The Pan Am Digital Collection can be searched using free-text keyword searches, as well as through faceted searching by year, aircraft type (under the “Subject” search facet), language, departure and arrival locations, and source collection. Highlights from the Pan Am Digital Collection include:
First passenger service across Pacific, Atlantic, to South America, etc.
First jet service, including the debuts of the Boeing 707 and 747.
Inaugural service between New York and Moscow.
Noteworthy campaigns including the Clipper concept, “around the world service,” and the debut of new services such as in-flight entertainment.
The Pan Am Digital Collection is part of a larger collaboration with the University of Miami Libraries, who hold the corporate records of Pan Am, and HistoryMiami Museum, who hold artifacts from Pan Am. Together, our digitized materials and artifacts serve as the foundation of the Digital Public Library of America’s new aviation portal, Cleared for Takeoff: Explore Commercial Aviation. In addition to showcasing Pan Am’s history and impact on aviation, the DPLA portal also includes materials related to the broader history of other commercial aviation in America and associated airlines. The portal will eventually feature a chronological representation of Pan Am’s achievements and history through an interactive timeline, which is linked at the top of the portal. The timeline curates materials from each grant partner and puts otherwise disparate items in conversation with each other.
The DPLA Aviation Portal will eventually feature a Primary Source Set, curated by members from the Hartman Center, UMiami Libraries, and HistoryMiami. The Primary Source Set is meant for classroom use and focuses on how Pan Am impacted and “shrank” the world, encouraging critical thinking and analysis of primary source documents and touching upon numerous social, political, and cultural issues.
The Hartman Center is grateful to the Council on Library and Information Resources and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for funding this important project, as well as to our colleagues at UMiami Libraries, HistoryMiami, the DPLA, and our colleagues in Digital Collections & Curation Services and Conservation Services in Duke libraries.
Behind the Veil (BTV) was undertaken by the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University (CDS) from 1992–1995 and co-directed by Drs. William Chafe, CDS co-founder and Alice Mary Baldwin Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Robert Korstad, Professor Emeritus of Public Policy, and the late Raymond Gavins, the first African American faculty member in Duke’s Department of History. Chafe, Korstad, and Gavin’s vision for and title of the project refer to the concept of the “veil” introduced by scholar and activist W.E.B. DuBois in his iconic book The Souls of Black Folk (1913). In that work, DuBois discussed the metaphorical concept of the veil as “separating the two worlds of white and black,” designed to protect African Americans who had to balance comporting their lives as subservient and compliant in front of a White dominated society while simultaneously living free in their own community.
BTV was a groundbreaking documentary project for its time that recorded and preserved the living memory of African American life during the age of segregation in the American South. Over the span of three summers, cohorts of graduate students and early career scholars from universities across the country received training with the project’s scholarly board and then resided in selected locales for two weeks to conduct oral histories. The team conducted interviews with more than one thousand community elders who shared their memories from the Jim Crow Era of legal segregation. Nineteen distinct communities were identified for interviews: Albany, GA; rural Arkansas; Birmingham, AL; Charlotte, NC; Durham, NC; Enfield, NC; New Bern, NC; LeFlore County, NC; Memphis, TN; Muhlenberg, KY; New Iberia, LA; New Orleans, LA; Norfolk, VA; Orangeburg, SC; St. Helena, SC; Summerton, SC; Tallahassee, FL; Tuskegee, AL; and Wilmington, NC.
All of the BTV project files were transferred to the John Hope Franklin Research Center in subsequent years after the project’s completion. The BTV collection encompasses a number of formats including over 1,200 taped audio cassette interviews and 3,000 photographic strips, slides and prints, manuscript project files, training materials, administrative records, and born-digital files. The grant work will focus on the digitization and transcription of the oral histories, scanning of the photographic materials, and sharing the collection’s contents with students, educators, and the wider public through virtual programs and webinars. The digital collection will be published in the Duke Digital Repository, where 410 BTV interviews are currently accessible for research. Funds will also allow the project team to hire graduate level interns for archival processing, digitization, and outreach.
John B. Gartrell, director of the John Hope Franklin Research Center and principal investigator for the grant noted, “The Behind the Veil collection is one of the most used collections in the Franklin Research Center. These oral histories truly broaden our understanding of the everyday lives of African Americans during the early-to-mid twentieth century. They represent one of the largest bodies of scholarship on African American life documenting that time, and I’m excited to share the depth of these stories and honor the scholars who recorded them.” Gartrell will be joined by co-principal investigator Giao Luong Baker, who serves as Duke Libraries’ Digital Production Services Manager. Together they will lead the digitization efforts in collaboration with library colleagues over the course of the next three years (2021–2024).
