Category Archives: Digital Collections

Radio Haiti on YouTube? An Archive in the World

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.

View the YouTube pilot here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLUqSmRQNALyrAMYxV44JOQ/videos

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.

View the Internet Archive Pilot here: https://archive.org/details/radiohaiti

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.

Radio Haiti and NEH logos

Documenting Radio Haïti-Inter’s Time in Exile (1981-1986) Using Lè Ayisyen’s Archive

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.”[2] 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.

Document about the Duvalier regime and repression of Haitian journlalists
Source: Radio Haïti Archives
Duke University

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.[3] 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.

Cassette tapes
Some recovered Radio Haïti New York tapes found in L’Heure Haïtienne’s Collection
Labeled: Jan ak Filo (Jean and Filo) or Radio Haïti Nan Nouyòk (Radio Haïti in New York)

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.[4] 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.

Patrick Elie, Lionel Legros, Jean Dominique
Patrick Elie, Lionel Legros, Jean Dominique ((Jean Dominique’s second exile in the 1990’s)
New York City

 

 

[1] Demme, Jonathan, director. The Agronomist. 2003.

[2] Legros, Lionel, phone interview, April 20, 2019

[3] Huttinot, Daniel, interview, August 2, 2017

[4] Lara Putnam, The Transnational and the Text-Searchable: Digitized Sources and the Shadows They Cast, The American Historical Review, Volume 121, Issue 2, April 2016, Pages 377–402, https://doi-org.proxy.lib.duke.edu/10.1093/ahr/121.2.377

I Wander all Night in My Vision: Commemorating William Gedney and Walt Whitman

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.

Black and white photograph with elevated railway on Myrtle Ave in Brooklyn
Myrtle Avenue, May 5, 1969, 4:45 pm [taken from Gedney’s apartment window].  Print RL10032-P-1580-6682-08.   From this vantage point, Gedney also documented the demolition of the elevated railway soon after its closure in October 1969.  William Gedney photographs and papers, © David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Black and white photograph of two boys
Caption: Brooklyn, 1955-1959. Print RL10032-P-B14-75-21. William Gedney photographs and papers, © David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Person with their arms out wide and head thrown back, perhaps smiling.
O’Rourke’s, January 9, 1960. Print RL10032-P-0057-0589-43. William Gedney photographs and papers, © David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

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:

Two pages from Gedney's journal from 1969.
Myrtle Avenue, Book 1, pages 6-7. Transcription of Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road,” Leaves of Grass.

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.”

Black and white photograph of the Brooklyn bridge.
Brooklyn Bridge, circa 1959, Print RL10032-P-0008-0076-30. William Gedney photographs and papers, © David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

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:

Stanza 2 of Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” in Gedney’s own hand. William Gedney photographs and papers, © David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

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.

Man asleep on a ledge in an alley at night
Benares, India, 1969-1971. Print RL10032-P-BE121-0950-26. William Gedney photographs and papers, © David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Whitman quote of "I wander all nigh in my vision"
Layout page from planned photobook of night photography from Benares, India, circa 1980. William Gedney photographs and papers, © David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

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”

Men sitting on the grass, one man with his head resting on the lap of another
June 25, 1978, New York City, gay march, Central Park. Print RL10032-P-1876-9617-07. William Gedney photographs and papers, © David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Man with unbuttoned shirt standing on street near strip club.
No known title, 1969. Proof print, contact sheet 1588. William Gedney photographs and papers, © David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

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

No known title, circa 1968. Print RL10032-P-1537-6255-32. Tree in foreground, Walt Whitman’s tomb in background, Camden, New Jersey. William Gedney photographs and papers, © David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

 


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.

Offering Access to Social Media Archives

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.

JSON output from twarc. Yikes, y’all.

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.

Much better.

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.

Dehydrated Twitter data. These can be rehydrated into complete Twitter data using twarc or other tools.

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.

