Category Archives: RL Scholars

Hidden Treasures in the Harold Jantz Collection

Post contributed by Janice Hansen.

Title page of Happel’s Thesaurus Exoticorum, from the Harold Jantz collection at the Rubenstein Library.

No one can describe the focal points of the Jantz Collection better than Harold Jantz himself. He described the better part of his book-collecting career as “amateur,” marked by “casual collecting according to personal tastes and interests.” Jantz did not consider himself a “bibliophile,” but rather a “reader and an explorer” (Jantz, xxii). This description rings particularly true when considering the Harold Jantz Collection as a whole. Duke University acquired the Jantz Collection in 1976. With approximately 10,500 volumes, it provides one of the most comprehensive and unique explorations of German Baroque literature in the United States. The collection highlights the areas in which Harold Jantz was most interested, including German Americana, Faustian and Goethean material, the occult, and more. In addition to these volumes, the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library holds the personal papers of Harold Jantz; a collection of 170 early manuscripts, music manuscripts, and autograph albums; and a graphic art collection consisting of engravings, etchings, and other prints with dates ranging from the 1400s to the 1800s.

The manuscript fragment through which I got to know the Jantz collection was used to bind Eberhard Werner Happel’s 1688 Thesaurus Exoticorum, a fascinating piece in and of itself. There are a number of reasons why this particular volume would have been of great interest to Harold Jantz, the great explorer of German Baroque literature. Happel’s work is a compendium of information in the German tongue. It collected news and curiosities, ordering these snippets of information and illustrating them profusely with intricate woodcuts.

Engraved title page of Thesaurus Exoticorum showing some of the curiosities and rarities to be discussed in the course of the text.

Works like these have only begun to garner scholarly attention in recent years, but Jantz saw the value in the lesser-known authors and works. The Thesaurus Exoticorum is peppered with information about the Americas, placing it in the genre of Americana, another of Jantz’s collecting focal points. Happel considered reading to be a replacement for experience, this text thus allowing readers more knowledge in reading it than with many years of world travel. The icing on the cake for such a Baroque and Americana-filled work is then its fine binding.

Entry on Brazilian culture as understood by Happel and one of the many descriptions of the New World in the text.

 

But what Jantz likely didn’t know, was just how unique of a binding it truly was. Using leaves of unwanted, outdated, or worn manuscripts to bind other works was a common bookbinding practice in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This practice gave new life to materials that would otherwise be discarded. The manuscript waste on Happel’s work has its own story to tell, and a fascinating one at that. Continue reading Hidden Treasures in the Harold Jantz Collection

Young Researcher Prefers Game Theory to Video Games

Post contributed by Elizabeth Dunn, Research Services Librarian

The Rubenstein Library’s Economists’ Papers Archive attracts numerous scholars from around the globe. This summer, it has also attracted one very special scholar: rising eighth grader Benjamin Knight. Nearly every day, he has been a quiet presence in our reading room, working his way diligently through boxes of our Oskar Morgenstern Papers.

Although we often welcome even very small children whose families make a pilgrimage to see our first edition Book of Mormon, Benjamin is the youngest serious researcher anyone can remember. Those of us on the Research Services staff found his interest in this important Austrian American economist intriguing. He was kind enough to take time out of his work to grant me an interview.

Photo of Benjamin Knight working with a box from the Oscar Morgenstern papers in the Rubenstein Library reading room.
Benjamin Knight in the Rubenstein Library reading room.
Photo by Elizabeth Dunn.

Asked how he became interested in Morgenstern, Benjamin replied that he had read an article about Von Neumann and Morgenstern. (The two economists overlapped at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton from 1938 until 1954. Morgenstern, an economist trained at the University of Vienna and influenced by Carl Menger, was grappling with the challenges of economic prediction. He knew John Von Neumann’s 1928 paper on the theory of games and the two collaborated on their influential 1944 book, Theory of Games and Economic Behavior.1) Benjamin was pleased to discover that we hold the Morgenstern Papers, and is using them to tease out the sources of Morgenstern’s key ideas: the University of Vienna or Princeton. More generally, he is interested in the application of game theory to the analysis of social interactions and political decision-making. Some of the Morgenstern documents are hand-written in German. Asked whether those were challenging, Benjamin replied that the handwriting is a little problematic, but translating the German, which he has never studied, is more difficult.