Post contributed by Jessica Janecki, Rare Materials Cataloger
Over 200 items—bills of sale, rental agreements, “free papers,” and even one arrest warrant—make up the American Slavery Documents collection held in the Rubenstein. In Technical Services, rare materials catalogers are in the process of individually cataloging the documents in the collection.
An important part of the cataloging process involves researching the names we find in the documents so that we can correctly identify people and either associate them with their Library of Congress Name Authority File heading or create an authorized heading for them. In attempting to describe enslaved or formerly enslaved persons, the majority of whom did not have last names, we tried to do as much research as possible (is the Sue mentioned in one document the same Sue mentioned in another document? If not, how can we distinguish them?) Our hope is that by identifying and describing these individuals researchers may be able to connect them to other parts of their stories that may be contained in other repositories.
However, even with the addition of subject headings, authorized name headings, genre/form terms, and other helpful metadata, there are just some things that cannot be easily encapsulated in a catalog record. One example is the story of Lott and Frankey.
Lott and Frankey
To begin this project of individually cataloging the American Slavery Documents collection, I deliberately chose one of the happier document types: this deed of manumission freeing an enslaved woman named Frankey. It is dated June 25, 1801 and was recorded at the court of Albemarle County, Virginia by clerk of court John Nicholas.
In it, William Champe Carter, Frankey’s enslaver, declares:
…in consideration of the sum of forty two pounds to me in hand paid by Lott (the waggoner) who was liberated by my deceased father Edward Carter, esq., as well as in consideration of the meritorious services of she, the wife of the said Lott, named Frankey, I have emancipated and set at liberty, and by these presents do emancipate and set at liberty my said negro slave Frankey…
In other words, Frankey’s husband Lott purchased her freedom for 42 pounds.
From this deed we know nothing else about Frankey other than her name, the name of her husband, and that in June 1801 she lived in Albemarle County, Virginia. In my research I have not been able to discover how she came to be enslaved by William Champe Carter, which of the many Carter family plantations she might have lived at, or even her approximate age.
The deed actually tells us more about Lott than Frankey. We learn that Lott had been enslaved by William Champe Carter’s father Edward Carter, who also emancipated him. When Edward Carter died in 1792, he left instructions in his will to emancipate Lott, one of the few enslaved persons he mentioned by name in his will. We also learn Lott’s profession as William Champe Carter refers to Lott as “the waggoner,” which means wagon driver.
If Lott was a free man by 1792, what might he have been doing between his emancipation and when he purchased Frankey’s freedom in 1801? In the deed he is referred to as Lott “the waggoner,” suggesting that he found employment after his emancipation. I searched early Virginia property tax records (available here) and found 2 promising entries in Albemarle County. The first from 1795 reads: Negro Lott emancipated by Edwd Carter decd [ie deceased] 1 tithe 2 horses and the second from 1797 reads: Wagoner Lott free negro 1 tithe 1 horse. These entries show that the commonwealth of Virginia recognized Lott as a free man, and one who owned enough personal property to owe property taxes. The 1797 entry helpfully confirms that he worked as a wagon driver. That these tax records are from Albemarle County also shows that Lott stayed close to Frankey during the 9 years he worked to earn the 42 pounds to buy her freedom.
What happened to Frankey and Lott after 1801? In the tax records for 1803, 1805, 1806, and 1807 there are references to Lott Saunders, a “free negro.” Is this the same Lott? Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing for certain and after that the trail grows cold. Searching for any traces of Frankey are especially difficult as court documents from a lawsuit in 1821 between members of the Carter family show that at least two women still enslaved on Carter plantations were named Frankey.
If Frankey and Lott remained in Virginia after Frankey’s emancipation they would have faced challenges. William Champe Carter refers to the “privileges” to which “emancipated slaves are entitled under the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia.” One of those “privileges” was constantly having to prove their freedom. The 1793 state law An Act for Regulating the Police of Towns in this Commonwealth, and to Restrain the Practice of Negroes Going at Large required free people of color to register with the towns where they worked or lived and pay a fee for a copy of their certificate of registration. This registration had to be renewed every year. If they could not produce their certificate they could be jailed indefinitely.
