Category Archives: From Our Collections

If These Saws Could Talk

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

“There may come to me fresh blooming flowers, but I’ll love the faded bud best.

For it slept one night in the moonlight, on the sod upon his breast.”

– Winifred Cobb, widow of Benjamin. F. Cobb

I am a little over a month into my internship at the History of Medicine Collections at the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. In my short time working in the collection, I’ve been able to handle incunabula (books printed prior to 1501), surgical tools dating back to the 16th century, and a wide range of artifacts preserving the history of medicine, health issues, biomedical science, and disease in a global context.

image showing open amputation set
Amputation set, early to mid-19th century.

A library science degree with a focus in special collections is a career change from my decade of experience working in K-12 education. Being a history teacher for most of my career I had always been interested in battlefield medicine, especially throughout American history and the Civil War(1861-1865).

For most people with an interest in Civil War history, the treatment of wounded and injured soldiers is of particular interest. A search of the History of Medicine artifacts collection will lead you to several surgical and amputation saws donated to the Rubenstein Library.  As I mentioned previously, one of the surgical saws dates back to the 16th century and could require two people to operate while the collection also houses an amputation saw from the late 1890s.

image of tourniquet included in amputation set that show the name of the manufacturer, S. Maw & Son.
Detail on tourniquet showing the name S. Maw & Son, a medical supply company.

Another surgical saw is titled: “Amputation set, early to mid-19th century”.  The set is made up of at least 8 different pieces including a large surgical saw, a tourniquet with leather paddings to make the procedure more “comfortable” and four large knives that more resemble a modern set of kitchen knives than ones used to amputate a soldier’s limb. The set comes in a wooden box with a brass plate and an engraving with initials: B.F.C. Its contents were purchased through S. Maw and Son – a medical supply company operating out of London and featured prominently on the saw and knife handles. The wooden set was donated through the Alphonsus Cobb Collection, son of Benjamin Franklin Cobb.

image of B.F. Cobb
B. F. Cobb

The youngest son of Benjamin F. and Winifred Cobb, Alphonsus moved to the city of Durham around the turn of the 20th century. Throughout his time in Durham, Alphonsus would serve as a hotel manager and local businessman in real estate and insurance until his death in 1935. A look through collection control files revealed a folder with a detailed history of the Cobb family, historical columns written in local newspapers, and a poem written by Winifred, Benjamin’s widow, on the day of his burial. Not much survives of his record in the Confederate Army nor is there much information about Alphonsus, except for information about his business history in Durham.

Dr. Josiah C. Trent, whose original collection of medical books, manuscripts and artifacts helped to establish the History of Medicine Collections, hoped to create a collection that celebrated and studied the history of surgery. No doubt an artifact such as an amputation saw from the Civil War era would be a good fit for the collection.

The battlefields of the American Civil War saw nearly 60,000 amputations, roughly 75% of all surgeries performed in the conflict. Used as a method to prevent disease and infections such as gangrene, survival could depend on factors such as the location of the wound and when treatment was administered.  Though rudimentary by today’s standards, amputations during the Civil War were “sophisticated” procedures conducted with patients under anesthesia (chloroform or ether) and  “one of the quickest, most effective ways for surgeons to treat as many patients as possible.” Still, the harsh conditions of performing surgeries in the battlefield hospitals led to the reputation of surgeons and doctors acting more like “butchers” and soldiers fearing the short and long-term ramifications of an amputation.

Detail of amputation saw and descriptive card included in amputation kit.

Our saw’s owner, Benjamin F. Cobb was born into a slave owning family (1830 Census)  in Wayne County, NC in January, 1826 and completed his medical training at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1847. The 1850s would see Dr. B.F. Cobb in a general medical practice with a focus on obstetrics in Duplin Co., NC. In April of 1862, a year into the Civil War, Dr. Cobb was commissioned as a surgeon in the Provisional Confederate Army and would serve across the state of North Carolina until the end of the Civil War. Dr. Cobb was stationed as a Confederate Surgeon in Goldsboro, Fort Anderson, Smithville, Penders Hospital, and Fort Caswell until his capture in March 1865 and eventual loyalty oath in May of 1865. One can only wonder whether the “Amputation set” in the History of Medicine Collections was present as Dr. Cobb attended to wounded soldiers.

surgical knife from amputation set held against a peron's arm for scale
Detail of surgical knife from amputation set. Human arm for scale.