Benjamin has many other interests besides game theory. He represented Brazil (and, with partner Claire Thananopavarn, won Best Delegation) in the Eighth Annual Chapel Hill-Carrboro Middle School Model United Nations Conference in April. He was part of the Smith team at this year’s Middle School National Academic Quiz Championship Tournament and placed among the top twenty-five competitors in the 2017 Wake Technical Community College Regional State Math Contest. When not competing, Benjamin enjoys reading fiction, history, and politics.

Benjamin comes by his interest in social and political analysis naturally. His mother, cultural anthropologist Margaret “Lou” Brown, is Senior Research Scholar and Director of Programs at Duke University’s Forum for Scholars and Publics. His father Jack Knight is Frederic Cleaveland Professor of Law and Political Science and holds a joint appointment in Duke’s School of Law and Trinity College of Arts and Sciences. Benjamin has not yet decided on a particular career path, but all of us in the Rubenstein are happy that he found us and look forward to following his continued successes.

Notes:

  1. New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

Uncovering a Coordinated Effort to Defend Human Rights in 1980s Nicaragua

Post contributed by Erik A. Moore  Ph.D. student in the History Department at the University of Oklahoma, is recipient of a 2017 Marshall T. Meyer Research Travel Grant.

Letter from Rep. David Bonior to Alex Wilde, 1988

This summer I had the privilege of visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to conduct research in the collection of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) records. WOLA’s records are held in the Duke Human Rights Archive. My research was made possible through generous funding from the library through the Marshall T. Meyer Research Travel Grant. Durham is a wonderful city to visit, and the facilities and the staff at the library were great. And the research was fascinating.

 

I am working on my doctoral dissertation that examines how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as WOLA used arguments based on human rights to contest U.S. support of counterrevolutionaries (the Contras) in Nicaragua in the 1980s. The Reagan administration claimed the Sandinista government in Nicaragua was an ally of the Soviet Union and wanted to spread communist revolution throughout the hemisphere. Reagan used the Contras to pressure the Sandinistas to adopt democratic reforms, but, in doing so, Reagan funded and armed a guerrilla force that was accused of committing atrocities against the Nicaraguan people. I am investigating how successful NGOs were at using human rights advocacy to influence U.S. foreign policy. WOLA is as one of NGOs on which I focus in the dissertation.

 

Letter from U.S. House of Representatives Democratic Study Group, 1988

My work at the library revealed a surprising level of coordination among not only NGOs, but also government officials and Congressional staff members who opposed U.S. support of the Contras. Members of Congress such as Representative David Bonior (D-MI) worked closely with WOLA and other human rights NGOs on issues facing Nicaragua and lobbying other members of Congress to support legislation.[1] I also found a memo from a Congressional staff member, Holly Burkhalter, to the Human Rights Working Group in which she provided analysis of the then-current functioning of the State Department’s Bureau of Human Rights.[2] The Human Rights Working Group was a coalition of national organizations, including WOLA, that periodically met to coordinate efforts toward common goals. WOLA seems to have operated within a large community of progressive human rights-conscious NGOs that often pooled their resources and expertise to influence debates in Congress over U.S. foreign policy. Often, representatives from various organizations met to discuss pending issues and how they could all work together.[3]

Memo from the Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus, U.S. Congress, 1988