The story of Frankey and Lott is one of many glimpses of humanity and struggle (as well as oppression and cruelty) that can be found in the American Slavery documents collection. It is our hope that our efforts to individually catalog the documents will improve access and allow users to discover materials (and the lives that they reveal) by searching names, places, subjects, and document types in addition to browsing the digital collection. And in this process of discovery, connections will continue to be made, so that the humanity of lives lived, such as Frankey’s and Lott’s, will continue to be revealed and remembered.
Full transcription of Deed of Manumission
Transcript of recto:
To all whom these presents shall come, know ye that for divers good causes and considerations me hereunto moving, but more especially in consideration of the sum of forty two pounds to me in hand paid by Lott (the waggoner) who was liberated by my deceased father Edward Carter, esq., as well as in consideration of the meritorious services of she, the wife of the said Lott, named Frankey, I have emancipated and set at liberty, and by these presents do emancipate and set at liberty my said negro slave Frankey, giving her all the privileges and [?] to which emancipated slaves are entitled under the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia, given under my hand and seal, at the county of Albemarle, in the state of Virginia, this 25th day of June in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and one.
Signed, sealed, and delivered in the presence of [blanks for witnesses]
William Champe Carter
Transcript of verso:
At a court held for Albemarle County the 6th day of July 1801 this deed of manumission from Wm Champe Carter to Negroe Frankey was produced into court and acknowledged by Wm Champe Carter party thereto and ordered to be recorded
 The Carters of Blenheim: a genealogy of Edward and Sarah Champe Carter of “Blenheim” Albemarle County, Virginia. [Richmond, Va. : Garrett & Massie], 1955.
Post contributed by Liz Adams, Rare Materials Cataloger
“I don’t know when I’ve ever been so flattered to see so many people getting up this early in the morning.”
Lady Bird Johnson wasn’t exaggerating when she stumped for her husband’s presidential campaign in front of a crowd of 12,000 Durhamites on Wednesday, October 7th, 1964. It was 6:45 AM when a group of “early birds for Lady Bird” congregated to meet her at the Durham Parking Lot, brandishing free coffee and donuts. It was 7:04 AM when North Carolina politicians—including Terry Sanford (the governor and future president of Duke)—began their remarks. And it was 7:11 AM when the woman of the hour spoke behind Thalhimer’s department store in downtown Durham, highlighting the “present prosperity” of North Carolina, Lyndon B. Johnson’s familial connections to the state, and the Great Society he planned for the country.
To understand why Lady Bird Johnson stopped in Durham 56 years ago, we need to frame our story: It was 1964, and the Civil Rights Act (CRA) had just gone into effect on July 2nd. According to Hersch & Shinall (2014), the CRA “sought to improve access to voting, public accommodations, and employment as well as improve the overall status of individuals discriminated against on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin” (p. 425). At its heart, the CRA sought to create equalities where none existed, especially for Black Americans. It was and is an important, imperfect piece of legislation, one that only passed after years of tragedy and occasional triumph, including the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, the March on Washington, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Jr. Relying on an uneasy coalition of Republican and Democrat votes, Lyndon B. Johnson plowed the CRA through Congress. Southern Democrats and the Republican nominee for president, Barry Goldwater, stood in opposition (Hersch & Shinall, 2014).
Lady Bird Johnson believed in the CRA and her husband. Just as relevant to our story, she was also a native Texan and is quoted saying—in a piece for PBS NewsHour by Judy Woodruff—that she was “proud of the South” and “proud that [she was] part of the South” (2014). Lady Bird Johnson thus knew she needed to act. And so as Meredith Hindley documents in “Lady Bird Special,” on October 6th, she climbed aboard a train named the Lady Bird Special and embarked on a Whistle Stop Tour, a four-day trip winding through eight Southern states. Liaising with local politicians and their partners, she shored up support for the CRA, defended her husband’s past decisions, and fought for his future plans. In total, she gave 47 speeches and traveled over 1600 miles. Occasionally her path intersected with Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign trail, but for the most part, she travelled alone or with her daughters. Finally, on October 9th, 1964, the Lady Bird Special arrived in New Orleans, La., and the President and First Lady of the United States reunited (Hindley, 2013).