Today, the amputation set owned by Benjamin F. Cobb and donated by Alphonsus to Duke University serves as a hands-on teaching tool for students at Duke University in learning the ways that surgery has evolved over the last few centuries.  When opening the finished and well designed wooden box holding the amputation saw and accompanying instruments, it’s easy to step back in history and imagine a world where physicians grappled with decisions regarding the need for an amputation and  the thousands of soldiers whose lives were forever changed by the war and surgical procedure.

Detail of amputation saw. Human arm for scale.

Franklin Research Center Commemorates 25 Years of Preserving “Black Lives in Archives”

Post contributed by John B. Gartrell, Director, John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History & Culture

The 2021-2022 academic year marks the 25th anniversary of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History & Culture. The Franklin Research Center, which is based in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, will use the theme “Black Lives in Archives” as the thread for a slate of programming and projects that will build upon the center’s mission of advancing scholarship on the history and culture of people of African descent.

The anniversary will begin on September 14 with a virtual lecture by Dr. Emilie Boone, Assistant Professor of African American Studies at New York City College of Technology, CUNY. Her talk will respond to the exhibition James Van Der Zee and Michael Francis Blake: Picturing Blackness in the 1920s, currently on display in the Rubenstein Library’s Photography Gallery. The exhibit highlights resonances between the work of James Van Der Zee and Michael Francis Blake, two African American photographers working in the 1920s at the height of the “New Negro Movement.” Register for this event here.

 

James Van Der Zee and Michael Francis Blake: Picturing Blackness in the 1920s. On display in the Rubenstein Library

 

Emilie Boone will lead a virtual lecture entitled, “Visualizing a Shared Ethos: Van Der Zee and Blake as Peers” on Sept. 14

Additional programs this semester will include a Black Lives in Archives virtual speaker series featuring four scholars who were previously awarded research travel grants to come to the Rubenstein Library and utilize the center’s collections. This “return to the archive” by each scholar will highlight the critical importance of Black collections as a foundation for new directions in the field of African and African American Studies. The tentative schedule includes:

September 22 – Brandon K. Winford, Associate Professor, University of Tennessee Knoxville

October 27 – Lisa Bratton, Assistant Professor, Tuskegee University

November 9 – Erik S. McDuffie, Associate Professor, University of Illinois Urbana- Champaign

December 8 – Emilye Crosby, Professor of History, SUNY-Geneseo

Earlier this summer, the center announced two exciting projects that will continue to drive the work of preserving the Black archives. “Documenting African American Life in the Jim Crow South: Digital Access to the Behind the Veil Project Archive” is a National Endowment for the Humanities grant-funded initiative to digitize and publish the Behind the Veil archive. The Behind the Veil project, which was led by the Center for Documentary Studies 1992-1995, was one of the largest oral history archives documenting the African American experience of living in the American South during the early to mid-twentieth century. The project will digitize analog cassette tapes containing close to 1,200 interviews with African American elders from twenty distinct communities. In Spring 2022, there will be a virtual gathering of Behind the Veil project staff and interviewers to reflect on their work and the impact of the collection.

The second project is a three-year Mellon Foundation funded project entitled, “Our Stories, Our Terms: Documenting Movement Building from the Inside Out,” which extends the partnership between Duke University Libraries and the SNCC Legacy Project through the Movement History Initiative. Our Stories, Our Terms will document how movement veterans from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and today’s activists built their social and political movements. The project will also build capacity for archival practice among current activist organizations and share documentary pieces from inter- and intra-generational conversations among activist and organizer communities.

