Category Archives: From Our Collections

Franklin Research Center Acquires the Celeste and Reggie Hodges Photograph Collection

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

Ceremonial maskThe John Hope Franklin Research Center is happy to share the acquisition of the Celeste and Reggie Hodges Photograph Collection. The collection documents nearly two decades of their life in West Africa, after they joined the Peace Corps in the late 1960s. While there, the Hodges’ worked as teachers and for international agencies but spent years applying their love of amateur photography to document the everyday life of their neighbors and friends with a unique look at the local customs from fishing, basket weaving, husbandry, religious and rites of passage ceremonies. Over that same time, they were also gifted a number of masks, instruments and other artifacts that have been donated to a number of museums over the last few years ( Both Celeste and Reggie worked behind the camera and developed their film in a makeshift darkroom when they had access to electricity and water in their village. The photographs display African life before the devastation of wars and Ebola in the 1990s affected the people and places where the Hodges’ lived.  The materials now in the Franklin Research Center include their photo negatives, original prints and digital scans, along with printed materials including artwork done by their students. This body of materials provides an intimate, firsthand perspective of this period and people. The collection will be made available once processing is completed.

Woman cleaning fish

Interview with 2023 Archive of Documentary Arts Collection Award Winner – Gabriella Mykal

Post contributed by Shiraz Ahmed, curatorial intern for the Archive of Documentary Arts

Shiraz Ahmed, curatorial intern for the Archive of Documentary Arts interviews filmmaker Gabriella Mykal via email about her film “Rape Play”, one of the winners of the 2023 Archive of Documentary Arts Collection Awards. Since 2015, the awards have recognized excellence in documentary film, photography, and audio, with cash prizes and the chance to have a body of work archivally preserved and exhibited at Duke.

“Rape Play” (2023) by Gabriella Mykal utilizes experimental techniques to explore how a genre of online erotica has troubling ramifications for young women. At times surreal and eyepopping with its colorful aesthetic, the film addresses this difficult topic with humor and a playfulness reflective of a new generation of filmmakers.

The other winners for 2023 include:

Resita Cox | Film| “Freedom Hill” navigates the environmental racism washing away a North Carolina town of under 2,000 residents.

David Fisher | Film | “The Round Number” explores why and how the number six million was written into the canon, and what its meaning can teach us about the Holocaust.

Holly Lynton | Photo | “Meeting Tonight” portrays a historical worshiping community and its evolving traditions in contemporary rural South Carolina.

This Q&A has been lightly edited.


Shiraz Ahmed: What was the starting point for “Rape Play” when you realize this teenage pastime was a larger phenomenon worth of examination?

Gabriella Mykal: “Rape Play” had a false start in 2020 and it took me about a year to get on the right track. The first try was supposed to be a video installation where the visuals involved endurance performances that represented the experience of healing as durational and intentional and efforted. The audio for the installation was going to be interviews with women around me, trusted friends, talking about past experiences of sexual dysfunction and violence.

It just wasn’t working because the approach was not sustainable. The subject matter was too intense, the research too traumatizing. Initially, I was only working around the premise of sexualizing violence. Trends in porn. Visceral assault stories. There was no humor, no lightness to the work. And I realized the form the work was taking was missing the thing I found most interesting about the interviews I was conducting: the tone. These conversations were hyper casual, filled with laughter and speaking in shorthand. I realized the project needed to speak that language, and I needed a point of entry that allowed me enough distance from the subject matter to make my observations without being overwhelmed.

Fanfiction and erotica kept coming back up. Every time we were searching for an analogy, looking for a way to contextualize an abusive ex-boyfriend or a confusing hook up, we would start by saying, “Do you remember reading this fic?” “It’s like this trope.” And we would laugh at the references, and then we would say, “Yes, exactly, I know exactly what you mean.” It became apparent that we all seemed to be moderating and understanding our most intimate experiences through these niche media bubbles. The film needed to look through the same lens.


The film’s first scene involves creative use of dramatization and colorful set design. Why use this particular, playful approach for a topic that gets gradually more serious as the film goes on?

I wanted to intro the audience immediately to the text, because if you’ve never read erotica, fanfiction in particular, the film is sort of meaningless to you. The opening aims to immerse the viewer in some of this context, and then disrupt that immersion to take the viewer into a new imagination, this fictitious interview based on these almost ridiculously light conversations about something so heavy.

Visually, I can’t claim having any kind of formal reason for the playful design choices. I just had this image in my mind. Blue walls. Red carpet. A bedroom that’s sparse and strange on a set. I wanted the set design to speak to the imagination and the strangeness that is inherent in written erotica, which is to say, for all the details you might be filling in while reading, there’s also a great deal of blanks left. The blue room is an imagined liminal space of desire and trauma.


You interview a number of women who have experience with this genre of erotica, including the actress in your staged scene. How did you approach these individuals and what were you hoping they would gain from this documentary experience?

