Category Archives: From Our Collections

Offering Access to Social Media Archives

Post contributed by [Matthew] Farrell, Digital Records Archivist.

I last wrote about harvesting Twitter for the archives way back in April 2016. Toward the end of that post I expressed our ambivalence toward access, essentially being caught between what Twitter allows us to do, what is technologically possible, and (most importantly) our ethical obligations to the creators of the content. Projects like Documenting the Now were just starting their work to develop community ethical and technological best practices in social media harvesting. For these reasons, we halted work on the collecting we had done for the University Archives, monitoring the technological and community landscape for further development.

February 2019 saw the 50th Anniversary of the Allen Building Takeover, when a number of Duke students occupied the Allen Building to bring attention to the needs of African-American students and workers on campus (here is a much better primer on the takeover). There were a number of events on campus to commemorate the takeover on campus, both in the Rubenstein Library and elsewhere. As is de rigueur for academic events these days, organizers decided on an official hashtag, which users could use to tweet comments and reactions. Like we did in 2016, we harvested the tweets associated with the hashtag. Unlike 2016, community practice has evolved enough to point to a path forward to contextualizing and providing access to the harvested tweets. We also took the time to update the collection we harvested in 2016 in order to have the Twitter data consistent.

In terms of technology, we use twarc a tool and Python library created by DocNow, to harvest and process Twitter content. Twarc interacts with the Twitter API and produces output files in JSON format. The image here is an example of JSON, which is clearly not human readable, but is perfect for machine processing as a data set.

JSON output from twarc. Yikes, y’all.

But twarc also allows the user to work with the JSON in different ways. Some of these are obviously useful–e.g., you can create a basic HTML version of the data set.

Much better.

Those funky characters are because twarc has a hard time encoding emoji. These web comics (here and here) are not full explanations, but point to some of the issues present. If you take nothing else from this, observe that you can somewhat effectively obscure the archival record if you communicate solely in emoji.

Finally, for our ability to offer access in a way that both satisfies Twitter’s Terms of Service and Developer Agreement, twarc allows us deyhdrate a data set and respect the wishes of the creator of a given tweet. “Dehydration” refers to creating a copy of the data set that removes all of the content except for Twitter’s unique identifier for a tweet. This results in a list of Tweet IDs that an end user may rehydrate into a complete data set later. Importantly, any attempt to rehydrate the data set (using twarc or another tool), queries Twitter and only returns results of tweets that are still public. If a user tweeted something and subsequently deleted it, or made their account private, that tweet would be removed from rehydrated data set even if the tweet was originally collected.

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

What does this all mean for our collections in the University Archives? First, we can make a dehydrated set of Twitter data available online. Second, we can make a hydrated set of Twitter data available in our reading room, with the caveat that we will filter out deleted or private content from the set before a patron accesses it. Offering access in this way is something of a compromise: we are unable to gain proactive consent from every Twitter user whose tweets may end up in our collections nor is it possible to fully anonymize a data set. Instead we remove material that was subsequently deleted or made private, thereby only offering access to what is currently publicly available. That ability, coupled with our narrow scope (we’re harvesting content on selected topics related to the Duke community in observance of Twitter’s API guidelines), allows us to collect materials relevant to Duke while observing community best practices.

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

What: Radio Haiti Project Culminating Event: A Conversation with Michéle Montas

When: 5:30 PM, Thursday, April 11

Where: Ahmadieh Family Lecture Hall, Bay 4 (C105) Smith Warehouse, 114 S Buchanan BLVD, Durham, NC 27701

Haitian journalist and human rights activist Michéle Montas discusses the legacy of Radio Haïti-Inter, Radio Haiti’s archive at Duke’s Rubenstein Library, and the past, present, and future of justice and impunity in Haiti. With additional remarks by Laurent Dubois, Radio Haiti project archivist Laura Wagner, and AV archivist Craig Breaden. Light refreshments. Free and open to the public.Poster for Radio Haiti Event

Benetton & Fashioning Controversy

Post contributed by Kasia Stempniak, Graduate Intern, Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising and Marketing History, and Romance Studies PhD student. 