This coordination is particularly fascinating for my research because I have found that many of these organizations operated with different agendas, though not necessarily conflicting agendas. One such instance that I found in which the community of human rights NGOs split was over a Contra aid proposal in 1988. Democrats offered a package based on humanitarian non-military aid that served as an alternative to what Reagan and Republicans wanted to offer. The Republican proposal would have centered on military aid. WOLA supported the Democratic aid package in order to bring humanitarian aid to Nicaragua and the rest of Central America and to prevent the Republican plan from coming to a vote and likely passing. Other NGOs, such as the Nicaragua Network, Witness for Peace, and Quest for Peace, all of which worked closely with WOLA throughout the 1980s, opposed any form of aid to the Contras and rejected the Democratic alternative.[4]

My research will continue to investigate strategies and coordination of NGOs opposing the Contra War and how the different interpretations given to human rights influenced the decisions and advocacy of these NGO in lobbying Congress

[1] David E. Bonior to Alex Wilde, Letter, (March 14, 1988), Box 27, Folder: Democratic Contra Alternative, Washington Office on Latin America Records, David M. Rubenstein Rare Books & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

[2] Holly Burkhalter to Human Rights Working Group/Coalition, “The Bureau of Human Rights: Law and Implementation,” Memorandum, (June 24, 1981), Box 433, Folder: Human Rights Working Group 1981, Washington Office on Latin America Records, David M. Rubenstein Rare Books & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

[3] Holly Burkhalter to Human Rights Working Group/Coalition, “The Bureau of Human Rights: Law and Implementation,” Memorandum, (June 24, 1981), Box 433, Folder: Human Rights Working Group 1981, Washington Office on Latin America Records, David M. Rubenstein Rare Books & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

[4] “Special Alert: Contra Aid Packages” (Washington, D.C.: Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus, March 1, 1988), Box 27, Folder: Democratic Contra Alternative, Washington Office on Latin America Records, David M. Rubenstein Rare Books & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Movers and Shakers: Robin Morgan and Ms. Magazine

wonder-womanDate: Thursday, October 20
Time: 3:30-4:30 p.m.
Location: Breedlove Conference Room, 349 Rubenstein Library
Optional Facebook RSVP

Please join us for a conversation with Linda Lumsden, associate professor at the University of Arizona School of Journalism, about her research project, The Ms. Makeover: The survival, evolution, and cultural significance of the venerable feminist magazine. Dr. Lumsden received a Mary Lily Research Grant recipient to conduct research at the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History.

Light refreshments will be served.

Photographic Research on Obstetric and Gynecological Instruments

Auvard Weighted Speculum from the L. M. Draper Collection..
Auvard Weighted Speculum from the L. M. Draper Collection.

With generous assistance from the History of Medicine travel grant, I traveled to Duke University to view and photograph historical obstetric and gynecological tools housed in Duke’s History of Medicine Collections at the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.  There I viewed various artifact collections donated by practicing regional doctors, including the L. M. Draper Collection, the George D. & Evelyn Wilbanks Collection, and several anonymous collections.  I also viewed anatomical lift-the-flap guide books, lift-the-flap anatomical fugitive sheets and the Trent Collection of Ivory Anatomical Manikins, all of which were used to teach medical procedures, including delivery.

Having access to Duke’s collection was an incredible experience.  I treated it like a short artist residency.  I set up my lights, a pop-up tent, my camera and a tripod in a study room within the library.  Every morning, a cart was wheeled in with OB/GYN tools, anatomy text books and glass slides.  It was exciting (and a little nerve-wracking), opening up boxes and not knowing their contents.  For some items, I felt I was discovering the files for the first time.  In a way I was: besides the archivists who received and catalogued them, some of the items had never been requested.  I often felt as though I were in the medical field—donning nitrile gloves, carefully removing the items from their boxes, gently lying them down on the fabric of my pop-up lighting tent, careful not to harm them in any way.  I found myself photographing them as abstractions or as jewelry, a style of cataloguing unlike other projects I have photographed.

Smellie-Style Obstetrical Forceps from the George & Evelyn Wilbanks Collection.
Smellie-Style Obstetrical Forceps from the George & Evelyn Wilbanks Collection.