The process of making this film was a real community effort. The pitch was, “I’m making this film about fan fiction and how it changed my brain chemistry.” I was lucky to find a community of women and queer people who resonated immediately with the subject and wanted to be a part of it.

Everyone I interviewed was not only willing but excited to be open and have these conversations that, when had off camera, are incredibly constructive and healing. Of course, it’s very daunting to have them on camera, so we discussed what we were comfortable with and not comfortable with a great deal before.

What I hoped people would gain by participating was that constructive healing experience that I have when having these conversations, which is to truly relate and level with another person that is coming from a similar place. I think the tone and content of the interviews in the film comes from the fact that you’re watching conversations between dear friends who have a great deal of trust in each other. Putting that on camera, infusing the film with that energy was paramount, that magical bedroom culture that’s created and cultivated by women of all ages constantly. A radical, self-effacing authenticity. A fearless self-exposure.

You often employ clever cinematic techniques that mislead the viewer as to what direction the film is headed in. How do these techniques relate to the overall topic, questions and message you want the film to deliver on?

The thesis of the film is that we have a very complicated relationship to these materials the same way that we have a very complicated relationship to our actual sexual experiences, positive and negative, so the film takes on that complicated relationship. Sometimes it’s highly critical and sometimes it’s celebratory. Oftentimes it’s somewhere in between, or it’s doing both at the same time.

I wanted the film to follow a lineage of meta-modern hybrid docs where the complicated nature of the subject matter informs the film’s ability to “level with you” or to pretend like it’s leveling with you. I’m personally not very interested in documentaries that ever claim to be fully truth telling. I think that docs that use some of these prototypical, historically anthropological formal techniques to allow them credibility are sort of short cutting having to really convince you of anything.

And I think, best case scenario, it’s just the most direct way to go about making nonfiction media, but worst-case scenario, it’s in very bad faith. I wanted “Rape Play” to take a form wherein the content is always in good faith, but the presentation is playful. So, the film is going to, in one moment, make you think that it’s scripted, then make you think that it’s not. Then it’s clearly scripted, but it feels very honest. Then, it’s obviously not scripted, but it’s also highly edited. And then of course there’s the ending sequence in which I talk about a personal experience of sexual violence and the sequence is both deliberate and planned and off-the-cuff.

The film runs on an engine in which the same questions we interrogate ourselves and each other with surrounding sexual violence (is this true, is this valid, is she exaggerating, is she withholding and if so, what?) are reveled in, but deliberately not answered in a way you would expect.


Your choices of interview settings – mostly women’s bedrooms, including your own – play a particular role in this film. What were you hoping for these settings to evoke for the subject and the viewer?

The intuitive choice suddenly became, “I should be talking to these girls in their rooms.” Of course, there are two exceptions. Victoria’s interview, which is outside in the same backyard as her scene, and Avalon, who is interviewed in the blue room set from the opening of the film.

The formal argument is that the film, specifically the essay portion that sets up a great deal of the context for these online subcultures that we’re talking about, is deeply invested in discourse and research surrounding bedroom culture amongst teenage girls and how you can effectively call the teenage girl bedroom a hub of cultural production. Across the world, in their respective private domains, these girls are creating assets that they then put into this egalitarian free market for each other in a share economy. I was one of those girls that was sitting in my bedroom online, producing and receiving for years. In a way, I’m still one of those girls; this film was made largely by me, sitting alone, writing and editing in my bedroom. The film hops between intimate spaces, imagined and real, at the rapid pace and leisure that one might experience being online.

Also, the nature of these conversations was extremely intimate, and I wanted to host them in the spaces that people felt the most comfortable. I wanted the viewer to feel like they were really sitting in the room with us having these conversations, like you’re lying in a friend’s bed half asleep, listening to two friends giggling late into the night about the worst things that have ever happened to them.


The denouement of this experimental essay film has you revealing your own troubling experience with sexual violence. How did you come to the decision to include this material and why did you employ the technique of fictional reenactment for the conclusion?

To me, it felt not only apparent but completely necessary from the moment that I started this project that anything I asked someone else to be willing to do for the film, I needed to be willing to do. If I was going to ask my friends to recite stories about some of these things that have happened to them, I was also going to recite stories about some these that have happened to me. If I was going ask to my friends to be in it, then I would be in it.

I also felt that it would maybe not make any sense if I never told that story. The thing that had finally propelled me into making the film, the moment of clarity I had about what the real entry point was, was not only that these erotic materials that I had been taking in at such a rapid rate when I was younger seemed to thematically speak to this question of how we deal with learned or inherent sexualization of this kind of violence, but that how I grew up online and then what happened to me were completely intrinsically linked.

There was a direct logic there in which it was set up à punchline. I could not understand one without understanding the other. The film then had that same logic and it had to be explained fully from my perspective to finish the argument.