28 days later, on Tuesday, November 3rd, 1964, Americans went to the polls. In a landslide victory, Lyndon B. Johnson won 44 states (and Washington, D.C.), 15 million more votes than Barry Goldwater, and 486 Electoral College votes (Levy, 2019). And although five of the six states he lost were in the South, there was a southern state he didn’t lose: North Carolina (Levy, 2019).
Lady Bird’s Whistle Stop: Durham, NC: 10/7/64, 7:04 AM, Sound Recordings of Lady Bird Johnson’s Whistle Stop Campaign Tour, 10/6/1964-10/9/1965, Records of the White House Communications Agency, LBJ Presidential Library, viewed via YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fyDOFkmGg8
Post contributed by Brooke Guthrie, Research Services Librarian.
You may have noticed (and we really hope that you have) that campus life is a bit different in Fall 2020. We’re all wearing masks, washing our hands, and obsessively monitoring our symptoms. We’ve also spent at least a few minutes speculating on the many unknowns—including the possibility of a coronavirus vaccine and how it might be distributed to the Duke community. The Duke Compact asks students, staff, and faculty to pledge to “Get the flu shot and other required vaccinations by designated deadlines.” And that made us wonder about the history of vaccinations at Duke.
You can learn a lot about Duke history from the Duke Chronicle and its predecessor, the Trinity Chronicle. Luckily for us, issues of the newspaper from 1905 to 2000 have been digitized by Duke University Libraries and can be fairly easily searched. Searching the newspaper reveals that campus-wide vaccination efforts are nothing new to Duke. Here are a few of the examples we found.
We’ll start by going way, way back to a time before Duke was called Duke. In 1914, during the Trinity College days, a vaccine against typhoid fever was offered to students, faculty, and their families. In addition to announcing the availability of the vaccine, the Trinity Chronicle published information on the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine as well as the number of deaths caused by typhoid in the state (about 1,200 each year). The article ends by noting that the administration “is anxious to see a large number of students avail themselves of the opportunity to obtain immunity from typhoid.”
A little over a decade later, in 1928, students were asked to get a smallpox vaccine. The very short announcement suggests that vaccination is no big deal: “the nurse will give the vaccines in a few minutes, and it will all be over.” Although noting that there were no serious cases on campus, the article says that six students were confined and lists their names. (Reporting campus illnesses and including the names of the ill was a fairly common practice back then.)
Polio was perhaps one of the most troubling diseases in the mid-twentieth century and the widespread concern was justified. In 1948, the worst year for polio in North Carolina, 2,516 cases and 143 deaths were reported in the state. In October of 1950, a Duke undergraduate named Daniel Rathbun died after contracting polio and spending two weeks in an iron lung at Duke Hospital. When a polio vaccine became available in 1955, vaccination campaigns were held throughout the country. In October of 1956, the Duke Chronicle announced that student health would offer the vaccine to all under 45 years old. For students, the vaccine cost $3.00. The article discusses what is known about the relatively new vaccine, emphasizes the importance of getting vaccinated, and notes that previously most college students were required to get vaccinated for typhoid fever (as if to say “why should this be any different?”).
Efforts to vaccinate campus continued through the rest of the 20th century. In the mid-1970s, an outbreak of swine flu in the United States led to a nationwide vaccination drive. In November of 1976, Duke announced that it had 5,000 shots available to students and staff. In the 1980s, measles was a cause for concern on campus. In March 1985, the Chronicle published a large notice to let unvaccinated students know that “YOU NEED TO BE VACCINATED NOW.” A few years later in January 1989, a statewide outbreak spread to campus and Duke quickly “issued more stringent vaccination requirements” for both students and staff. Soon after Duke issued the new requirements, all unvaccinated students and staff were excluded from campus for two weeks. Staff were told to stay home. Students were barred from campus housing and had their Duke cards deactivated.
There are many other examples of vaccination efforts in Duke’s history—the campus-wide distribution of the annual flu vaccine is one we’re all familiar with and, in 1999, students were encouraged to get a hepatitis B vaccine with a hip Chronicle advertisement that said “Hepatitis B is a very uncool thing” and the vaccine will keep you from “turning an embarrassing shade of yellow.”
If you’re interested in exploring this history more, try searching digitized issues of the Duke Chronicle or get in touch with our helpful staff. And, while we have your attention, make sure to get your flu vaccine this year!