My work focuses on historical and contemporary women’s lives and I am particularly interested in the past’s technology and how it relates to today.  I have previously done photographic projects on antique vibrators, social media and the practice of keeping a commonplace book and with this project, the history of labor and delivery technology.  While the process of getting pregnant has changed with IVF and the location of delivery may have changed, the actual process of delivery has not changed.  Although American society emphasizes new products & experiences, and the medical world uses recent technology & procedures, women continue to deliver only one of two ways—vaginally or via Cesarean section.  Prior to my arrival at Duke, I assumed the tools used in labor and delivery were harmful to the infants and delivering women.  I also wondered how deadly labor actually was—in fictionalized accounts in both books and screen, no female who delivered a newborn ever lived, and seldom the child.  I expected antique tools to be brutal and different in appearance than today.  It surprised me that many of the tools I photographed resembled contemporary tools, only with time’s effect through rust or evident aging.

My research at Duke is the beginning of both my project and into further research on the history of the OB/GYN tools and their uses.  Although in its early stages, I plan to study these tools’ history, as well as their use & influence today.  The final images may be printed as slides, emulating turn of the twentieth century magic-lantern plates or late-twentieth century educational slide shows.  Whatever form these images take, I was particularly inspired by the anatomical lift-the flap books & broad sides and will create an artist book influenced by these interactive educational guides.  I look forward to sharing future developments of this project. Thank you to everyone at Duke University’s Rubenstein Library for their assistance during my stay.

Post contributed by History of Medicine Travel Grant recipient Lindsey Beal. Beal is a photo-based artist and professor in Providence, Rhode Island.  Her work and further information can be found at lindseybeal.com.

Marshall Meyer and Argentina’s Jewish Movement for Human Rights

Today, March 24, 2016, marks the fortieth anniversary of the Argentine military coup that ushered in one of the Western Hemisphere’s most repressive regimes. Seeking to quash “subversion” and liberalize the economy, the coalition of military and civilian leaders who seized power in March 1976 instituted a vicious, secretive system of kidnapping, torture, and killing that claimed tens of thousands of lives and damaged countless more.

Each March 24, now deemed the Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice, Argentina honors these victims and energizes the ongoing struggle for accountability. Yet this year’s commemoration has assumed an unusual character, as President Barack Obama’s ill-timed visit to Argentina has focused the lion’s share of attention on the U.S.’ own role in first encouraging and later opposing the dictatorship. The involvement of the U.S., however, is far from the whole story. Indeed, focusing on this topic alone obscures the pioneering work of the coalition of Argentine human rights groups that fought, at great personal risk, to denounce the dictatorship, demanding justice for its victims and punishment of its crimes.

In this post I turn away from the presidential-visit frenzy to focus instead on one of the less-heralded members of the anti-regime coalition, the Movimiento Judío por los Derechos Humanos (MJDH, or Jewish Movement for Human Rights). Founded in August 1983 by Argentine journalist Herman Schiller and U.S.-born Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer, the MJDH served as a pole of Jewish anti-regime activism. Yet despite its significance, the MJDH has received little attention in Spanish and virtually none in English. Fortunately, though, the Rubenstein Library’s Marshall T. Meyer Papers contain a wealth of documents that shed light on Meyer’s role in the organization and on its broader efforts on behalf of truth and justice in Argentina, enabling this brief and timely overview of its work.

The dictatorship that seized power on March 24, 1976 was a product not only of Cold War anti-communism, but also of Argentina’s long-standing nationalist ideology, an anti-modern vision of the world that combined ultramontane Catholicism and anti-Semitism with a violent desire to quash all opposition. Many within this movement saw Jews a key root of subversion in Argentina and the world at large (powerfully illustrated in the “tree of subversion” illustration below), so it is unsurprising that the country’s large Jewish minority found itself a disproportionate target of state violence. Yet the major institutions of the country’s Jewish establishment—including its umbrella organization, the Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas (DAIA, or Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations) took a cautious and even cooperative approach to the dictatorship, leaving regime victims and their relatives with few places to turn for support. At the same time, international Jewish organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee fought valiantly to denounce the dictatorship, yet in centering their activism exclusively on the Jewish community, these groups at times divorced the Jewish-Argentine experience of repression from those of other regime victims.