Event: Radio Haiti Culminating Event with Haitian Journalist and Human Rights Activist Michèle Montas

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.Poster for Radio Haiti Event

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.

Radio Activism and the Politics of Grassroots Change

Post contributed by Jennifer Garcon, Bollinger Fellow in Public and Community Data Curation at Penn Libraries

One morning in July 1965, an unfamiliar voice radiated from the transistor radios of Port-au-Prince residents. Rather than hearing pre-recordings of President-for-Life, François Duvalier, residents heard the dissenting voices of exiles based in New York. The program, La Voix de l’Union Haïtienne Internationale, would become known as Radio Vonvon.  While they must have immediately recognized the dangers of tuning in, people unearthed radios hidden in kitchens and in bathrooms, and continued to listen to the clandestine program each Sunday, “to listen to words of hope about one day ending this nightmare, in the words of New York-based Haitian journalist Ricot Dupuy. This, I argue, was a political act.

My doctoral research explores how journalists deployed various media strategies to mobilize their audiences against dictatorship in Haiti. I centralize broadcasting because, I argue, 1) radio was, and in many places, remains a powerful cultural force; 2) the medium was easily accessible and widely available, and thus had unparalleled democratic appeal and influence; and 3) radio, unlike print media, does not require literacy as a prerequisite for participation. Radio, particularly Kreyòl language broadcasting, was a platform that embodies equity and democratized politics; and vernacular radio archives reflect this inclusion.

From a material culture standpoint, reduced cost and increased post-WWII supply transformed radio technology into a crucial instrument of struggle in Cold War Latin America, and elsewhere in the Global South. As historian Alejandra Bronfman reminds us in Isles of Noise: Sonic Media in the Caribbean, “the sounds of radio are [by their very nature of production and dissemination] ephemeral.” For that reason alone, the comprehensiveness of the Radio Haiti Records are indeed exceptional.

Using a sampling of the approximately 5300 recordings and 191 boxes of paper documents that constitute the Radio Haiti archives —  spanning  field reports, editorials, investigative reports, in-studio interviews, and special programming —  I built an argument that reframes the everyday activities of ordinary people as political activity and agitation.

Investigating radio listening as a form of political engagement allows for a more granular examination of the transformation of civil society that I argue occurred between 1971 and 1987, during the presidency of Jean-Claude Duvalier and in the immediate aftermath of his fall from power. This, I contend, challenges the scholarly interpretations that mischaracterize peasants as politically inert throughout much of the Duvalier era, until the killing of three schoolboys in Gonaïves on November 28, 1985 (the Twa Flè Lespwa, or Three Flowers of Hope). In contrast, my research charts broad domestic ferment on the air-waves. Radio media, in addition to independent vernacular print outlets, offered a space where dispersed sectors of the Haitian population could critique and challenge state power. Radio records have helped to offer insights into patterns of open opposition to government excess that predate the 1985 killings. These included reactions to the murder of the young journalist Gasner Raymond, who was killed after investigating workers’ strikes at the state-owned cement factory in 1976;  rice farmers’ revolts against repressive local Macoutes in the Artibonite between 1977 and 1979; peasant farmers’ and workers’ opposition to Reynolds Haitian Mines in Miragoâne; attempted coups in 1981 and 1982, and anti-government bombings between 1980 and 1983.

Radio programming offered a discursive public space in which to practice one’s politics, where few other avenues remained. Having grown used to practicing forbidden forms of citizenship on the airwaves, this radio activism soon moved onto the streets. In the popular movement that uprooted Duvalierism, the Haitian majority– Kreyòl speaking peasant farmers, agricultural day laborers, and urban workers—who had once formed bases of support for the regime now demanded the end of the dictatorship. I plot the emergence of a nearly decade and a half long grassroots political movement against Jean-Claude Duvalier by examining radio media to show  how ordinary people first negotiated the terms of their citizenship within an authoritarian system, and later struggled to uproot that system in its entirety.