Post contributed by Craig Breaden, Audiovisual Archivist
Radio Haiti on YouTube? Now there’s an idea…. When the Radio Haiti team at the Rubenstein Library embarked on a pilot project to see how the collection would perform on YouTube and the Internet Archive, we imagined it would be a fairly straightforward process, and that it was a natural fit. The idea for the pilot, funded as part of an NEH grant, came from discussions around how to effectively re-broadcast the archive. “Take the archive to its listeners,” was a rallying cry, “to Haitians in Haiti!” This approach captured the spirit of Radio Haiti, whose tireless advocacy for democracy in Haiti was brought to a halt only by assassinations and death threats carried out under an umbrella of impunity. With our pilot now complete, we are left with some expectations unfulfilled, some questions still unresolved. But even so, we learned a lot about the process, while enjoying one unqualified success.
If research libraries are square pegs, YouTube is the round hole. Librarians and archivists love metadata, YouTube loves “views.” Researchers and users love a good search tool, YouTube loves to put your eyes on ads. The differences between the missions of an ad-supported social media platform and a dot-EDU library have the potential to obscure the common goal of content delivery. We knew using YouTube, if not exactly a deal with a devil, demanded compromise and creative thinking. The first challenge was finding workflows that we could apply to the entire archive, including batch conversion of audio to video and bulk uploading of content and metadata. It was with the metadata where we started running into trouble. With paltry character limits on titles, descriptions, and keywords, YouTube left us scratching our head (when video is clearly the data hog, how does text get such short shrift?) and scrambling for a solution to provide adequate description for the recordings. The situation seemed especially acute because our Radio Haiti metadata is trilingual (English, Haitian Creole, French), and takes a lot of text space to accommodate our anticipated user populations. Ultimately we built in a default: every description that exceeded the 5000-character limit had an ellipsis added to the end along with a link to the Duke Digital Repository (DDR) page for that recording, so that, on YouTube, we still depended on the Library resource for full description.
The Internet Archive, as its name might suggest, was far more accommodating, offering robust metadata fields without the ads or YouTube’s relentless “Up Next” pushiness. It has the spirit and ethic of our great public libraries, with a dedication to the public weal. Radio Haiti would be far from its first radio archive, and its mission, like any real archive’s, is long-term preservation. There were only two downsides to the Internet Archive platform, and the first one it shared with YouTube: There was no way to group related recordings (for example, multipart programs) via a relator metadata field in the upload spreadsheet. That work would have to be done “manually,” in the description field, which might not be a big deal if there were 100 or so recordings, but the Radio Haiti Archive has 5,308 audio files. Needless to say, the relationships between files that our DDR could make would not be replicated on these platforms. The second, more obvious downside, is that for all its virtues the Internet Archive just doesn’t have the audiences that YouTube, media titan, boasts.
And that one unqualified, and unexpected, success? Our team of developers, driven by this pilot project to compress the digital footprint of Duke Digital Repository pages, thus decreasing load times in areas with limited digital infrastructure, made successful modifications repository-wide to the DDR. Data transfer required for a first-time visit was cut to as much as one sixth of the original size, meaning users’ browsers could render the site much faster and, in Haiti, where mobile data transfer is limited by plans that are typically purchased daily, more cheaply. So, while allowing faster load times in Haiti for our re-broadcasting of the Radio Haiti Archive, they also made the DDR as a whole more efficient. For me, this is a great example of a specific need driving innovation. The Radio Haiti project improved the delivery of Duke University Libraries’ digital resources while also providing the opportunity for our team to see both the trees and the forest in our work.
The processing of the Radio Haiti Archive and the Radio Haiti Archive digital collection were made possible through grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Post contributed by Ayanna Legros Doctoral Student in the History Department at Duke
In New York City, Radio Haïti-Inter staff joined musicians, writers, professionals, and other Haitian exiles who had fled the Duvalier regime (1957-1986). Barbershops, cafés, bookstores, churches and street corners became stages for Haitians to passionately debate politics and the future of the nation. While newspapers such as Haïti Observateur,Haïti Tribune, Haïti Progrès, and Sèl circulated around the Upper West Side of Manhattan, offering exiles room to present opinions, radio provided members of the Haitian community a sonic space to grapple with the realities of their homeland while also discussing strategies for combatting racism, xenophobia, sexism, classism, and the linguistic privileging of the French language over Kreyòl. Kreyòl – the national language of Haitians – connected exiles across differing class and educational statuses. While some radio programs operated with licensing, others bypassed state and institutional regulation to avoid surveillance and penalization for usage of airwaves.