In 1995, Dr. John Hope Franklin, the James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History at Duke University, donated his own personal archive to Duke. In his honor, the Duke University Libraries founded the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American Documentation as a designated collecting area specializing in rare book and primary sources documenting people of African descent, with endowment funding from GlaxoWellcome Inc. Franklin’s archive and his scholarship have been the guiding lights of the center’s engagement in public programming, teaching, exhibitions, and collaborations. This celebration of “Black Lives in Archives” will honor the center’s role as a premiere destination for researchers near and far over the last twenty-five years.

Dr. John Hope Franklin (1915-2009)

Taking Flight: The Pan American World Airways Digital Collection and DPLA Portal

Post contributed by Leah Tams, Pan Am CLIR Grant Intern.

For National Aviation Day, the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History is excited to announce the launch of the Pan American World Airways Advertisements Digital Collection, which was supported with a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources. The Pan American World Airways Digital Collection comprises over 6,500 advertisements from the Hartman Center’s collections, including the J. Walter Thompson Domestic Advertisements, J. Walter Thompson Frankfurt Office Advertisements, and Wells Rich Greene Inc. The digital collection spans most of Pan Am’s history, beginning with its World War II-era expansion and military involvement, and ending with Pan Am’s 1991 acquisition by Delta Airlines.

1991 Delta and Pan Am advertisement. The ad shows an illustration of Earth with "Anywhere You Want" printed in large type below. Six columns listing Delta and Pan Am's service cities flank the illustration.
Anywhere You Want ad, 1991.

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.
An ad showing a photograph of a Pan Am 747 on a runway. The ad reads "The first 747s to Hawaii are flying Pan Am."
The First 747s to Hawaii are Flying Pan Am ad, 1969.

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.

NEH Implementation Grant to Duke Libraries Will Increase Access to African American Oral Histories

Post contributed by John B. Gartrell, Director, John Hope Franklin Research Center

This summer Duke University Libraries will launch a project to provide expanded digital access to the Behind the Veil: Documenting African-American Life in the Jim Crow South oral history collection, housed in the  David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Libraries and curated by the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History & Culture.  The project, titled “Documenting African American Life in the Jim Crow South: Digital Access to the Behind the Veil Project Archive,” received a $350,000 Humanities Collections and Reference Resources Implementation grant supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

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.

Henderson, Larry – Birmingham, Behind the Veil Collection

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).

 

 

 

 

A Melancholy Skeleton

Post contributed by Roseen Giles, PhD, Assistant Professor of Music and Curator, Duke University Musical Instrument Collections

A white ivory carving against a black velvet background. The carving shows a skeleton leaning against a pedestal with a clock. Symbols of worldly power and wealth--like a crown, a knight's helmet, and flags--are piled at his feet.
Memento Mori, approximately 1650, Rubenstein Library

There is a melancholy skeleton who lives in Duke University’s History of Medicine Collections at the Rubenstein Library. In truly every sense, he is a marvel. Meticulously carved from a single piece of ivory, this piece is crafted with astounding virtuosity by an artist who must have known as much about the science of anatomy as they did of the human condition. The composition dates from the middle of the seventeenth century but the name of the artist and the circumstances of its creation are unknown. It is perhaps fitting that the subject of this skeletal wonder is the greatest mystery of all: death. The remarkable details of the carving suggest that it is a vanitas or memento mori, a genre of artworks that remind us through a series of recognizable symbols of the certainty of death and the fleetingness of life. The skeleton itself represents a human life spent; despite our differences and all the things that mark us as unique individuals we will all one day die, leaving behind ossified remains that are, to the untrained eye, indistinguishable one of from the other.

At the skeleton’s feet are some of the most common symbols of the vanitas genre: traces of earthly pursuits such as warfare, monarchy and, perhaps most importantly, objects which point to the passing of time. This level of detail will be familiar to those acquainted with Hans Holbein the Younger’s masterpiece The Ambassadors (1533), a painting which contains quintessential examples of vanitas, among them a lute with a single broken string. Music and sound can in this case stand in as a metaphor for human life, one that is equally transient and decaying as soon as it is brought into existence. Tucked behind our skeleton’s crossed legs we can see a sickle or scythe, the symbol for the tyranny of time and of its god Saturn. The pedestal upon which he rests his arm contains the mechanical parts of a timepiece, innovative new inventions in the early modern period. The skeleton cradles his own head as he leans upon the ticking pedestal in a striking gesture that suggests both a contemplative and melancholy temperament. Perhaps most astonishing is the detail of the sash that surrounds but does not fully touch his back—as if it had been taken up with a momentary gust of wind that froze it in its movement.