The complete audio archive of Radio Haiti will soon be available to the public via Duke’s Digital Repository, which will be an unparalleled resource for historians and other researchers interested in radio, political resistance, and the circulation of information in Haiti and in the Haitian diaspora.

When Beale Street Spoke in Haiti: From Port-au-Prince to the Oscars

This is a guest blog post by Nathan Dize, a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of French and Italian at Vanderbilt University specializing in Haitian literature and history.

Cover of Baldwin's novel, "If Beale Street Could Talk"
First edition of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk.

Twenty-eight days after the passing of James Baldwin, on December 28, 1987, Haitian writers Jan J. Dominique and Yanick Lahens and their cohost, bookseller Monique Lafontant, paid homage to the African American writer with a discussion of the significance of his novel If Beale Street Could Talk on Radio Haïti Inter’s weekly cultural program, Entre Nous. Set in New York City, the novel focuses on the lives of childhood friends-turned-lovers Tish and Fonny as they prepare to welcome their first child. The two are suddenly separated when Fonny is arrested and accused for the alleged rape of a Puerto Rican woman. Tish narrates the story as both her and Fonny’s families attempt to prove the young Black man’s innocence. Yanick Lahens begins with her review of the book, followed by a brief discussion of Baldwin’s literary career.

For Lahens, Beale Street is a “faithful and realistic portrait” of the generation of the Great Migration where African Americans moved to northern and industrial cities in the Midwest as a response to the tightening of Jim Crow legislation and racial violence in the South. More importantly, Lahens explains that the literary strength of the novel lies in the way it presents an “evolution of hope or extreme despair” as the plot unfolds. She argues that readers never completely slip into despair, yet readers cannot enjoy hopeful moments long enough to sustain a sense of optimism that Fonny will ever be freed from prison.

Photograph of James Baldwin.
Back cover of James Balwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk.

In recent weeks, If Beale Street Could Talk has again been on the tips of critics’ tongues as Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of the novel was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay. Critics of Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-nominated adaptation of Beale Street have also focused on Baldwin’s ability to productively operate between the poles of hope and despair. While some reviewers bristle at how some of the novel’s more severe moments, like Tish and Fonny’s first sexual encounter, “shimmer romantically in Jenkins’ film,” other parts of the film faithfully reach for Baldwin’s depth of blues and melancholy. Back in 1987, Yanick Lahens explained that readers immediately encounter despair “from the first lines [of the novel] we see that this young man will never leave prison.”[1] Baldwin’s novel exposes the “judiciary machine” in the United States that gives the semblance of hope, but that will ultimately never let him go or leave the two families unscathed.[2]

Towards the end of her review, Lahens explains that the accents, the sounds, the feelings of the blues permeate Baldwin’s writing. These “accents of the blues” in Beale Street are found in the characters’ despair and bitterness in the face of Fonny’s imprisonment. In an essay from his collection Nobody Knows My Name, James Baldwin writes about his discovery of the language of the blues through the music of Bessie Smith, which Lahens reads in French:

“It was Bessie Smith, through her tone and her cadence, who helped me to dig back to the way I myself must have spoken when I was a pickaninny, and to remember the things I had heard and seen and felt. I had buried them very deep […] I had never listened to Bessie Smith in America (in the same way that, for years, I never touched watermelon), but in Europe she helped me to reconcile myself to being a ‘nigger.’”

Photo of audio cassette tape.
Tape from the Radio-Haiti show Entre Nous. The title reads “Prix Deschamps 1987” (Jacques Godart) et Baldwin.