One radio station that rose to prominence was Lè Ayisyen, a Haitian Creole radio show run out of Columbia University between 1969 – 2002. Like Radio Haïti Inter, Lè Ayisyen staffers and volunteers understood that Haiti’s issues had to be interconnected with the democratic struggles of Central American, Caribbean, Latin American, and African nations. Conflict in nations ranging from Nicaragua to Eritrea were documented and shared with the community. The founder of the program, Lionel Legros, stated during an oral history interview that he wanted listeners to understand “The United States was not going to save Haiti.” In other words, Haitians should to be cautious of U.S. involvement in the region – Haitian exiles were aware that Cold War politics dictated the U.S.’ rapport with its Caribbean neighbor.
In November 1981, one year after living in New York in exile, Jean Dominique participated in an interview with Daniel Huttinot on Lè Ayisyen. Huttinot asked Dominique about his silence, the state of Haiti, and his perception of democratic movements. Dominique replied with messages of hope in the diaspora while also expressing frustration in lacking his own station. After two years, Jean Dominique came back on the air, on a program called Radio Haiti in New York (Radyo Ayiti nan Nouyòk) on WNYE 91.5FM. a non-commercial independent radio station licensed through City University of New York (CUNY). Co-hosted by Jean Dominique and Anthony Pascal (aka Konpè Filo), the program surveyed issues impacting the everyday lives of Haitians in the early 1980s such as immigration, HIV/AIDS stigma, and the murder of Firmin Joseph, founder of the weekly newspaper Tribune d’Haïti.
Daniel Huttinot many years later recalls the impact of Lè Ayisyen on the Haitian community in New York stating that they had “loyal listeners” for years and would regularly host Haitian exiles on their program seeking to share about their experiences back home. Further discussion about the collection with researcher Jennifer Garcon, PhD, as well as Radio Haïti-Inter archivist, Laura Wagner, PhD, demonstrate the force of radio within the Caribbean and the diaspora. Laura and I for several Saturdays went through the Lè Ayisyen collection and unbeknownst to us discovered many Radio Haïti in New York cassettes, adding to the robust collection already housed at Duke. These cassettes offer valuable information about Reagan’s policies in Central American and the Caribbean countries and the enormous contributions of exile voices to the ousting of Jean-Claude Duvalier 7 February 1986.
Radio Haïti in New York tapes will soon be digitized and made available. The vast majority of Lè Ayisyen’s collection remains independent and unprocessed. Both collections will offer researchers access to an important chapter in New York City Haitian migration history. Bridging the Lè Ayisyen archive with Radio Haïti Inter’s fills an important gap in the Radio Haïti Archive. Values such as tèt ansanm (heads together) and collaborative working practices in archival preservation and academic work are continued necessities particularly in the rapidly paced digital age in which data collection and digitization present libraries and researchers a new set of challenges. The practice of tèt ansanm by historians, archivists, and data collectors will continue to be necessary in order to create solutions for the impending challenges of the digital age.
 Demme, Jonathan, director. The Agronomist. 2003.
 Legros, Lionel, phone interview, April 20, 2019
Post contributed by Paula Jeannet, Visual Materials Processing Archivist at the Rubenstein Library
“Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am,
Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary,
Looks down, is erect, or bends an arm on an impalpable certain rest,
Looking with side-curved head curious what will come next,
Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it.
Backward I see in my own days where I sweated through fog with
linguists and contenders,
I have no mockings or arguments, I witness and wait.”
Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself,” Section 4
June 23, 2019 marked the 30th anniversary of photographer William Gedney’s death in New York City in 1989 at the young age of 56. Gedney’s career spanned a time of great changes in American society and elsewhere, and in his photographs he captures the vitality and promise of those decades as well as the counterweights of social isolation and poverty. A lover of literature, he found early inspiration for his work in another New Yorker: Walt Whitman. Like Whitman, Gedney was fascinated by people in all their complexity and was an exceptional portraitist, using his camera rather than a pen; like Whitman, he was especially drawn to street life and crowds. The full extent of Gedney’s preoccupation with Whitman can be more fully explored through the photographer’s archive; for now, this blog post will indicate some starting points in the collection.