Black-and-white illustration of a skeleton leaning on a shovel. Its skull is tilted back and its mouth is open. There is a mountainous landscape behind it.
Andreas Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica (1543), p. 163

The stick upon which the skeleton rests his right hand does not seem particularly remarkable, but a comparison to two drawings from Andreas Vesalius’s (1514–64) revolutionary anatomical treatise De humani corporis fabrica [On the Fabric of the Human Body] (Basel, 1543) reveals that there may be more to this detail than meets the eye. In one of these illustrations—possibly attributable to a pupil of Titian, Joannes Stephanus of Calcar (c. 1488–1576)— a skeleton turns his head up towards the heavens (Figure 2). The positioning of his neck and torso suggests a depth of feeling: his head is turned slightly to one side as he looks up and he rests his weight on a staff very much like the one in the ivory vanitas. In Vesalius we can see that the skeleton is leaning not on a walking stick but on a shovel, which he will use to dig his own grave. In yet another of the images from the Fabrica we can see the same skeleton looking not upwards but down with one hand supporting his own head and the other resting on a skull—not his own, apparently— which is placed upon a pedestal very similar to the timepiece in our carving. The anatomical accuracy in both the drawings of the Fabrica and of our ivory skeleton is remarkable enough, but their gestural embodiment of human thought and emotion make these works truly astonishing historical witnesses. Their subjects point to the contradictions of lived existence: the unstable dichotomy between the physical and mental, between anatomy and emotion, between scientific and artistic knowledge.

Black-and-white illustration of a skeleton leaning on a tomb. It rests its skull on its left hand and places its right hand on another skull.
Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica (1543), p. 164

The unknown artist who made the vanitas skeleton in Duke’s History of Medicine Collections understood the rhetorical power of the ephemeral made material, when the truths of existence are brought into dialogue with the irrationality of consciousness. The very material they chose is telling of this. Ivory is rare and costly but lends itself well to the intricate detail of the piece’s low relief; it is not human bone but stands in for it in a vivid and arresting way. There are many things that such a piece can teach us about the history of medicine and, more specifically, seventeenth-century understandings of human anatomy and the physicality of emotions. But in reminding us that we will certainly die it can also tell us something about how to live. It represents, in short, a kind of contemplative interaction between the living and the dead, an interaction which suggests that the health of the human body is inextricably linked with our thoughts and emotions. In this way our melancholy skeleton can, even by representing death and transience, help us to understand and to improve the health and well-being of the living.

Carl Spielvogel, 1928-2021

Post submitted by Jacqueline Reid Wachholz, Director, John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, & Marketing History

The Rubenstein Library mourns the loss of Carl Spielvogel, advertising executive, diplomat, and donor, who died April 21st.  He started his long career at the NY Times and was their six day a week advertising columnist from 1957-60.  His successful column caught the eye of many folks on Madison Avenue, but Marion Harper hired him for public relations at the ad agency McCann-Erickson in 1960, which led to a long career with that agency and its future parent company,

Interpublic, where he ultimately became vice-chairman.  He left Interpublic in 1979 and soon after partnered with Bill Backer to found a new ad agency, Backer Spielvogel.  Against all odds the startup agency quickly took off with several big clients, including Miller beer, for whom the agency coined the slogan “It’s Miller Time,” and “everything you ever wanted in a beer … and less” for its product Miller Lite.  The new agency succeeded in taking large accounts away from other agencies, but maintained its small agency advantages of flexibility and personal service.  He retired from the agency he helped found in 1994 and undertook other ventures as chairman and chief executive of United Auto Group, and later found Carl Spielvogel Enterprises, a global investment and marketing company. President Bill Clinton appointed him ambassador to Slovakia from 2000 to 2001.  A lifelong New Yorker, Spielvogel also served as board member for many corporate, civic and cultural institutions.