Some critics have claimed that Barry Jenkins’ adaptation is a failure, that Baldwin deserves better. “Is [Jenkins’] movie too beautiful?” Doreen St. Félix writes for the New Yorker. St. Félix agrees that film adaptations do not have to remain faithful to the text; they are adaptations, after all. But, the point where Lahens’ reading of Baldwin’s blues coincides with Jenkins’ film is perhaps best captured when Fonny’s old friend, the good-natured and affable Daniel, played by Brian Tyree Henry, tells Fonny about his arrest. St. Félix explains that this scene “is washed in a darkness that is incongruous with the rest of the film’s palette.” In the novel, Baldwin sounds the depths of despair as Daniel confesses that he was gang-raped in prison, instead Jenkins renders this aesthetically with color saturation. In his own right, Henry’s portrayal of Daniel’s character had many critics calling for him to be nominated for the Best Supporting Actor category. Brian Tyree Henry expertly contrasts moments of superficial cheer with sullen, vacant looks through clouds of cigarette smoke to convey Daniel’s fractured dignity. Beyond Henry’s performance, Regina King’s wails from the streets of Viejo San Juan also supremely express what Lahens describes as “all the accents of the blues,” earning her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Still image of Brian Tyree Henry.
Brian Tyree Henry in If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) (Photo courtesy of Awardscircuit.com)

Baldwin’s discovery of the blues in the Swiss Alps is remarkable for Lahens, Dominique, and Lafontant who consider James Baldwin as a writer of the African American Diaspora. The three conclude the segment by comparing Baldwin to Haitian writers forced to flee the successive dictatorial regimes of François Duvalier and Jean-Claude Duvalier. For many of the journalists and employees of Radio Haïti Inter, forced exile remained an open wound as the station had just re-opened the previous year in October 1986. Decades later, when the radio station finally shuttered its doors, Jan J. Dominique herself would also eventually go into exile in Montreal in 2003, fleeing a violent climate towards the press that led to the assassination of her father, Radio Haiti director Jean Dominique, on April 3, 2000.

As I listened to this review on the eve of the 91st Academy Awards, I was reminded of the importance of James Baldwin in global expressions of Blackness in literature, how artists and writers have thought through and with Baldwin even after his passing. I am also reminded of the significance of the recording’s survival through the efforts of project archivist Laura Wagner and the other archivists, librarians, and graduate and undergraduates working at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The review of If Beale Street Could Talk is but the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, as a search in the Duke University Libraries Digital Repository leads to more than 4,000 individual recordings of cultural, historical, literary, and journalistic reportages from 1957-2003. At present, an excess of 4,800 of an approximate 5,300 recordings have been described and are either available or will be available online for listening this spring. So, as you process the results of this year’s Academy Awards, be sure to make a visit to the Radio Haiti Archives catalog and browse their collection that has just as much to do with Haiti’s past as it does with our cultural and historical present in 2019.

[1] “Dès la première ligne [du roman] on voit que ce bonhomme ne sortira pas de prison…”

[2] Yanick Lahens refers to the US judicial system a “machine judiciaire.”

War in Black and White: African American Soldiers’ Photograph Albums

Post contributed by Bennett Carpenter, John Hope Franklin Research Center Intern and PhD candidate in Literature

“Understand, sir, we are not asking for favors but as citizens of the United States and as members of her army we are asking redress for a wrong that has [been] so grievously and so flagrantly perpetrated against us. Yes we are her citizens but seemingly also present in the army of this great democracy are the forces that we might have seen in Nazi Germany when she was at her peak.”

So wrote a group of African American soldiers to their commanding officer to complain about discriminatory practices barring them from using the swimming pool on their military base. Stationed in occupied Japan, the soldiers were tasked, they went on to note, with defending democracy against the threat of authoritarianism; yet it did not seem as if “democracy” always defended them.

African American Soldiers in Occupied Japan

The letter, part of the Maynard Miller Photograph Album collection at the John Hope Franklin Research Center, helps document the complexity of the African American military experience. From the Revolutionary War through the present day, African Americans have fought and participated in every war in United States history. At times, military service offered African Americans opportunities for economic, professional and political advancement and escape from segregation and discrimination at home. At other times, however, racially discriminatory practices followed Black soldiers into service and denied them equal opportunities to advance, receive recognition and even to serve.