Roots of Subversion

Building on Schiller’s ongoing anti-regime advocacy and Meyer’s longstanding work to support both Jews and non-Jews subject to the dictatorship’s terror, the MJDH came together in mid-1983 in order to advance a holistic vision of social justice that tied the defeat of anti-Semitism to the protection of human rights across all sectors of Argentine society. By this point, the country’s dictatorship was fast approaching the brink of collapse, having been fatally weakened by its humiliating defeat in the 1982 Malvinas/Falklands War with the United Kingdom. It was a moment, Schiller and Meyer understood, when a united opposition reaching across Argentine society could both extract real concessions from the regime and help to shape a most just democratic future.

The MJDH’s first public activity, as described in a November 1984 summary of its first year of organizing, was to convene a Jewish continent to participate in an August 1983 march against the military’s attempt to bestow amnesty upon itself for its many crimes. The success of this act emboldened Meyer and Schiller, encouraging them to plan their first independent rally for October of that year. Amid the political and economic tumult of late 1983, a new wave of anti-Semitism was washing over the country. While DAIA and other community leaders quietly lobbied the dictatorship to combat rising anti-Jewish sentiments, the MJDH took to the streets of downtown Buenos Aires. Despite DAIA’s attempts to derail the event, thousands of supporters gathered at the city’s iconic Obelisk to hear Nobel laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and Hebe de Bonafini, leader of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, denounce anti-Semitism and state terror as interlinked assaults on Argentines’ basic human dignity.

The MJDH’s work continued past the free election of civilian President Raúl Alfonsín on October 30, 1983. Throughout the transitional period, Schiller and Meyer organized rallies, speeches, conferences, and teach-ins, working with the Mothers and other human rights advocates to denounce ongoing threats to democracy and to demand the judicial punishment of regime crimes. Together with the efforts of other Argentine human rights groups, these efforts culminated in the precedent-setting 1985 Trial of the Juntas, which sent the dictatorship’s generals and torturers to jail and helped consolidate a new norm of criminal accountability in Argentina and in post-dictatorial societies far beyond. While the MJDH’s activities have diminished in subsequent decades, even today the MJDH continues to push for a full accounting of dictatorship-era abuses and for open discussion of the Jewish community’s complicated role in these difficult years. Spanning these decades of activism is a commitment to the plural vision of Jewish well-being, tied inseparably to universal rights, to which Meyer dedicated his life.

By examining the work of civil society groups like the MJDH, we can help to move beyond decontextualized visions of the dictatorship that present it as a narrow conspiracy, imposed on the country with aid from abroad. The experiences of leaders like Herman Schiller and Marshall Meyer, together with those of the MJDH’s supporters and opponents alike, help us to recover from Argentina’s recent history a measure of the nuance and complexity with which it was lived.

Post contributed by Paul Katz, PhD Candidate in History, Columbia University. 

A Bitter Look at the Sweet History of Brown Sugar

Amari Victoria Stokes was a student in Kelly Alexander’s Our Culinary Cultures course offered in the Fall 2015 semester in the Center for Documentary Studies. Utilizing Rubenstein Library resources, students in the class were asked to explore the history of a culinary ingredient of their choice, find a recipe that exemplified their chosen ingredient, and prepare it for the class. The following is Amari’s research paper submitted for the class.

Ginger DropsTwo eggs well beaten, one-cup brown sugar, two teaspoons ginger, one-cup N.O. molasses (boiled), one-teaspoon baking soda, flour to roll out. Mix in the order given. I poured the molasses into a pot and watched small bubbles form and subsequently burst as the dark liquid began to heat. As the molasses boiled on the stove, I started mixing the ingredients in the order specified in the recipe. After the eggs had been beaten furiously with my new silver whisk, I began to measure the brown sugar for what I hoped would be a delicious dessert.