The idea of reenactment was there from the beginning because reenactment also felt totally thematically in line with the premise of imagination and fantasy. The premise that these materials are not “real” so how do we make them look as “real” as they feel. We’re, I would argue, reenacting them in various ways all the time. From there, I became interested in a question: say this traumatizing thing happens to me because in a kind of abstract way, I was trying to enact some of these things from fictions that I had read… How can I repurpose the power of enacting, to act out, to embody, to play? And how can we use that to heal?

I had no interest in using that power of play to relive the traumatic event. Instead, I returned to an obsessive fantasy that had nothing to do with my assailant and instead had everything to do with reconnecting with myself and the people around me. It was a fantasy of resolution. It was a fantasy of moving on.

If we have these two reenactments, one at the beginning and one at the end of the film, then the beginning is what I once would have thought would be the fantasy of how we can use these texts, then the end of the film is a new imagination of how we can use these texts. We don’t just reenact them, we expand on them, and in that expansion, we release ourselves from them.


As part of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, “Rape Play’” will be available for researchers interested in its construction as much as its content. What has working on the film taught you about the form of documentary and its utilization and ability to reveal uncomfortable truths?

Making “Rape Play” taught me a great deal, maybe too much to put into words, but I’ll say this. Documentary is a playground. Documentary is a stage and a therapist’s office. A courtroom. A long car ride. A bunker and a kitchen table. Documentary owes us shock and laughter and discomfort and embarrassment and outrage, but above all else, Documentary owes us truth. We make non-fiction work to debase, self-efface, expose, explain, illuminate, and confuse because the world as we live in it and our lives as we live them are already strange and dense enough as it is. We do the work because it is honest, if not draining and frightening, work, looking and pointing, describing, and criticizing. Documentary, when done right, is the work of not only revealing, but dissecting and living with uncomfortable truths until the alien and the confusing becomes the familiar and the understood.

Building LGBTQ+ Academic Community & Politics

Contributed by Adam Kocurek, PhD Candidate, History, The City University of New York Graduate Center.

With the assistance of a Harry H. Harkins, Jr. T’73, Travel Grant, I visited the Rubenstein Library in the summer of 2023 to carry out research for my dissertation, a history of LGBTQ+ faculty activism and community building in American higher education from the late 1960s through the late 1990s. During my visit, I explored several collections, ranging from institutional records to the personal papers of LGBTQ+ faculty members.

Masthead of the GLSG Newsletter. It's black type on white paper and looks like it was produced in an early desktop publishing application. There is music note clip art.
GLSG Newsletter

During my visit, I engaged with many magnificent sources that will feature in my dissertation. One such source from the Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Papers, is volume 2 issue 4 of the Gay and Lesbian Study Group of the American Musicological Society “GLSG Newsletter,” published in March 1992. As a Ph.D. candidate at The CUNY Graduate Center, an institution at which Sedgwick worked and made important scholarly contributions, I found it to be an almost surreal and emotional experience going through her collection at Duke University. While Sedgwick was employed at Duke, she spearheaded LGBTQ+ issues at the university, serving as consultant on the University Coordinating Committee for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Studies, as well as being an active member of the Modern Language Association’s Gay and Lesbian Caucus. Through her scholarly and activist networks, she amassed ephemera from around the country, providing amazing insights into the state of LGBTQ+ faculty’s political and social organizing during the 1980s and 1990s.

The GLSG Newsletter provides a fascinating snapshot of a transitionary period in the history of LGBTQ+ faculty organizing for their rights and recognition within higher education. In the wake of the Stonewall Uprising in 1969, lesbian and gay academics formed the Gay Academic Union (GAU) in 1973, the first group of out academics who strove to transform academia into an industry more accepting of LGBTQ+ scholarship and workers. The GAU grew to be a multidisciplinary national network, though within four years, it began to fragment and ultimately dissolve due to a number of factors, including sexism within the organization that alienated lesbian members, chronic funding and outreach issues, and the challenges of maintaining a nation-wide vision for LGBTQ+ faculty organizing. While initially fueled by the energy of the Gay Liberation movement, by the late 1970s, many of the organization’s most radical members had splintered away. By the 1980s, its president, Jonathan Dunn-Rankin, was struggling to bring GAU’s chapters together. While Gay Academic Unions persisted into the 1990s, they were no longer part of a national radical movement, and instead isolated often into specific campus chapters.

By the 1980s and 1990s, discipline-specific LGBTQ+ faculty organizations began to proliferate across the United States, such as the Society of Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists (SOLGA) which formed in 1979, and the GL/Q Caucus for the Modern Languages (GLQCML). The Gay & Lesbian Study Group (GLSG) of the American Musicological Society, established in 1991, is part of this legacy, and its newsletters provide insights into its vision for LGBTQ+ issues in higher education.