Fashion advertising has never shied away from provocative imagery. One of the first clothing brands to consistently court controversy through advertising was the Italian sportswear brand Benetton. A family owned company established in 1965, Benetton became one of the most successful sportswear brands in Europe in the 1980s. That same decade, Benetton decided to enter the United States market and hired J. Walter Thompson (JWT) as their advertising agency to better reach US consumers. JWT would remain with the Italian brand from 1983 to 1992 and the Benetton advertisements in the JWT archives at the Hartman Center offer a unique look into the evolution of advertising conventions in the fashion industry.

Benetton magazine advertisement featuring about a dozen people of different races and ages. They are all wearing Benetton clothing and hugging one another.

With the Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani as the creator of its advertisements, Benetton launched a series of ads in 1983 that were designed to be explicit celebrations of diversity and inclusivity. These ads, like the one seen above that was featured in the magazine Mademoiselle in 1983, were part of a campaign called “All the Colors of the World.” With their messages of global harmony, these ads would take on dozens of different iterations in the next two decades. They became such a staple in Benetton’s marketing repertoire that in the 1990s, the expression “a Benetton ad” was sometimes used to refer to an image with a diverse group of people. Some of these ads tackled politics, like this advertisement diffused during the Cold War in 1986 that featured two athletes, one from the US and one from the USSR, in a friendly pose.

Roughly a decade after the first “All the Colors of the World” world campaign, Benetton released a modified version of these ads. In lieu of a line of smiling faces, however, the ad featured vials of blood labeled with different first names.Color Benetton advertisement, showing vials of blood. The vials are each labeled with a different. The names are ethnically diverse and include Fidel, Kaifu, Helmut, Jiang, George, and Mikhail. While still invoking the theme of inclusivity, the ad signaled a change in Benetton’s marketing aesthetic. In the 1990s, Benetton ads seemed to be more focused on shock value than clothing. Many of their most controversial images featured no Benetton clothing. Instead, they depicted a wide range of social and political phenomena, from soldiers in the Bosnian war, to a baby with its umbilical cord attached, to a nun and a priest kissing, to a dying AIDS activist. These advertisements were often met with backlash, calls for a boycott of Benetton goods, and, at times, with censorship. Toscani justified these ads in an interview with The New York Times in 1991, explaining that he saw advertising as both an artistic and political endeavor: “I have found out that advertising is the richest and most powerful medium existing today, so I feel responsible to do more than to say, ‘Our sweater is pretty.’” JWT and Benetton separated in 1992, but Benetton continues to test the limits of public reception with their advertising, despite experiencing a slip in popularity over the past two decades. As recently as 2018, a Benetton ad elicited vociferous criticism from politicians and consumers in Italy and around the world when it repurposed a photograph of migrants being rescued in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Benetton ads in the JWT archive shed light on how a fashion company adopted unconventional methods of advertising as a way to connect with a younger generation and bring awareness to social issues. At the same time, reactions to these ads indicate that consumers were uneasy with the confluence of fashion and social commentary. Today, clothing companies are increasingly placing social causes at the center of their ads, like British clothing chain Jigsaw and their 2017 “Love Immigration” campaign. Did Benetton’s advertisements pioneer this modern phenomenon of “brand activism”? Or were Benetton’s ads an example of a company commodifying social causes and taking advantage of the ethically murky waters of fashion advertising?

Event: Why Did the United States Medical School Admissions Quota for Jews End?

Why Did the United States Medical School Admissions Quota for Jews End?

Date: Thursday, April 11

Time: 5:30 p.m.

Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Room 153, Rubenstein Library

Contact: Rachel Ingold, rachel.ingold@duke.edu, (919)684-8549

Professional photo of Dr. HalperinPlease join the History of Medicine Collections for our next Trent History of Medicine Lecture Series event. Edward C. Halperin, M.D., M.A. will present “Why Did the United States Medical School Admissions Quota for Jews End?” At the end of World War II anti-Semitic medical school admissions quotas were deeply entrenched in the United States. Twenty-five years later they were gone. Why did that happen and what are the implications for the current controversy regarding alleged quotas directed against Asian-Americans?

Dr. Halperin is Chancellor/Chief Executive Officer of the New York Medical College, Valhalla NY.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend. No registration is needed. A light reception will follow.

Radio Activism and the Politics of Grassroots Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Newest Negroes: Black Doctors and the Desegregation of Harlem Hospital, 1919-1935

Date: Tuesday, March 26
Time: 5:00 p.m.
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Room 153, Rubenstein Library
Contact: Rachel Ingold, rachel.ingold@duke.edu, (919)684-8549

Please join the History of Medicine Collections for our next Trent History of Medicine Lecture Series event. Adam Biggs will present “The Newest Negroes: Black Doctors and the Desegregation of Harlem Hospital, 1919-1935.”

Professor Biggs’s lecture will focus on the desegregation of Harlem Hospital, highlighting the conflicts an tensions that took shape as black doctors sought to merge their professional goals with the larger cause of racial improvement. Adam Biggs is faculty at the University of South Carolina Lancaster where he teaches African American Studies and US History.  His research examines black doctors and their efforts to address the problem of race in early 20th century America.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.

We thank our friends at the Bullitt History of Medicine Club at UNC-Chapel Hill for co-sponsorship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World War I Orphans and American Red Cross Photographers

This post is contributed by Paula Jeannet, Visual Materials Processing Archivist, and is part of “An Instant Out of Time: Photography a the Rubenstein Library” blog series.

My work as a photographic archivist often includes improving the housing of the thousands of photographs found in older collections in the Rubenstein Library.  One such group of seventy-eight photographs was recently discovered in the Isabelle Perkinson Williamson Papers, a collection of letters chiefly between Isabelle and her mother.  The Perkinsons were residents of Charlottesville, Virginia, where several family members served on the faculty at the University.  Isabelle married a civil engineer, Lee H. Williamson, in 1917 and traveled and lived abroad with her husband.  World War I found Lee Williamson serving in the 55th Engineers of the American Expeditionary Forces in France.  The collection includes his military ID card as well as some wartime correspondence.

As I sorted and sleeved the bundle of photographs, I came across a single studio portrait of three children that didn’t seem to fit in with the others, chiefly because of the children’s dress:

Three children standing for a portrait.
Photograph from the Isabelle Perkinson Williamson papers.

Turning it over, I observed a stamp from the Red Cross Bureau of Photography, and the address of a Madame Bras in France:

Writing and stamp on back of photograph.
Back of photograph from the Isabelle Perkinson Williamson papers.

An online investigation using the negative number on the print and key words such as “Red Cross photographs” quickly turned up a matching digitized glass plate negative, part of the Library of Congress’s American Red Cross negative collection of over 19,000 scanned images.

The caption reads: “Jeanne Le Bras, adopte.  Address: Mme. LeBras, Haut du Bourg Plogastel St. Germaine (Finistere Pres Guimper) protégé of: 302 Ambulance Co. Sanitary Train, Care Company Clerk.  American Expeditionary Forces .”  The photographer is recorded as Joseph A. Collin, who took many of the images found in the Red Cross collection.

Here’s what I learned from the Library of Congress site and other resources: in the aftermath of World War I, whose events we continue to commemorate in 2019, thousands of refugee families and orphaned children were “adopted” by American troops and cared for by American Red Cross staff.  The Red Cross hired professional photographers to document the organization’s efforts in Europe; they took hundreds of portraits of refugees and orphan children.  The images may have been used in many ways: to find lost families; to publicize children available for adoption, or to record their successful adoption.  As an interesting sidelight, I discovered that one of these photographers was Lewis Hine; his camera recorded over 1100 images for the Red Cross and are also part of the Library of Congress collection.