Sticky and compact, I remember struggling to handle this strange sugar during family barbeques as we seasoned our meat. As I thought about it, I realized besides an occasional pineapple upside down cake, outside of barbeque, I couldn’t recall ever having used brown sugar. Why was that, I asked?

The story of brown sugar begins, unsurprisingly, with the story of sugar. Sugars are natural ingredients found in most plants but what we have come to known as sugar is often extracted from sugarcane and sugar beets. Sugar cane, from the genus Saccharum, was originally cultivated in tropical climates in South and Southeast Asia.1 Neither should it be a surprise that the road from brown sugar to white sugar looks very much like the roads taken to get to white bread, white flour, and white cotton. All have similar histories where the unnatural but white version is preferred or is seen as a higher quality than the browner, natural varieties.2

Three hundred years after being introduced to Europeans by Christopher Columbus in 1492,3 by the 19th Century, sugar was considered a necessity.4 This evolution of taste and demand for sugar had major economic and social implications for the entire world. As a result of this demand, tropical islands were colonized and sugarcane plantations began ‘cropping up’ in record numbers. Consequently, the demand for cheap labor to assist in the labor-intensive cultivation and processing of sugarcane contributed greatly to the transatlantic slave trade, which displaced many African peoples.5

As I turned down the heat on the molasses to allow it simmer, I carefully added ground ginger. Watching the ginger disappear into the creamy brown concoction, I thought back to my ancestors. It wouldn’t surprise me if at some point in history one of them had made the same treat for her master’s children while her own children toiled in the hot sun picking cotton or harvesting sugarcane.

Continue reading A Bitter Look at the Sweet History of Brown Sugar

Profiles in Research: Dr. Jaime Cantrell on Southern Lesbian Literature

My current book project, Southern Sapphisms: Sexuality and Sociality in Literary Productions 1969-1997, considers how queer and feminist theories illuminate and complicate the intersections between canonical and obscure, queer and normative, and regional and national narratives in southern literary representations produced during a crucial but understudied period in the historical politicization of sexuality. The advent of New Southern Studies has focused almost exclusively on midcentury texts from the Southern Renascence, largely neglecting post-1970 queer literatures. At the same time, most scholarship in women’s and feminist studies continue to ignore the South, or worse, demonize the South as backward, parochial, and deeply homophobic. Southern Sapphisms argues that we cannot understand expressions of lesbianism and feminism in post-Stonewall era American literature without also understanding the explicitly southern dynamics of those writings—foregrounding the centrality of sexuality to the study of southern literature as well as the region’s defining role in the historiography of lesbian literature in the United States.

Vital archival work completed at the Sallie Bingham Center this past May strengthened my arguments about the formations of lesbian identity and community in the North Carolina lesbian-feminist journal Feminary (1969-1982). Feminary has been lauded by one scholar as “the source and backbone of contemporary Southern lesbian feminist theory,” due in part to the forum it provided for southern lesbians to voice their inimitable outlooks on race, regionality, and social justice[i]. At a local level, Feminary forged and grounded a community of Durham/Triangle feminists, lesbians, and women writing and printing as a collective. At a national level, I show how the women of this journal were actually inspired by the increasingly turbulent battles over civil rights in the South. This revelation upends prevailing notions that the Stonewall riots in New York were the watershed that changed lesbian and gay politics and culture in the nation. My work on Feminary recasts dominant national narratives about queer lives, histories, and activism in the region by illustrating how lesbian feminist politics gained their inspiration and momentum not only from Stonewall, but also from the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and massive resistance against civil rights and gay and lesbian rights in the South. Access to rare archival documents—only available at Duke University’s Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library—prove that Second Wave feminism and modern lesbian politics have extensive southern roots. To ignore the distinctly regional dynamics of those roots is to misunderstand the complexity of those movements across the nation and beyond.

eminary collective (left to right, top to bottom row): Helen Langa, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Eleanor Holland, Cris South, and Mab Segrest. Photo by Elena Freedom, 1982. From the Minnie Bruce Pratt Papers.
Feminary collective (left to right, top to bottom row): Helen Langa, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Eleanor Holland, Cris South, and Mab Segrest. Photo by Elena Freedom, 1982. From the Minnie Bruce Pratt Papers.