Letter to the editor published by GLSG describing their research on "homosexual hymn writers, especially from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries."
Letter to the editor in GLSG

The March 1992 GLSG newsletter states that their objectives include “promoting communication among lesbian & gay music scholars, increasing awareness of issues in sexuality and music in the academic community, and establishing a forum for the presentation of lesbian & gay music studies,” as well as “to provide an environment in which to examine the process of coming out in academia, and to contribute to a positive political climate for gay & lesbian affirmative action and curricula.” While professional development and networking were key prerogatives for the GLSG, with letters to the editor frequently soliciting help with research and studies, it is very clear that this organization also serves a social function. The GLSG held meetings during the AMS conventions to encourage LGBTQ+ faculty and students to engage with one another. These letters reveal repeated acknowledgment of the importance of forging community, not only for individual professional advancement or to contribute to the vitality of lesbian and gay studies, but to combat loneliness and isolation experienced by LGBTQ+ academics and to share the progressive changes others were working towards at their home campuses. One such contributor, Patrick Brannon from the University of Northern Iowa, writes, “It’s always good to connect with people from afar – eases the isolation that we here in the Midwest feel from time to time… Some of us have been working on passage of a human rights amendment to the University of Northern Iowa’s charter that will provide protection based on sexual orientation.” Similarly to LGBTQ+ faculty organizations rooted in other disciplines, the GLSG attended to a variety of professional, personal, and intellectual needs faced by LGBTQ+ academics in the early 1990s.

An example of when GLSG newsletter published something from another institution's LGBTQ newsletter, explaining "it was just too good." The director of the CUNY Center for Lesbian & Gay Studies was interviewed on an Italian talk show. The host hasked him "What do gay men lack that straight men have?" And he responded, deadpan, "A restricted emotional range."
News item in GLSG borrowed from the Center for Lesbian & Gay Studies at CUNY.

Something that I find fascinating and have loved exploring with my dissertation is the degree to which these organizations often operated, at least initially, on a very ad hoc basis, openly experimental with their aims and organizing strategies. Many of these groups formed because of the intrepid bravery of a handful of LGBTQ+ faculty who, working without funds and institutional support, were nonetheless able to cater to the needs of LGBTQ+ faculty in their scholarly disciplines. They relied heavily on parallel organizations to provide helpful models and actionable strategies to reach their goals. In this newsletter, under its “News” section, the writers of the GLSG state, “We hope the Center for Lesbian & Gay Studies at CUNY won’t mind if we steal one of their news items, but it was just too good,” later adding, “The same Center for Lesbian & Gay Studies at CUNY, commonly known as CLAGS, has inspired graduate students to request and even push for classes in lesbian & gay studies… This is an interesting model: graduate students requesting and negotiating for classes in gay & lesbian musicology might also be successful elsewhere.”

The early 1990s was a tumultuous period in the history of LGBTQ+ activism. Driven by the desperate conditions of the AIDS crisis, in the wake of earlier organizations like the GAU, LGBTQ+ academics strove for recognition of LGBTQ+ studies as worthy of scholarly validation, for their right to equal treatment and protection from discrimination within the academy, and for community outside of campus boundaries. The GLSG newsletter is an artifact that perfectly captures this dynamic moment in LGBTQ+ history and the history of higher education.

Roderico Yool Díaz Wins Rubenstein Library Digital Storytelling Award

Photojournalist and documentarian Roderico “Rode” Yool Díaz is the winner of this year’s Digital Storytelling Award presented by the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University.

An older man in a suit and glasses, is in the foreground, facing the camera. He is in a large room with auditorium style seating. The room is crowded with people. Directly behind him are a number of people with cameras and video cameras, seemingly trying to take his picture.
Ríos Montt durante lectura de la sentencia por Genocidio, 2013.

Yool Díaz received the award for his digital project documenting the 2012-2015 genocide trials against former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt. The project includes photos, video, and audio recordings of the trial proceedings, the reading of the verdict, and Ríos-Montt and his legal team reacting to the verdict.

“Time and again documentarians such as Rode remind us that impactful storytelling is contingent on being present,” said Caitlin Kelly, curator for the Rubenstein’s Archive of Documentary Arts, which co-sponsors the award. “Not just to get the shot and leave, but to hold a story with care such that one cannot put it down so easily. Rode’s work isn’t just coverage of a trial, but an unmasking of a legal performance with consequences far beyond the courtroom.”

Born and raised among Guatemala’s indigenous Maya Kaqchikel community, Roderico Yool Díaz has worked as a photojournalist for over 15 years. In Guatemala, he covers issues related to the aftermath of the internal armed conflict (1960-1996) and current economic and political pressures affecting rural campesino and indigenous communities.

A woman standing outside, holding a handwritten sign that reads "Urge gobernabilidad en Nebaj." She is wearing a woven headscarf and her mouth is open like she is yelling. Further behind her is a crowd of people, some of whom are also holding signs.