 

Now, with the digitization of the John Hope Franklin Research Center’s collection of African American Soldiers’ Photograph Albums, we can witness some of that complex history through the lens of Black soldiers themselves. The eight photograph albums in our holdings grant rich and fascinating insights into the African American military experience across several decades and continents.

Soldiers at Pool Facility in Munich, Germany

Along with the Maynard Miller Photograph Album, four other albums come from soldiers stationed abroad during World War Two. The Henry Heyliger Photograph Album likewise shows images of occupied Japan, while two other albums illustrate the experience of African-American soldiers in India and Italy. Finally, an album from Munich, Germany paints an interesting contrast with the discriminatory practices detailed by Miller, showing Black and white soldiers swimming together in an apparently unsegregated pool.

These contrasting experiences point to tectonic shifts in the Black military experience immediately before, during and after World War Two. Prior to the war, African Americans wishing to serve in the military had been largely restricted to support duties. In 1941, Black labor leader A. Philip Randolph threatened a mass march on Washington unless African Americans were granted equal opportunities, prompting President Franklin Roosevelt to lift racial restrictions on military service. While hundreds of thousands of Black soldiers subsequently served in the war, they were restricted to segregated units, such as the Tuskegee Airmen and the 761st Tank Battalion, popularly known as the Black Panthers. The armed forces would be ordered fully integrated by President Harry Truman in 1948, though the last segregated units persisted until 1954.

World War Two also led to another tectonic shift, as women other than nurses entered the American armed forces for the very first time. Our Women’s Army Corps Scrapbook includes fascinating early images of some of the very first women, both Black and white, to pass through the doors of the WAC Training School in Des Moines, Iowa. The second half of the scrapbook contains images of members of the 404th WAC band, the first and only all-women’s African American band in US military history.

Members of the 404th Women’s Army Corp Band

Providing Access to Radio Haiti Through Multilingual Metadata

Post contributed by Maggie Dickson, Metadata Architect, Digital Collections and Curation Services

As the metadata architect in the Digital Collections and Curation Services Department at Duke University Libraries, I have the opportunity to work on the design and development of many fabulous digital collections. This includes the Radio Haiti Archive, which has been one of the most interesting—and challenging—projects I’ve worked on throughout my 10+ years of working with digital collections.

Over the past few years, we’ve been standardizing our metadata practices across digital collections so that they will be more scalable and sustainable—we’ve learned the hard way that the more specialized a collection is, the more prone it is to breakages and difficulties over time. The Radio Haiti project needs are really specialized, and the metadata (description) is rich, granular, and multilingual. So, striking the right balance between standardization and specialization is definitely a challenge.

One of the foundational goals of the NEH grant we received for our work with Radio Haiti is to make sure that the collection is accessible to people in Haiti as well as the Haitian diaspora, and therefore we needed to provide description in three languages: English, Haitian Creole, and French. While we’d worked with metadata in multiple languages before, we’d never worked with trilingual content, and the technology we use to present and manage our digital collections doesn’t accommodate multilingual metadata in a sophisticated way. To get around this, rather than create lots of custom metadata fields just for this collection, we decided to use our standard fields, such as title, description, and subject, to store the multilingual content. The metadata displays in the item record and is keyword searchable and, in the case of subjects and formats, faceted. This isn’t the most elegant solution, but it works, and when the digital library community develops support for multilingual content, we will be ready!

Subject headings in English, French, and Haitian Creole.
Example multilingual subject headings.

 

Beyond figuring out how to present the metadata to users of the archive, it has also been an ongoing challenge to figure out how to manage the workflow for the development of the metadata—not only is it complex, it is voluminous! Created iteratively by project archivist Laura Wagner and her team of intrepid translators, the metadata passes through several hands and undergoes quite a few transformations before it is ready to go live on the website. Therefore, it has been critically important that we continuously review and revise our process to make sure nothing gets lost or distorted along the way. So many spreadsheets!