Born in 1932, Gedney grew up in rural Greenville, New York, in the Hudson River Valley. As a child, his family took him to visit relatives in the big city, and ultimately he studied art at Pratt Institute and moved into a cold-water flat in Brooklyn in the mid-1950s. While working as a commercial photographer to pay the bills and cover darkroom expenses, he roamed Brooklyn neighborhoods, his camera loaded with black-and-white film. Many of the images capture daily life and the inhabitants of Myrtle Avenue, where he lived. He continued this documentary work for the rest of his life.
In 1966, William Gedney’s photographic life took flight: he traveled to Kentucky (twice), cross country to California (also twice), then across the ocean to Ireland, England, Paris (twice again), and India, also twice. Brooklyn always drew him back.
Sometime around 1968 or 1969, perhaps inspired by Whitman’s interest in celebrating and documenting urban street life, he began a consuming project to uncover the history of Myrtle Avenue from its beginnings in the 18th century, using newspapers and literary sources, including the Brooklyn Eagle, for which Whitman served as editor, writing copious notes and pasting clippings in two volumes, Myrtle Avenue 1 and 2 – another habit he would continue throughout his life. Some of his notes include transcripts of Whitman poems:
At some point (probably earlier than 1969), he discovered that Walt Whitman had lived in Brooklyn, on 99 Ryerson Street, just a few blocks from Gedney’s neighborhood on Myrtle Avenue. While living at that address, Whitman published his ground-breaking epic poem Leaves of Grass in June 1855.
Although it’s not clear when the idea first came to him, in 1969 Gedney began to create the layout for a project to combine Whitman’s verses with his own photographs of New York City. In one of his notebooks, titled only with the year 1969, he writes about “the bridge” photographs, and of framing them with Hart Crane’s poem “The Bridge.”
A few months later, in the same notebook, Gedney writes “I think the bridge pictures would be best paired with Whitman’s Brooklyn Ferry poem under the overall title ‘Brooklyn Crossing.’ His poem is the one I was most under the influence at the time.” The Brooklyn Bridge book maquette in the Gedney archive contains no accompanying texts; however, during the recent Rubenstein project to rehouse and digitize the Gedney archive, the lead archivist came across this item hiding out in a box of oversize materials:
Sometime around 1970, Gedney again turned to Whitman’s verses, this time selecting the poem “I wander all night in my vision” to introduce his planned book of night photographs taken in India. Clearly Whitman was still on his mind and informing his work.
I had thought Gedney’s connection to Whitman largely remained unexamined, with the exception of Margaret Sartor’s comments in her seminal book introducing Gedney and his archive to the world: What Was True: the Photographs and Notebooks of William Gedney (W.W. Norton, 2000). Then, while researching this blog post, I discovered Mark Turner’s book, Backward Glances: Cruising the Queer Streets of NY and London (Reaktion Books: London, 2003), which in the context of the phenomenon of male cruising, discusses the remarkable parallels between Gedney and Whitman. The two clearly favored male liaisons, and this orientation was reflected to some degree in their poetic and artistic work. Beginning in 1975, Gedney began extensively documenting the exuberant gay pride parades as well as street hustlers in San Francisco and New York, until a few years before his death. At the same time, he was intensely private about his personal life, never fully coming out even to his closest friends.
“…as I pass, O Manhattan! your frequent and swift flash of eyes offering me love,
Offering me the response of my own–these repay me,
Lovers, continual lovers, only repay me.”
Walt Whitman, “Calamus 18”
Like William Gedney, Walt Whitman also celebrates an anniversary in 2019: he was born 200 years ago on May 31, 1819. Many events have been planned in his honor: http://waltwhitmaninitiative.org/
It’s easy to imagine that he would have been intrigued by Gedney’s photography and pleased at the idea of a publication of Brooklyn images prefaced by his own verses.
Sadly, it was not to be: Gedney bequeathed the world a body of compelling, eloquent photographic work, but his many book projects remained unpublished, with only the book maquettes in the archive as evidence of Gedney’s hopeful plans. Perhaps with the right editor, these two artists will be joined again as Gedney had imagined.
“These and all else were to me the same as they are to you,
I loved well those cities, loved well the stately and rapid river,
The men and women I saw were all near to me,
Others the same—others who look back on me because I look’d forward to them,
(The time will come, though I stop here to-day and to-night.)”