As Yool Díaz notes, “This collection is part of a larger archive of five years of hearings from the genocide trial against former dictators Efraín Ríos Montt and Romeo Lucas García. While most of my photojournalistic work has focused on the survivors of the genocide, in this collection I wanted to highlight the defendants as a way of unmasking the leaders responsible for the violence suffered by hundreds of thousands during the war and genocide against the Mayan people in the 1980s.”

The project is divided into four sections: Ríos Montt appears in court for the first time (2012); Intermediate phase hearings, when the case is sent to trial (2012-2013); Genocide trial (March-May 2013); Annulment of the sentence and the second trial (2013-2018).

“Trials are such an important and integral element of the human rights movement going back to Nuremberg,” said Patrick Stawski, Human Rights Archivist at the Rubenstein Library. “The Human Rights Archive has extensive documentation on trials from around the world, but Rode’s project reminds us that trials are not just procedural. His images capture an insurgent, emotional, historical event, one that is simultaneously public yet intimate and affectively human through and through.”

A survivor of the genocide himself, Yool Díaz was born in 1975 on a Dutch-owned coffee plantation where his family had lived and worked as sharecroppers for generations. As a small child, Yool Díaz worked picking coffee and cardamom. He and his family were forced to flee in the early 1980s due to repression by the Guatemalan military. Like thousands of others, his family suffered forced disappearances and recruitment by the Guatemalan military and paramilitary forces.

Yool Díaz spent the rest of his childhood separated from his nuclear family. He worked agricultural jobs and attended night classes. He was the first in his family to attend college, where he studied anthropology, supporting forensic teams in exhumations of mass graves from the internal armed conflict.

After the peace accords in 1996, Yool Díaz witnessed continued violence by police and military against rural indigenous communities, acts that many believed to be a thing of the past. He realized he needed to document the violence to prove that it was still happening.

“I think it is important to understand a story is not just a collection of facts or the narrative of a specific event,” said Yool Díaz. “It is a human experience and has to be treated with care. It is essential not to reproduce the extractivist cycle that for so long has been applied to indigenous people and our communities.”

Since moving to North Carolina, Yool Díaz also documents resilience through culture and activism in Latin American immigrant and indigenous communities of the South.

The Rubenstein Library Digital Storytelling Award is co-sponsored by the Human Rights Archive and the Archive of Documentary Arts at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The award seeks to support outstanding documentary artists/activists exploring human rights and social justice, while expanding the digital documentary holdings in the archive and ensuring long-term preservation and access to their work. The award seeks to encourage artists/activists that pull from the strengths of multi-modal documentary and digital deployment. Going beyond the core mission of transmitting information, these digital storytellers create deeply contextualized, multi-sensory projects that may include still image, moving image, oral histories, soundscapes, and documentary writing. Winners receive $2,500 and are invited to present their work at Duke University, where they collaborate with a team of archivists to preserve their work.

The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Library has a strong commitment to human rights and the documentary arts through collecting and making available works by creators from around the world. Our collections document the impact that organizations and individuals have, and the role documentary plays, to motivate the thinking of others and support action that will transform the world.

Roderico Yool Díaz papers:

Roderico Yool Díaz website:


Come See “Something Special” – Exhibit highlighting the History of the Rubenstein Library and Special Collections at Duke

Post contributed by Roger Peña, Research Services Librarian

Wood paneled room with glass exhibit cases. The items in the cases cannot be clearly seen but look like books and other publications.
Stone Family Gallery on West Campus

What do a Nobel Prize, the first issue of Marvel’s Fantastic Four, a 2000-year old beer receipt, a 1925 advertisement for Heinz Ketchup and a page of the Gutenberg Bible have in common? All these items call Duke University’s Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library home and are currently on display in the Stone Family Gallery on West Campus.

Special collections at Duke have a long history and the university’s collections of rare books, manuscripts, and archives have grown in both size and scope since it first began collecting rare materials in the 1890s (when it was known as Trinity College). Today the Rubenstein Library holds more than 400,000 rare books and over 12,000 manuscript collections, documenting over twenty centuries of human history, culture, and society. Collections range from ancient papyri to colonial and Civil War era manuscripts, and from first editions of literary classics to social media and born-digital files. Thousands of students, visitors and researchers use the library’s resources each year, both online and in-person.  The growing collections of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library have helped to make Duke University a world renowned institution of primary source research. But where did it all begin?

“Something Special” examines the history of special collections at Duke University, from the Trinity College Historical Society and the Duke endowment of 1924 to the growth and expansion of Duke Libraries into the 21st Century. “Something Special” welcomes you to explore a (small) selection of materials collected throughout the history of Duke’s special collections – on display in the Stone Family Gallery (located on the 1st floor between the Rubenstein Library and Perkins).

Black Lives in Archives Day 2024

Date: Monday, April 1, 2024
Time: 11:00am-2:00pm
Location: Gothic Reading Room, Rubenstein Library 2nd Floor

The Rubenstein Library is pleased to announce our 3rd annual Black Lives in Archives Day.