Lewis Hine was a gifted portraitist, reflected in his work for the Red Cross.

Some of the images in the Library of Congress Red Cross collection show signs of heavy editing: children were erased from group portraits, perhaps because they had already been adopted, and in some cases, adult figures blocked out.  The latter was a common practice of the 19th century – explore this phenomenon by searching online for “hidden mothers photography.”

Child with partially erased adult.
Photograph with erased adult from the Library of Congress Red Cross photograph collection. Title: “Deverge, Simmone Brux (Vienne) Depot Q.M., APO 702,” 1919.
Young child and erased child.
Photograph with erased child from the Library of Congress Red Cross photograph collection. Title: “Marie Brunel. Address: 67 route d Bourbourg Cordekerone (Nord) protege of: Battery A.3 Anticraft Bn. CAC, American Expeditionary Forces,” 1919.

 

The Library of  Congress caption for the single image found in the Rubenstein collection names only one child out of the three, Jeanne; it is not clear which one was Jeanne, but one hopes that all three were adopted and raised by kind families.  Also a mystery is how the photograph came to live with the others in the Isabelle Williamson collection.  It may have originated from Isabelle’s husband, who served in World War I, or from a friend of the family, Mary Peyton, who was a field nurse in World War I.

There is an abundance of primary source material on World War I in the Duke Libraries – images as well as papers.  “Views of the Great War,” a Rubenstein Library online exhibit, is a great way to learn more about this world-changing event as revealed through our collections.

For more information on the Isabelle Williamson collection, see the collection guide.

Library of Congress, American Red Cross Digital Collection

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

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

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

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

African American Soldiers in Occupied Japan

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

 

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

Soldiers at Pool Facility in Munich, Germany

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

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

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

Members of the 404th Women’s Army Corp Band

The Phrenology of the Dukes

Post contributed by Brooke Guthrie, Research Services Librarian.

During the 1870s and 1880s, Dr. W. H. Barker traveled around North Carolina giving public lectures and, according to an 1873 article in The New Berne Times, “feeling the heads of the people.” This may seem strange, but Dr. Barker was no ordinary physician. He was a phrenologist and, as a phrenologist, touching heads was his specialty.

Announcement for Dr. Barker’s lecture in Wadesboro, N.C. in August 1883.
Announcement for Dr. Barker’s lecture in Wadesboro, N.C. in August 1883. (Found via Newspapers.com)

In the nineteenth century, the shape of a head was thought to reveal a lot about a person’s strengths and weaknesses. The size of various bumps or “organs” on your head could determine whether you, for instance, were combative, prone to secretiveness, or endowed with good digestive power. Phrenology began in Europe, but proved most popular in America. Phrenologists like Dr. Barker took advantage of the craze and began to offer professional readings to average people in small towns.

Illustration of a Head showing the location of phrenology “organs.”
Head showing the location of phrenology “organs.”

Phrenology was such an accepted “science” that practitioners were occasionally called as expert witnesses in court cases. Dr. Barker was subpoenaed in 1885 to testify at the murder trial of Ben Richardson. According to newspaper accounts, Dr. Barker was there “to determine Richardson’s insanity from a phrenological standpoint.” He also examined a state senator and concluded that the politician would do well in his job.

Dr. Barker was a respected practitioner. The Charlotte Observer stated in 1876 that Barker was “not a strolling humbug,” but rather a “gentleman of scientific attainment.” When Barker, a native of Carteret County, died in 1886, obituaries were published in several newspapers commenting on Barker’s wonderful skill and natural phrenological ability. Dr. Barker analyzed many heads during his career. Announcements for his lectures and head readings appear in newspapers across the state. Demand was so high that he often stayed in a town for weeks at a time speaking to large crowds and examining heads for several hours each night.