The Rubenstein Library’s Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History has the papers of Carl Spielvogel, including an oral history conducted with him in 2013.

New Collections Spotlight: The Attica Prison Uprising: “If we cannot live as people, then we will at least try to die like men”.

Post Submitted by Patrick Stawski, Human Rights Archivist

The Human Rights Archive recently purchased two historical publications documenting the Attica Prison Uprising of 1971.  The Rubenstein Library’s Technical Services/Print Materials Cataloging Section has expertly cataloged these items and they are now available for consultation in the Rubenstein reading room.

In September of 1971 inmates at Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, New York, rebelled against prison authorities and took control of the facility.  After four days of attempted negotiations the state police violently suppressed the rebellion leading to the death of 43 staff and inmates.  The Attica Uprising was a watershed moment in the on-going fight to establish respect for human rights within the penitentiary system and to recognize and reform the racist practices and policies of the criminal justice system which feed the carceral machine.  We can thus understand that Attica is a direct ancestor of social movements such as Black Lives Matter that continue this fight today. Attica: slaughter at Attica: the complete inside story is written by journalist James A. Hudson and published in 1971, soon after the uprising.  The publication begins with a quote from Attica inmate Charles Horatio Crowley who was also known as Brother Flip, “If we cannot live as people, then we will at least try to die like men.”

Attica, it is a right to rebel, Cover

Hudson then sets out to provide the details of the actual events of the uprising and oppression, including first-hand accounts from those who were there, a map of the prison grounds with key locations noted, and photographs of the rebellion, the negotiations, and the state’s attack on the inmates and the horrifying aftermath. Hudson also explores what led up to the riot, investigates if the living conditions at Attica were as inhumane as the inmates claimed, and asks readers to consider what role racism played in the state’s deadly response to the rebellion.

Attica: slaughter at Attica: the complete inside story, view of destruction inside the prison

Another newly available item is Attica, it is a right to rebel authored by the Revolutionary Student Brigade, circa 1972.  Printed in stark black and red, the pamphlet is a collaboration between the RSB, some of the Attica brothers, as well as their supporters.  The pamphlet proclaims that “ATTICA IS NOT A TRAGEDY, but a symbol of militant resistance of oppressed people against a system that tries to crush them.”  In contrast to Hudson’s journalistic tone, The RBG invokes a clear call to solidarity and action with the Attica inmates by all people involved in resisting a racist system that terrorizes Black people.  The back sheet of the pamphlet includes the 33 demands of the Attica rebels, many of which we today recognize as basic human rights, “provide adequate food and water and shelter for this group”, “allow true religious freedom”, “Apply the New York State minimum wage law to all work done by inmates. STOP SLAVE LABOR.”

Cover image, book
Attica: slaughter at Attica: the complete inside story, Cover

These new items join the Human Rights Archives extensive collections on the experiences of the incarcerated, and the impact detention and incarceration have on their families and communities.  These include the papers of Jomo Joka Omowale, one of the Attica Brothers who went on trial in the wake of the uprising, and the papers of Elizabeth Fink, a human rights lawyer who represented prisoners killed and injured during the Attica uprising.  To learn more about these collections and how to access them please visit our research guide.

Attica, it is a right to rebel, 33 Demands of the inmates

Exploring The Brown Papers

Post contributed by Amelia Verkerk, Graduate Intern, Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture

cover of the first issue of the brown papers. Titled "moving mountains past, present and future."The Brown Papers were a series of publications written and produced by the National Institute for Women of Color (NIWC) as a platform to raise awareness and examine issues and concerns of women of color including lack of representation in politics, harmful and derogatory stereotypes, and systemic silencing of their experiences and voices. NIWC was founded as a non-profit institute in 1981 to create a national network for women of African, Alaska Native, American Indian, Asian, Hispanic, Latina, and Pacific Island heritage. NIWC started organizing annual conferences around the United States in 1982 and began publishing The Brown Papers in 1984 along with another periodical called Fact Sheets on Women of Color.