This one-day only immersive exhibition will allow visitors to browse, touch and feel special selections from the collections of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library by and about Black lives. Feel free to chat with Rubenstein Library staff and explore one-of a kind Black primary source material. From rare first editions books, to published works exploring Black life in Durham, to publications by Black students at Duke, the event will give attendees a hands-on experience with the richness of Black print culture!

This event is free and open to the public. Information on visiting the Rubenstein Library, including parking and campus maps, is available on our website.

Not What the Doctor Ordered

Post contributed by Sarah Bernstein, Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern. 

Cover of small green paperback booklet with the title ""Healthful Rays." Next to the booklet is a yellow measuring tape showing the booklet is 4.5 inches long.

As someone who studies unorthodox and fringe medicine, I was incredibly pleased to find the large arrangement of unorthodox, fringe, strange, and frankly “quack” medicine within the Rubenstein Library. While the rich History of Medicine Collections includes classics of Western medicine like a first edition of Andreas VesaliusDe Humani Corporis Fabrica, a memento mori in carved ivory, and various microscopes (on permanent display in the Trent Room), I am glad to share that there are also patent medicine bottles, advertisements, and numerous writings and publications on alternative and unorthodox medicine. George Starr White’s My Little Library of Health is one such series of advice from a so-called “quack,” or an illegitimate and opportunistic, doctor.

Advertisement for George Starr White's books. The title, in large font, reads "The Thumb-nail Editions" followed by four paragraphs of text describing the books. The advertisement is black text on green paper. The 1928 “little library” by White is a series of 28 books whose length ranges from 20–48 pages. While small, I would say that calling them “thumb-nail” editions is a little misleading; the books measure at 4.5 inches in height and near 3.5 inches across (3 ⁷⁄₁₆ to be exact) is far from what is considered a miniature book or thumbnail sized. The advertisement at the back for each book boasted that each book contained illustrations, sometimes in color, and provided White’s sound advice on “health building by natural living.” Each book could be purchased for 25 cents (now somewhere near $4.50) or, for 5 dollars prepaid (around $90 for us today), one could score for the entire set.

White was a proponent of chromotherapy, light therapy, and heat therapy. In My Little Library of Health he informed his readers about his research and strong belief in the healing properties of Ultra-Red Rays. Although White’s belief in chromotherapy began by viewing sunlight through oak leaves, based on his account in volume 27, his tests had revealed to him that artificial lights from electric lamps still produced healing effects. In fact, some electric lamps worked better than others. Why? Ultra-Red Rays, that White describes as “the ‘thermalRays upon which all life depends,” more commonly known as infrared light. Based on these beliefs, White developed the “Filteray Pad,” a heat pad which generated Ultra-Red Rays and was meant to be applied to the affected area. The price for this cure-all device? A cool $35 (~$620-30 in 2024).

Image of the Filteray Pad, a light gray, roughly square shaped, cloth with an electrical cord attached.
Figure of the Filteray Pad in Volume 28, page 14, of My Little Library of Health (1928).

White would go on to develop other light-based therapies and medical systems. In 1929, White was unflatteringly covered in the “Bureau of Investigation” section of The Journal of the American Medical Association (volume 92, number 15) for his dubious claim of medical schooling and his career in patent medicines. The article lambasted White and all of his medicines and cures. Along with the “Filteray Pad” there was “Valens Essential Oil Tablets” (sold during the 1918 Flu Epidemic for “Gripping the Flu out of Influenza”) and his methods of “Bio-Dynamic-Chromatic (B-D-C) Diagnosis” and “Ritho-Chrome Therapy” (light-based diagnosis and cure using multiple colored rays that were similar to other forms of chromotherapy; the “Electronic Reactions of Abrams” by Albert Abrams and Dinshah Ghadiali’s “Spectro-Chrome” device respectively).

The Bureau of Investigation (formerly the Propaganda for Reform Department) was created as an outgrowth from the Council on Chemistry and Pharmacy to specifically investigate, disprove, and inform the public about fraudulent nostrums and patent medicine. The effort was headed by Dr. Arthur J. Cramp, a passionate doctor who was highly critical of nostrums, patent medicines, and the lax regulations which enabled proprietors to label and advertise their products as legitimate medicines.

George Starr White was just one of many quacks that Dr. Cramp and The Journal of the American Medical Association investigated and denounced, and who are represented in the Rubenstein Library’s collections. While I would not advise anyone to turn to White for medical advice today, I would encourage people to think about illegitimate medical professionals like White—and the world that they operated in—in contrast to medicine and the medical system today. These quacks from the past can provide insight into how medicine is legitimized, the rise of the medical profession, and continuous efforts throughout history to seek and provide unorthodox care.

Photograph of George White Starr, a White man with thick beard, wire-rimmed glasses, and balding head. Below the photograph is Starr's large signature.
Page with a portrait of George Starr White signed “Youthfully yours” at the end of each My Little Library of Health (1928) book.

