,000 scans to researchers and students all over the world—eight times the number we delivered the previous year.
  • RL instructors learned to teach online, developing both synchronous virtual sessions and asynchronous modules. Their guide to teaching materiality online has been used by librarians and archivists around the country.
  • Records Manager Hillary Gatlin created videos covering many aspects of record keeping at Duke.
  • RL archival processors working at home turned their attention to processing born digital collections, including the contents of floppy disks, hard drives, social media accounts, and cloud servers.
  • The DUL exhibition staff opened five online exhibitions, including one for Tobaccoland, They then migrated and/or edited 41 existing digital exhibitions to extend the impact of our exhibition program.
  • While we miss in-person events, it has been wonderful to connect with people across the country through virtual events.Highlights included Sallie Bingham joining an appreciative audience to read from her two latest books and a panel discussion marking the 30th anniversary of the publication of William Styron’s Darkness Visible during Mental Health Awareness Week.

Prioritizing Anti-Racism

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  • RL Technical Services developed new Guiding Principles for Description and a new style guide to better define and implement “inclusive metadata” practices.
  • Pre-pandemic RL instructors created Our Approach to Classes and continue to refine this methodology to make class sessions more inclusive and welcoming.
  • The Collection Development Department is reviewing and revising our collecting policies to be more transparent about our collecting practices.
  • The Research Services Department seeks to practice equitable access models through their customer service training, and reading room, reproduction, and reference policies.
  • University Archives is partnering with counterparts at Johnson C. Smith University, Davidson University, and Furman University to host a cohort of interns and staff who will explore the racial history of each institution.
  • University Archives and Exhibitions collaborated with Prof. Cecilia Marquez and her students to develop an exhibition on Latinx history at Duke.
  • To call attention to the low number of people of color and women among design professionals, the Exhibitions program committed to using only fonts created by people of color for two years.
  • University Archivist Valerie Gillispie received a CASE District III Gold Award for her article “A More Complicated Love” in Duke Magazine, which calls on our community to reckon with this history so that we can build a better Duke.
  • All RL staff were encouraged to participate in the Racial Equity Institute’s Groundwater training and our informal diversity, equity and inclusion reading group met bi-weekly on Slack. Several managers in the RL are taking a course on Inclusive Management Practices.

Looking Forward

  • As we prepare to welcome the Duke community back to campus, and hopefully visitors in the coming months, research and instruction will continue to implement changes to our programs to reflect our anti-racist strategic objectives.
  • The Franklin Research Center is collaborating with the SNCC Legacy Project, the Center for Documentary Studies, the New Georgia Project, BYP 100, and the Ohio Voice on the grant “Our Story. Our Terms: Documenting Movement Building from the Inside Out,” funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The multi-generational project team will convene and record conversations among three generations of activists—SNCC veterans of the Emmett Till generation, young people of the Trayvon Martin generation now leading the Movement for Black Lives, and the new generation of organizers mobilizing in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
  • The Franklin Research Center is also partnering with the Libraries’ Digital Production Center on a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to digitize the “Behind the Veil: Documenting African American Life in the Jim Crow South” project archive. This archive is one of the largest collections of oral histories documenting life during the era of segregation in the United States.
  • Using the Guiding Principles for Description and Style Guide, RL Technical Services has begun reviewing finding aids and catalog records for harmful language. In one project, archivists are sponsoring a Data+ student team to extract structured data from over 300,000 catalog cards created from the 1930s through late 1990s so that we might provide better access to this information and use it to analyze our manuscript collections.