The mission of NIWC’s Brown Papers and its other projects was to create a “cross-racial/ethnic communication vehicle to identify or define issues, educate and raise awareness about those issues, and encourage coalitions and alliances to address the common concerns of mutual issues” (The Brown Papers, 23). While the NIWC organized and published The Brown Papers, the periodical was written and funded by individual contributors and outside grant organizations. The Sallie Bingham Center holds a copy of the first issue of The Brown Papers which was written by Suzanne Brooks, Aileen Hernandez, Marta Cotera, and Victoria Siu. This issue focuses on the importance of women of color in local, state, and federal offices, such as district court judges, mayors, and ambassadors. Additionally, the authors examine the significance of women holding traditionally male positions (i.e., tribal leaders, professors, business owners, etc.) because “the twin legacies of racism and sexism in the United States have had double the impact on women of color.” (The Brown Papers, 11)

The Brown Papers explores the impact of historical experiences of women of color. Contributor Marta Cotera analyzes the ways in which many matriarchal tribes were further harmed by the American white, patriarchal laws passed in the 20th century, after already facing hundreds of years of legal discrimination. These laws undermine the importance of women in these cultures which has led to the disenfranchisement of indigenous women and the Federal government refusing to recognize matriarchal tribes, both of which perpetuate the lack of proper representation of Native women. The Brown Papers provide a unique insight to these types of discussions women of color were having in the 1980s and continue to have in 2021.  Here are a few particular trenchant examples:

“Few women of color have been able to reach the pinnacle of national elective office; no woman of color has sat in the sanctum of the United States Senate; a total of six have left their mark on the House of Representatives… Their life histories are a chronicle of risk-taking, commitment, and involvement.” (The Brown Papers, 4).

“Therefore, this paper would not be complete without a look at American governmental policies that have restricted the political participation of people of color. While this effort is only a preliminary look at the tapestry of American politics in which women of color are woven, it is a look long overdue.” (The Brown Papers, 11).

“But institutionalized racism in society postponed the opportunity for women of color to reap the benefits of this victory [the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment]. Jeanette Rankin of Montana was the first woman elected to Congress (1916); but it took nearly an additional half a century for a woman of color (Patsy Mink) to achieve this goal.” (The Brown Papers, 17)

pages from first issue of The Brown Pages, discussing "The Black Experience"

The Center for Death Penalty Litigation records: the Practical and Intellectual Lessons of Archival Processing

Post contributed by Hannah Ontiveros, Marshall T. Meyer Human Rights Archive Intern

Fall semester 2020 was an odd one, with new challenges, global uncertainty, and everyone stepping out of their comfort zones to find a way to continue learning and working. For me the semester brought unfamiliar work and novel scholarly considerations. As intern for the Human Rights Archive, I spent the semester processing an addition to the Center for Death Penalty Litigation collection. The CDPL is a Durham-based organization that handles post-conviction appeals for indigent people on Death Row in North Carolina. Their ultimate goal is death penalty abolition. Processing this collection raised productive challenges and questions, creating for me a fresh vantage point from which to consider archival practices and the study of human rights.

 

Archive Boxes on a Shelf
Center for Death Penalty Litigation Archive Boxes

The process of rehousing documents, seemingly a simple task of moving papers to a fresh, neatly labeled folder in a fresh, neatly labeled box, comes with unexpected challenges and questions. If the documents weren’t organized and separated into folders to begin with, where do they go now? How do we label folders to be succinct and descriptive for future researchers while reflecting the documents’ original use by the CDPL? What does one do when they come across, as I did, a folder containing one single piece of paper, with nothing on it but letterhead? (I kept the document alone in its folder—some future researcher might come across it and glean meaning that I can’t see.)

And then there are the photographs. Photographs need to be placed in protective Mylar coverings. This preserves the paper and ink and protects the photos from librarians’ and researchers’ hands when handling them. Again, a seemingly standard task with unexpected challenges. In the CDPL collection, the Human Rights Archives house the organization’s case files, which are expansive. CDPL keeps records from clients’ entire legal history, including their original trial and subsequent appeals, even those not argued by CDPL attorneys. The case files for George Goode, for example, include discovery from his original trial, including crime scene photos. This raised two problems: how do I process these photographs while watching out for my own mental well-being, and how do I describe these photographs for future researchers?