2024-2025 Research Travel Grant Program

The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library is now accepting applications for the 2024-2025 Research Travel Grant Program, offering awards of up to $1500 to support research projects associated with the following Centers, subject areas, and collection holdings:

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

Anyone whose research would be supported by sources from the Rubenstein Library’s research centers is eligible to apply. We encourage applications from students at any level of education; faculty and teachers; visual and performing artists; writers; filmmakers; public historians; and independent researchers. For assistance determining the eligibility of your project, please contact with the subject line “Travel Grants.”


Applicants must reside beyond a 100-mile radius of Durham, N.C., and may not be current Duke students or employees.

Information Session

An online information session will be held Thursday, January 11, 2024, 2-3 pm EST.  This program will review application requirements, offer tips for creating a successful application, and include an opportunity for attendees to ask questions. This program will be recorded and posted online afterwards.  Register for the session here.


The deadline for applications will be Thursday, February 29, 2024, at 6:00 pm EST.

Decisions will be announced by the end of April 2024 for travel during May 2024-June 2025. Awards are paid as reimbursement after completion of the research visit(s).

Sensing Race in the Pacific World

Post contributed by Chris Blakley, Visiting Assistant Professor, Occidental College and History of Medicine Travel Grant Recipient, 2023-2024

Handwritten document on white paper with text in brown ink. Across the top is written the title "Joint Committee on the Library of Congress, June 14, 1850" with one paragraph of text below.
14 June 1850 resolution of the Joint Committee of the Library of Congress, Box 15, Wilkes Papers


Upon successfully passing the motion at their meeting in June 1850, the Joint Committee of the Library of Congress resolved to compel Charles Wilkes to “notify Mr. Pickering that the Committee think he was not authorized to devote his time” as a member of the United States Exploring Expedition between 1838 and 1842 to jotting notes for his book The Races of Man.[1] Nevertheless, Pickering published The Races of Man as the ninth volume of the multi-volume Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition in 1848, six years after returning from their voyage under the command of Lieutenant Wilkes. The committee’s resolution to Wilkes and Pickering is among the Wilkes Papers held by the David M. Rubenstein Manuscript and Rare Book Library, which generously funded my research at the library in the summer of 2023.

During their time in the Pacific Ocean––including stopovers in the Tuamotu Archipelago, Tuvalu, Tahiti, Samoa, Fiji, Hawaii, and the Philippines––Pickering resolved to produce a classificatory schema of “all eleven races of man.”[2] At the start, he found “difficulty arose, in fixing in the mind, while passing from place to place, the relative shades of complexion” of the people the Exploring Expedition, or Ex. Ex., encountered during their voyage.

Fijian skin, for instance, upset English-speaker’s reliance on vision to discern race in the early nineteenth century. In May, 1840, Pickering looked through a spyglass from the deck of the Vincennes, the squadron’s flagship, toward a cluster of people gathered on the shore of Levuka, a town on the eastern coast of Ovalu, to obtain “evidence of the lightness of the Feejeean complexion.” Ovalu is one of the more than three hundred volcanic islands that make up the Fiji archipelago in the South Pacific.

At first, Pickering incorrectly hypothesized the group contained a mixture of “Malayan”, “Polynesian”, and “Negro” peoples rather than Fijians. Seeing people from afar thus proved to be inadequate for the purposes of collecting scientific facts concerning skin color in the Pacific Rim. Pickering improvised by terming them “purple men” on closer inspection. Ocularity and visibility, then, proved to be incomplete methods for knowing race.[3] So, Pickering concluded, his racial scientific program required collecting “more obvious distinctive characters” to serve as an evidentiary basis for his racial taxonomy. Some of these characters included notes on Papuan skin as “harsh to the touch, and the hair crisped or frizzed”, hearing Pa‘umotus “making a kind of purring noise”, and wincing at “the strong ill odour” of Fijians that “make them thoroughly disgusting to persons newly arrived.”[4]

Handwritten document on yellowed paper with text in black ink. At the top of the document is the title "Organization for the Exploring Expedition" with several paragraphs of text below.
“Organization for the Exploring Expedition”, Box 3, Folder 1, Wilkes Papers


Pickering’s inability to fully rely on vision matters for historians of science and the senses. Relying on prior analyses of race as a phenomenological apparatus, in particular the scholarship of philosophers including Sachi Sekimoto and Christopher Brown, I am investigating how the Ex. Ex. produced scientific ideas about race via the sensorium. What is at stake here is the place of vision and visibility in histories of science in the Enlightenment as hallmarks of modern scientific epistemology. Forms of visualization equipped what Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison term the disciplinary eye that lay at the ethico-epistemic foundations of contemporary science.[5] Yet, scientists like Pickering used hearing and ideas about noise, smell and notions of cleanliness, and mores around touch and taste, to articulate race as a scientific fact through the itinerary of the Ex. Ex. Put simply, ocularcentrism was too brittle an epistemological basis for the Ex. Ex. to taxonomize the various groups they “discovered” through their transpacific itinerary. Rather, the Ex Ex used olfactory disgust, sonic boundaries, and norms surrounding touch and gustation to classify Pacific Islanders as racialized others through the body and the senses.