Spreadsheet with complex metadata.
An example snapshot of one of our many spreadsheets.

Through much careful consideration and many meetings with project staff, I think we’ve achieved a good balance between meeting project needs and being responsible to the long-term health and sustainability of this and other digital collections. That being said, we still recognize the inherent limitations to providing broad accessibility to this important content—despite the inclusion of multilingual metadata in the digital collection, it is still embedded in a predominantly English language website for an academic research institution located in the United States. And as project archivist Laura Wagner stated in an earlier blog post, “Radio Haiti’s digital archive is not only for scholars writing about Haiti; it isn’t even principally for them. It is for everyone.”

We’re experimenting with a few options to try to address this limitation, including engaging in ‘digital repatriation’ by distributing flash drives loaded with content to cultural heritage organizations in Haiti, standing up pilot collections of the content to reach a broader audience using YouTube and the Internet Archive, and improving the performance of the digital collection in low-bandwidth environments.

Working on the Radio Haiti Archive has been a challenge both in technological ways as well as how we think about collections, collecting, and access. Providing broad, equitable access to our digital collections, through our use of metadata and otherwise, is an intense and critical challenge, but one which we are beginning to tackle with intentionality and enthusiasm.

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.

Coming Out and Going Out Since 1940

Post contributed by Laurin Penland, Library Assistant for Technical Services

Update: Coming Out Day has been postponed due to rain and will be happening October 27th.

Photos, a card for a dance club, a clipping from a newspaper.
A page in the scrapbook dedicated to nightlife in New Orleans.

In celebration of Coming Out Day on October 11th, I would like to introduce our blog readers to a special scrapbook. Recently, the Rubenstein Library acquired and digitized the Joe H. Hernandez scrapbook. We do not know many biographical details about Hernandez. My esteemed colleague Allie Poffinberger cataloged the scrapbook and discovered that Hernandez “was born in 1924 and worked in the San Antonio General Depot between 1951-1954.” Other facts: he was an Army veteran; he attended night clubs and dance halls; he dressed in feminine and masculine clothing (I am using male pronouns here, though I do not know what this person’s preference might have been); he was probably a member of the LGBTQ and Hispanic communities.

A photo of Vine Street in Hollywood.
Billy Berg’s flyer, 1948.

Hernandez’s scrapbook is both intimate and wide in its scope. It shows a life full of friendship, romance, glamour, and travel. Early on in the scrapbook there is a souvenir flyer from Billy Berg’s, a night club in Hollywood. The flyer is dated 1948 and signed by musician and showman Slim Gaillard. After a little sleuthing, I found out that the club was known for being racially integrated and for being the first club on the West Coast to host Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Billy Holiday also performed there.

Photos and a matchbook.
A page in the scrapbook that features The Colony Bar in Kansas City.

Another souvenir in the scrapbook is a matchbook from The Colony Bar, an openly gay bar that existed in Kansas City, Missouri in the 1960s. It was the kind of place that threw Tea Dances and flashed the lights on and off when they were about to get busted. Oh, how I wish I knew more!

The ticket stubs, matchbooks, flyers, and signed photographs are enough to create a national map of LGBTQ life in the U.S. from the late 1940s to the 1960s. I wish that I had the time to create this map and to describe the nightlife in detail. I also want to know more about Joe H. Hernandez and his friends and family. So, if anyone’s out there, reading this, and you would like to do further research on this scrapbook, please do and please share your findings!

Also, I want to take a moment to appreciate all of my colleagues who acquired, described, preserved, and digitized this scrapbook. Thanks to you all, this scrapbook is now available for anyone in the world (who has internet access and/or can visit the reading room) to research.

And, Happy Coming Out Day! To learn more about the Rubenstein Library’s LGBTQ materials, please stop by and say hello at our table at the Bryan Center.

Two dancers.
A flyer from Club Babalu in Los Angeles.
Postcards, photographs, matchbooks.
A page in the scrapbook dedicated to Los Angeles.