I am grateful for the support of the Mary Lily Research Grant, which enabled my research at the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture. I was able to consult materials from the Minnie Bruce Pratt Papers and the Dorothy Allison Papers, and was honored and humbled to use the Mab Segrest Papers.

Continue reading Profiles in Research: Dr. Jaime Cantrell on Southern Lesbian Literature

Profiles in Research: Georgina Colby and the Kathy Acker Papers

I was awarded a Mary Lily Research Grant in 2014 to travel to the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture to consult The Kathy Acker Papers. In April 2014 I carried out research in the archive for my book manuscript, Kathy Acker: Writing the Impossible, which is under contract with Edinburgh University Press.

Critics and scholars in the field of contemporary literature have largely understood Kathy Acker as a postmodern writer. My monograph challenges such readings of the writer and her works, paying close attention to the form of Acker’s experimental writings, as a means to position Acker and her work within a lineage of radical modernisms.

Consulting The Kathy Acker Papers, the extensive archive of Acker’s works housed at the Sallie Bingham Center, shaped my research in a number of ways. Most striking, and perhaps the aspect of the archive that has been most formative to my work, is what the archive revealed in terms of the materiality of Acker’s various manuscripts. The original manuscript of Acker’s early and most renowned work, Blood and Guts in High School (1978), is a lined notepad with text and image pasted onto the pages. It is a collage, an art object. The dream maps, which punctuate Blood and Guts in High School, are archived as separate framed objects. Dream Map Two is an artwork measuring 56 inches by 22 inches. Such archival discoveries enabled the development of my book. The monograph takes a specific work of Acker’s for each chapter as a means to explore six key experimental strategies in Acker’s oeuvre. A substantial knowledge of Acker’s avant-garde practices would not have been possible without the research carried out in the archive.

Image from manuscript for Blood and Guts in High  School by Kathy Acker
Image from manuscript for Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker

The Kathy Acker Papers also illuminated a related line of enquiry taken in my monograph: the importance of Acker’s early poetic practices to an understanding of her later prose experiments, which often dislimn the distinction between poetry and prose. The repository of unpublished poetic works provided rich material for the first chapter of my book, which explores Acker’s engagement with the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets in the 1970s. Acker’s unpublished poetry can be understood as both a significant autonomous body of work, and as juvenilia that was a catalyst for her later writing experiments. The box that houses these early works also contains typed conversations between Acker and her early mentor, the poet David Antin. Written under Acker’s early pseudonym, The Black Tarantula, these conversations point to the discourses that emerged between Acker and various writers and poets concerning the uses of language. In this 1974 text, ‘Interview With David Antin’, which reads in part, and perhaps intentionally, like a Socratic dialogue, Acker and Antin interrogate issues of language and certainty. Acker and Antin draw on their writing experiments, alongside a discussion of Wittgenstein’s On Certainty, as means to interrogate language and perception. Such materials are rich when read in conjunction with Acker’s poetry.

Reading the materials in the archive, letters, early drafts of published works, speeches, Acker’s teaching notes and notebooks on philosophy, as well as Acker’s handwritten annotations on various texts, and her invaluable collection of small press pamphlets, was illuminating. Numerous texts disclosed the self-conscious nature of Acker’s experiments. A number of early poetic experiments are entitled ‘Writing Asymmetrically’, and several notebooks gesture specifically to the influence of William Burroughs and Acker’s experiments with the cut-up technique. Other notebooks are streams of consciousness, and are evidently comprised of material that Acker then cut up for use in her experimental works. Most of Acker’s novels originated this way, as a set of handwritten notebooks.