Before the Ex. Ex. departed from Hampton Roads in 1838, Wilkes argued that the operation would prove to be “useful to the Navy, honorable to this Country, and highly advantageous to the Commercial interest of the Country” and to “Science generally.”[6] In his “Organization for the Exploring Expedition”, Wilkes did not propose sending a race scientist like Charles Pickering––who joined the Ex. Ex. as the scientific corps’s zoologist––along with the other “Scientifics” like the geologist James Dwight Dana, the botanist William Rich, or the artists Alfred Thomas Agate and Joseph Drayton.[7] The Wilkes Papers at the Rubenstein contain material on these figures, as well as the John Torrey Papers, which pertain to the Ex. Ex. Torrey––a botanist who did not travel with Wilkes––later classified the plant collections made by the scientific corps and prepared specimen catalogues as an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, and his papers contain letters with people associated with the SI like Spencer F. Barid, Joseph Henry, and Louis Agassiz. Torrey’s correspondence also contains letters from the phrenologist Johann Gaspar Spurzheim, and Josiah Nott, a leading race scientist of the antebellum era.

Moving forward, my aim is to produce a phenomenological account of the Ex. Ex. that provides insight into the formation of the racist ideas that undergirded Indian removal and Manifest Destiny via the senses. Like Sachi Sekimoto––who argues that “race constantly renews its material presence through latching onto our bodily felt, sensorial experiences, making itself feel-able and sensible and therefore ‘natural.’”––I claim that the narratives produced by the scientific corps and the naval personnel of the Ex Ex justified beliefs in American Indian and Polynesian “savagery” in Jacksonian America.[8]

[1] Wilkes Papers, Box 15.

[2] Charles Pickering, The Races of Man: And Their Geographical Distribution (London: H. G. Bohn, 1850) 2nd edition, 2.

[3] Charles Pickering, The Races of Man: And Their Geographical Distribution (United Kingdom: John Chapman, 1849), 146-147.

[4] Pickering, The Races of Man, 3; Wilkes, Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition, vol.1, 324;  Walter Lawry, Friendly and Feejee Islands: A Missionary Visit to Various Stations in the South Seas in the Year MDCCCXLVII, (United Kingdom: C. Gilpin, 1850), 79-80.

[5] Lorraine Daston, and Peter Galison, Objectivity (Princeton: Zone Books, 2007), 48, 148

[6] Wilkes Papers, Box 3, “Organization for the Exploring Expedition”

[7] William Reynolds, Voyage to the Southern Ocean: The Letters of Lieutenant William Reynolds from the U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 (United States: Naval Institute Press, 1988), 3.

[8] Sekimoto, “Race and the senses”, 83.

Enticing Engineers: New Areas of Outreach in the Rubenstein Library

Post contributed by Rachel Ingold, Curator for the History of Medicine Collections.

In September, the Rubenstein Library partnered with colleagues in the Natural and Engineering Sciences (NSE) for an open house event. While our Engineering Exposition targeted students, faculty, and staff from Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, all were welcome to attend.

Photograph showing a large room with several tables displaying books. At one table, three people look closely at two books.
Faculty from the Engineering School examine works on engineering from the 16th and 17th centuries! Photo by Deric Hardy.
A woman with brown hair wearing a green dress talk with a student, whose back is toward the camera. On a table between the two people, is a toothpaste testing device composed of metal parts and sets of fake teeth.
Robin Klaus, graduate Intern in the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History talks with a student about the toothpaste testing device found in the Consumer Reports archive. Photo by Janelle Hutchinson.


Items from a variety of collecting areas within the Rubenstein Library were available for visitors to examine and handle. Some highlights included

Photograph of a table with three examples of microscopes on display.
Examples of 18th and 19th century microscopes that visitors were encouraged to handle and try out! Photo by Deric Hardy.
Photograph of table displaying several small, plastic anatomical figures as well as a laptop playing a video showing the making of those figures. The table also displays several books featuring pop-up components.
Examples of moveable books from the History of Medicine Collections and samples of 3D printed anatomical manikins made from items in our collection! Photo by Deric Hardy.
Image from an anatomical flap book. The left side of the image shows an artistic representation of a human eye and human ear and shows the flaps closed. The right side of the image shows the paper flaps lifted to reveal, underneath the original images, the anatomy of the inside of the eye and inside of the ear.
Pages from an anatomical flap book where the flaps can be lifted, as shown on the right, to reveal detail about the human body. Photo by Janelle Hutchinson.

Anyone is welcome to view our items in-person during our open hours. We also have great digital collections.

We look forward to our continued partnerships with colleagues across the Library and campus. Let us know what you might like to see at our next Engineering Exposition!