Walt Whitman, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” stanza 4
Note about the Gedney Collection: Although William Gedney’s work was still largely undiscovered by mainstream audiences at the time of his death in 1989, it stood on the cusp of an awakening, thanks primarily to the efforts of close friends Maria and Lee Friedlander, and John Sarkowski, curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art. Eventually the entire Gedney archive — over 49,000 photographs, negatives, artwork, and papers – came to Duke University’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, and is now being digitized in its entirety (the finished prints and contact sheets are already available online). You can learn more about the collection by visiting the collection guide online.
Post contributed by [Matthew] Farrell, Digital Records Archivist.
I last wrote about harvesting Twitter for the archives way back in April 2016. Toward the end of that post I expressed our ambivalence toward access, essentially being caught between what Twitter allows us to do, what is technologically possible, and (most importantly) our ethical obligations to the creators of the content. Projects like Documenting the Now were just starting their work to develop community ethical and technological best practices in social media harvesting. For these reasons, we halted work on the collecting we had done for the University Archives, monitoring the technological and community landscape for further development.
February 2019 saw the 50th Anniversary of the Allen Building Takeover, when a number of Duke students occupied the Allen Building to bring attention to the needs of African-American students and workers on campus (here is a much better primer on the takeover). There were a number of events on campus to commemorate the takeover on campus, both in the Rubenstein Library and elsewhere. As is de rigueur for academic events these days, organizers decided on an official hashtag, which users could use to tweet comments and reactions. Like we did in 2016, we harvested the tweets associated with the hashtag. Unlike 2016, community practice has evolved enough to point to a path forward to contextualizing and providing access to the harvested tweets. We also took the time to update the collection we harvested in 2016 in order to have the Twitter data consistent.
In terms of technology, we use twarc a tool and Python library created by DocNow, to harvest and process Twitter content. Twarc interacts with the Twitter API and produces output files in JSON format. The image here is an example of JSON, which is clearly not human readable, but is perfect for machine processing as a data set.
But twarc also allows the user to work with the JSON in different ways. Some of these are obviously useful–e.g., you can create a basic HTML version of the data set.
Those funky characters are because twarc has a hard time encoding emoji. These web comics (here and here) are not full explanations, but point to some of the issues present. If you take nothing else from this, observe that you can somewhat effectively obscure the archival record if you communicate solely in emoji.
Finally, for our ability to offer access in a way that both satisfies Twitter’s Terms of Service and Developer Agreement, twarc allows us deyhdrate a data set and respect the wishes of the creator of a given tweet. “Dehydration” refers to creating a copy of the data set that removes all of the content except for Twitter’s unique identifier for a tweet. This results in a list of Tweet IDs that an end user may rehydrate into a complete data set later. Importantly, any attempt to rehydrate the data set (using twarc or another tool), queries Twitter and only returns results of tweets that are still public. If a user tweeted something and subsequently deleted it, or made their account private, that tweet would be removed from rehydrated data set even if the tweet was originally collected.
What does this all mean for our collections in the University Archives? First, we can make a dehydrated set of Twitter data available online. Second, we can make a hydrated set of Twitter data available in our reading room, with the caveat that we will filter out deleted or private content from the set before a patron accesses it. Offering access in this way is something of a compromise: we are unable to gain proactive consent from every Twitter user whose tweets may end up in our collections nor is it possible to fully anonymize a data set. Instead we remove material that was subsequently deleted or made private, thereby only offering access to what is currently publicly available. That ability, coupled with our narrow scope (we’re harvesting content on selected topics related to the Duke community in observance of Twitter’s API guidelines), allows us to collect materials relevant to Duke while observing community best practices.
What: Radio Haiti Project Culminating Event: A Conversation with Michéle Montas
When: 5:30 PM, Thursday, April 11
Where: Ahmadieh Family Lecture Hall, Bay 4 (C105) Smith Warehouse, 114 S Buchanan BLVD, Durham, NC 27701
Haitian journalist and human rights activist Michéle Montas discusses the legacy of Radio Haïti-Inter, Radio Haiti’s archive at Duke’s Rubenstein Library, and the past, present, and future of justice and impunity in Haiti. With additional remarks by Laurent Dubois, Radio Haiti project archivist Laura Wagner, and AV archivist Craig Breaden. Light refreshments. Free and open to the public.
The processing of the Radio Haiti Archive and the Radio Haiti Archive digital collection were made possible through grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University