Some of the crime scene photos in the Goode subseries and in others (most notably, David Junior Brown) contain really graphic imagery, including substantial gore. It was very difficult to place the photos in Mylar protectors and rehouse them without looking at them. But I determined that, for the sake of my mental health I couldn’t look at them too much. So I devised for myself a simple and makeshift system of keeping photos faced away from me as much as possible, and keeping them covered with a piece of scrap paper. Having needed to glance at these images in order to process them, I knew the collection required careful description so researchers won’t come across these images without proper warning and preparation.

Center for Death Penalty Litigation File

This raised questions for me of how to describe files with sensitive information in them. We need content warnings that adequately prepare people for the content they’re about to see, but that don’t editorialize too much. Personally, I would describe some of the crime scene photos in this collection as “horrifying,” but that may not be particularly helpful to researchers. Moreover, such description may color researchers’ understanding of the case in a way that’s not productive to grasping the legal stakes at play. With advice from Tracy Jackson in the Rubenstein Library’s Technical Services Department, I opted for describing the images as graphic, and containing gore and deceased persons—at the very least, researchers will know what’s in these folders before opening them. I also opted to place the content warnings in the file and box description in the collection guide, as well as on the physical folder. My hope is that no researcher comes across the photos unaware. It is important that these images, along with the other documents in the collection, are preserved and available for use for productive research on the death penalty and human rights. But it’s also important that researchers are prepared so that their work isn’t hindered by coming across shocking imagery in the archive.

 

This processing project was also surprising to me on an intellectual level. The study of human rights is important to my own work. But the driving questions about human rights in my dissertation surround issues of global responsibility for refugees, citizenship, and discourses of deservingness. Prior to processing CDPL documents, I had not given much scholarly thought to death penalty abolition, or to criminal litigation as a method for human rights goals. But this processing project made me think about these things. It made me think about how human rights goals are strived for in criminal courts, and the boundaries and possibilities of the law as an avenue for human rights. Through CDPL documents I could see how attorneys understand their clients as whole and deserving people. I can also see how they utilize legal strategies to make whatever gains they can toward their overarching goal of stopping all executions. This is the value of this internship—it broadens my theoretical and methodological understanding of human rights as a field; and it challenges me to think outside of my existing scholarly and political human rights commitments. Ultimately this will make me a better scholar, with a greater appreciation for how documents are created and preserved, and with a more expansive understanding of the field of human rights.

We Are All Bound Up Together: Race and Resistance in the American Women’s Suffrage Movement

by Laura Micham, Merle Hoffman Director, Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, and Meg Brown, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation Exhibits Librarian

August 2020 marked the centenary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment enfranchising many American women after nearly eighty years of activism. In order to explore the complexities and strategies of the American women’s suffrage movement, students in Duke’s Fall 2019 “Women in the Economy” course examined materials in the Rubenstein Library and then created the exhibition, Beyond Supply and Demand: Duke Economics Students Present 100 Years of American Women’s Suffrage.

One of the biggest challenges for the students was that the full range of contributions to the American women’s suffrage movement is not represented in the Rubenstein Library’s collections, or in the historical record generally. The dominant narrative of the movement, like the historical record of it, has focused on white women who benefited from the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment and neglected the contributions and struggles of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Nevertheless we—students and librarians—tried throughout this exhibit to present a diversity of historical figures and viewpoints.

Because the idea for the suffrage movement began at an anti-slavery conference and borrowed much of its methodology from the abolition movement, it made sense to begin the exhibition there with the first of the ten themes students researched, “Abolition, Racism, and Resistance.” It was equally important to look at all of the themes through the lens of race and resistance because, though much of the current and historical narrative around the suffrage movement has focused on its white leaders, every dimension of the fight for the vote involved BIPOC communities.