In May 1884, Barker analyzed a pair of rather famous heads: those belonging to Washington Duke and his youngest son, James Buchanan Duke.  In the 1880s, the Duke family’s tobacco company was thriving. James B. Duke had turned the firm of W. Duke Sons & Co. toward the mass manufacture and mass marketing of cigarettes. Barker’s phrenology readings were taken the same year that W. Duke, Sons and Company opened a factory in New York and eight years before, with the financial help of the Dukes, Trinity College would move to Durham. Perhaps Washington, then in his mid-sixties, and his son, in his late twenties, saw a phrenology reading as a way to celebrate the family’s successes.

Portrait photograph of Washington Duke sitting in an armchair.
Washington Duke

Portrait photo of James Buchanan Duke in a boater hat.
James Buchanan Duke

Dr. Barker recorded his assessment of the Dukes in New Illustrated Self-Instructor in Phrenology and Physiology. This small book, written by O. S. and L. N. Fowler, two of America’s foremost phrenologists, provides a chart for a personal phrenology exam along with a detailed explanation of how certain head “organs” correspond to certain traits. The Rubenstein Library has two copies of New Illustrated Self-Instructor, one for the analysis of each Duke.

Title pages from New Illustrated Self-Instructor showing names of Washington Duke, James B. Duke, and Dr. W. H. Barker.
Title pages from New Illustrated Self-Instructor showing names of Washington Duke, James B. Duke, and Dr. W. H. Barker.

The next two images are charts from New Illustrated Self-Instructor showing the readings of Washington and James B. Duke. The far left column of the chart lists the “conditions” that can be measured with phrenology. The next six columns allow Dr. Barker, after feeling and measuring each Duke’s head, to note the size of the skull portion that corresponds to each condition. Washington Duke, for instance, was marked as having a “large” organ for firmness. (James B. Duke was also “large” in this area.)

The readings reveal quite a bit about the Dukes. Washington Duke is slightly less cautious than his son. The organ associated with vitativeness is very large in both men, indicating that they “shrink from death, and cling to life with desperation.” James B. Duke ranks higher in the condition of approbativeness, suggesting that the son is “over-fond of popularity” and ostentatious. Perhaps fittingly, approbativeness is described as the main organ of the aristocracy. Fortunately for Washington Duke, a man older than his son by several decades, he has higher circulatory and digestive power. Both rank as “full” in the parental love category indicating that they “love their own children well, yet not passionately.” One wonders what James B. Duke thought of this assessment of his father’s parenting skills.

Chart from New Illustrated Self-Instructor showing the readings for Washington Duke

Chart from New Illustrated Self-Instructor showing the readings for James B. Duke.
Charts from New Illustrated Self-Instructor showing the readings for Washington (top) and James B. Duke.

The readings of both men are overwhelmingly positive. They are, apparently, below average in no way. It is certainly possible that both men were well-endowed in all qualities, but it also just as likely that Dr. Barker, a businessman himself, would want to flatter his wealthy clients. We can only guess at the response Dr. Barker would have received if he had concluded that the Duke men were weak and dull with low self-esteem.

After 1884, the Duke family continued to prosper. James B. Duke formed the American Tobacco Company in 1890 and the family soon entered the textile business. Duke-led companies would, by the early 1900s, control the national tobacco market and the Dukes would make an enormous fortune in a variety of industries. Washington Duke died in 1905 at the age of 84. In 1924, James Buchanan Duke established The Duke Endowment, with Trinity College as one of its main beneficiaries, and the school was renamed in honor of Washington Duke and his family.

While Duke University saw enormous growth in the twentieth century, critiques of phrenology appeared as early as the 1840s and its popularity waned in the following decades. Now considered a pseudoscience, phrenology is often associated with racist and sexist theories.