Category Archives: From Our Collections

Franklin Research Center Acquires John Wesley Blassingame Papers

The John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture is pleased to announce its recent acquisition of the papers of John Wesley Blassingame, the nationally-renowned scholar of American history and author of such influential works as The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South and Frederick Douglass: The Clarion Voice.

Blassingame’s path-breaking scholarship has had a profound impact on the American understanding of slavery and the African American experience. The collection includes correspondence, personal manuscripts and research files from Blassingame’s long academic career, and is particularly rich in materials drawn from his work on the Frederick Douglass Papers.

For more information on using this collection, contact the Franklin Research Center staff at franklin-collection(at)duke.edu.

Rights! Camera! Action!: No Umbrella and Please Vote for Me

Date: Tuesday, 3 November, 2009
Time: 7:00 PM
Location: Rare Book Room
Contact Information: Patrick Stawski, 919-660-5823 or patrick.stawski(at)duke.edu, or Kirston Johnson, 919-681-7963 or kirston.johnson(at)duke.edu

Celebrate Election Day at the second installment of Rights! Camera! Action! This monthly film series, which is sponsored by the Archive for Human Rights, the Archive of Documentary Arts, the Duke Human Rights Center, and the Franklin Humanities Institute, features documentaries on human rights themes that were award winners at the annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. The films are archived at the RBMSCL, where they form part of a rich and expanding collection of human rights materials.

No Umbrella (26 minutes) shows Fannie Lewis in action on November 2, 2004 as she struggles to manage a polling station in a predominantly African American precinct in Cleveland, Ohio. Facing record numbers at the polls, Ms. Lewis spends her day on a cell phone begging for the machines and the technical support Ward 7 needs to handle the throngs of frustrated voters. This documentary won the Jury Award for Best Short at the 2006 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.

Please Vote for Me (58 minutes) is a portrait of a society and a town in through a school, its children and its families. In Wuhan, China, a 3rd grade class at Evergreen Primary School has their first encounter with democracy by holding an election to select a Class Monitor. Eight-year-olds compete against each other for the coveted position, abetted and egged on by teachers and doting parents.

Kerry L. Haynie of Duke’s Department of Political Science and Ralph Litzinger of Duke’s Department of Cultural Anthropology will lead discussion following the films.

An Artist Responds to Hurricane Katrina

The artistic response to societal tragedy is always a difficult balance: how can art contribute to understanding and interpreting, without aestheticizing suffering? In the past decade, films, novels, and other creative approaches to events such as the Holocaust, 9/11, and the conflict in Darfur have provoked controversy and debate about art’s place in the discussion of international politics and personal suffering.

Shortly after the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s 2005 landing on the Gulf Coast, the RBMSCL acquired a unique artist’s book, Katrina by Beth Thielen, made in 2007. An opening supported by waves of paper reveals tiny human figures trapped in a whirlpool, begging for help. The text asks, “How do we make a just society when there is an underlying contempt for helplessness?”


In correspondence with this post’s author, the artist explained: “I made the work because the moment was such a clear and rare reveal of the darker undercurrents of our country…. During Katrina we all watched the images of people with outstretched arms pleading towards the sky. Is there any image more archetypal of helplessness? It is a crying baby’s pose. Reproachful disdain to helplessness… is as primitive as a school yard bully calling someone a crybaby after taking their candy.” She continues, “To feel with is to feel for. A civilized response.”

Thielen’s work joins another artist’s book in the RBMSCL’s collections, Habitat by Jessica Peterson, which explores Katrina’s destruction of Biloxi, Mississippi. Both works add to our collections of Southern Americana and artists’ books by women. Nearly 300 more works of fiction, films, essays, and scholarly works on Hurricane Katrina can also be found in the Duke Libraries’ online catalog (see these catalog records here).

Post contributed by Will Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections

Witnessing Iran: 1979 and 2009

Date: Wednesday, 4 November, 2009
Time: 4:30 PM
Location: Perkins Library 217
Contact Information: Ilene Nelson, 919-660-5816 or ilene.nelson(at)duke.edu

On the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the Iran Hostage Crisis, the RBMSCL will host a discussion of the changing role of the eyewitness account in the creation of historical narrative—with Iran as the context.

Mark Bowden, author of Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam, will talk about the interviews he conducted with hostages and hostage-takers in the 1979 crisis, as well as the information he obtained from military officials about 1980’s failed rescue attempt.

Negar Mottahedeh, associate professor in Duke’s Program in Literature, will speak about social networks and new media in the reporting of current events in Iran. Professor Mottahedeh posts frequently on Twitter about developments in Iran (follow her here).

The discussion will be moderated by Bruce Kuniholm, dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy and a member of both the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Policy Planning Staff during the Carter administration.

Library staff have prepared a LibGuide in conjunction with this event. Of particular interest, the RBMSCL holds the interviews Mark Bowden conducted (collection guide here), as well as the interviews that author and Duke alum Tim Wells conducted with 36 of the the 1979 hostages (collection guide here).

Doris Duke Collection Comes “Home” to Duke

The press dubbed Doris Duke “the richest girl in the world” when she inherited a fortune from her father, Duke University founder James B. Duke, in 1925 at the age of twelve. Upon her death in 1993, Duke left the majority of her estate to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The Foundation recently gave its historical archives to the RBMSCL. The Foundation’s historical archives, 800 linear feet of materials (an amount that, stacked vertically, would be four times taller than the Duke Chapel), includes photographs, architectural drawings, and motion picture footage of Doris Duke and the Duke family.

Artist’s rendering of a proposed Duke mansion.
Artist’s rendering of a proposed Duke mansion.

Records of Duke’s Foundation for Southeast Asian Art and Culture, the Newport Restoration Foundation, and the Duke Gardens Foundation are in the archives as are documents related to the operation of her properties: Duke Farms, a 2,700-acre estate in Hillsborough, New Jersey, that her father created at the turn of the 20th century; Rough Point, the Duke family mansion in Newport, Rhode Island; and Shangri La, her home in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she exhibited her extensive collection of Islamic art.

All of the materials in the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation historical archives will be open for research in about two years when processing of the materials has been completed.

More information about the collection may be found here. Or, contact the RBMSCL at special-collections(at)duke.edu.

Post contributed by Tim Pyatt, University Archivist and Associate Director of the RBMSCL.