Printed photo of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. Her head faces the camera while her body is turned to the left. A reproduction of her signature appears below the photo.
Portrait of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Harper, Frances E. W. Iola Leroy, or, Shadows uplifted. Philadelphia, Pa.: Garrigues Brothers, Publishers and Booksellers, 1893, Lisa Unger Baskin Collection.

For example, BIPOC such as Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, an abolitionist, suffragist, temperance leader, and one of the first African-American women to publish a novel (Iola Leroy, or, Shadows Uplifted, Garrigues Brothers, 1893), fought for human rights through their work in women’s clubs and churches in addition to suffrage organizations. Harper spoke at suffrage conventions in the nineteenth century and often clashed with white leaders. She adamantly believed in acknowledging the racism faced by Black people and how that could not be separated from the struggle for equality, including within the suffrage movement. At the same time, white suffragists and anti-suffragists upheld racist arguments, often dividing the movement and excluding BIPOC.

Photo of A. J. H. Cooper seated at a table. A handwritten "Yours sincerely, A. J. Cooper" appears below the photo.
Image of A. J. H. Cooper, A Voice From the South. Xenia, O. : Aldine Printing House, 1892.

As the exhibit illustrates in almost every section, BIPOC suffragists were not deterred. For example, in the “Bible as a Tool,” religious leader, educator, and activist Nannie Helen Burroughs advocated for civil rights and voting rights for Black people, citing the lack of Christian values in discrimination and segregation and the moral importance of voting. Anna Julia Cooper, along with her groundbreaking volume A Voice From the South (Aldine Printing House, 1892), are featured in the “Regional Realities” section. Considered to be one of the first published articulations of black feminism, Cooper analyzes African American women’s realities facing racism, sexism, economic oppression, and lack of voting rights. This book was an especially powerful statement in a region of the country where most white pro- and anti-suffragists centered their campaigns on the preservation of white supremacy.

The green cover of "Why Disfranchisement is Bad." The cover bears the pamphlet's title and the author's name, along with an illustration of a flower.
Grimké, Archibald Henry. Why Disfranchisement is Bad. [Philadelphia : Press of E.A. Wright; 1904?]
Black men are also featured in the exhibit, including Archibald Grimké, a lawyer, politician, journalist, founding member of the NAACP, and activist for African American and women’s suffrage. Born into slavery in South Carolina, Grimké was the nephew of Sarah and Angelina Grimké—often referred to as the “Grimké Sisters”—prominent abolitionists and women’s rights activists. In Why Disenfranchisement Is Bad (Press of E.A. Wright; 1904?), published with the support of Booker T. Washington, Grimké links the enfranchisement of African Americans to achieving racial equality and economic growth. The pamphlet was used to educate the public regarding harmful laws that limited voting rights.

A black and white photo showing Fannie Lou Hamer seated at an event holding an American flag.
Vaughs, Cliff. Photograph of Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer, 1967. Civil Rights Movement and Wayside Theatre photographs, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

The final section of the exhibit, “The Long Tail of Voting Rights,” shows the continued conversation around women’s rights and voting rights after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. After 1920, there were invigorated movements to educate and mobilize new women voters, and to fight against voter suppression tactics like literacy laws and intimidation at the polls that disproportionately disenfranchised Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. One of the leaders of these movements was Fannie Lou Hamer who, having personally experienced literacy tests and poll tax requirements, became a field secretary for voter registration and welfare programs with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In this role and as leader of the Freedom Democratic Party, she helped and encouraged thousands of African Americans to become registered voters. In her 1971 speech which she titled “Nobody’s Free Until Everybody’s Free,” she told the National Women’s Political Caucus in Washington that Black and white women had to work together toward freedom for all.

Dr. Genna Miller, the faculty member who taught the class, observed:

“The learning that went on during the exhibit project went beyond just the names and dates related to the suffrage movement.  Students learned research methods and critical thinking skills. Students embraced the opportunity to examine and interpret historical documents written by labor activists, journalists, political and social reformers, and others who offered diverse lenses through which to consider and understand the significance of women’s suffrage, and the vast array of issues that the movement encompassed. Participating in this project with my students and the library staff has been an amazing experience. This could only happen at Duke!”