KIC Image 0002
Image from manuscript for Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker

Archival research at the Sallie Bingham Center cultivated a rich understanding of the diversity of Acker’s experimental work and the writer’s remarkable lifetime achievements, many of which remain unpublished. The extent of the material and its uniqueness brought home the importance and centrality of the archive in the formation of knowledge regarding an experimental writer’s oeuvre. In the context of the female avant-garde writer, Acker stated that Gertrude Stein, as the progenitor of experimental women’s writing, is ‘the mother of us all.’ The remarkable experimentalism and the linguistic innovation of a great number of the texts that comprise The Kathy Acker Papers reveal Acker to succeed Stein as one of the most important experimental writers of the twentieth century.

Post contributed by Georgina Colby, Lecturer in Contemporary Literature, University of Westminster, UK.

 

Human Rights Archive Collection Sheds Light on 1983 Assassination of Peruvian Journalists

I am Carmen Valdivieso Hulbert, a New York-based journalist-filmmaker born in Peru. I am currently co-directing and producing Uchuraccay, an investigative, human rights documentary for my company, Quinoa Films Inc.

The documentary attempts to find answers related to the assassinations of eight journalists and their guide in 1983 in Uchuraccay, a hamlet in the Andes of Peru. The murders occurred amidst warfare between the Maoist group, Shining Path, and Peruvian military forces. As part of my investigation of the case, I found valuable material among the Coletta Youngers Papers at the Human Rights Archive in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Map of Peru showing location of Uchuraccay.
Map of Peru showing location of Uchuraccay.

In the process of this ten-year investigation, I have found a large amount of information which at first did not stand out due to the complexity of the case. In February 2015, I found a copy of the original report on the assassinations filed by the government-appointed investigative commission in March of 1983. The group was led by Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa. According to the commission’s findings, the villagers of Uchuraccay were the sole culprits of the murders. Furthermore, the report fails to cite any military presence in the area when the murders took place.

This report was based on testimony given to the commission by the military chief of Ayacucho, the capital city of Huamanga Province, where Uchuraccay is located. He stated that the last military flight to the area took place on Sunday, January 23, 1983. His testimony conflicts with information I found in an article published on January 27th of the same year in the leading newspaper, El Comercio. The article, based on information received from the same military headquarters, indicates that a group of military and police officials arrived in the area from Lima on January 26th. Around noon, the group visited Uchuraccay, among other areas. This was the very day that the journalists arrived in Uchuraccay and were allegedly murdered around 4 p.m.

The discrepancy only hit me after I found and read the investigative report this past February. Had I not found this particular document in the Coletta Youngers Papers, it would have taken me longer to connect the dots.

A friend I met on my last trip to Lima in January of 2014 had mentioned that Javier Azcue, the journalist who wrote the story in El Comercio, had told him about the importance of that visit, and that no journalist had taken note of it. I was not sure what he was referring to until I re-read the official report at the Rubenstein.

On January 30, 1983, the date of the exhumation of the eight journalists’ bodies, villagers in Uchuraccay told a journalist who spoke Quechua, one of the main Peruvian indigenous languages, that the soldiers had told them to kill any stranger who arrived in the community on foot, and that they should remove their eyes and cut out their tongues while they were still alive. Apparently that did not happen, as indicated by the newspapers clippings I found among the Coletta Youngers Papers. While at the Rubenstein, I found some enlarged newspapers clippings of La Republica that showed close-up photos taken the day the bodies were exhumed. The photographs show the faces of five of the eight murdered journalists. As gruesome as these images are, they show two of the journalists with eyes half-closed and intact, and three with their eyes closed but without signs of having been removed, as some of the villagers had previously stated.

Photocopy of article from La Republica. From the Coletta Youngers Papers.
Photocopy of article from La Republica. From the Coletta Youngers Papers.

Previously I had only heard the recordings of the villagers’ testimonies in their native Quechua, along with a transcript translated into Spanish. I was therefore able to recognize one of the villager’s photo and name in the newspaper clipping.

Post contributed by Carmen Valdivieso Hulbert, Rubenstein Library researcher, journalist, and filmmaker.