Category Archives: RL Scholars

Would You Buy a Comic Book from this Woman?

Post contributed by Sagan Thacker, recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Asheville BA in History. Read more in their senior thesis, “‘Something to Offend Everyone’: Situating Feminist Comics of the 1970s and ‘80s in the Second-Wave Feminist Movement,” forthcoming in the University of North Carolina at Asheville Journal of Undergraduate Research and available to read here.

“Would You Buy a Comic Book from This Woman?” by Barb Behm, in Amazon: A Feminist Journal (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), February 1976. From the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance Periodicals Collection, Box 1.

In January 2020, I traveled from Western North Carolina to the Sallie Bingham Center to study feminist newspapers in two of the Bingham Center’s incredible collections: the Women’s and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Movements (LGBT) Periodicals and Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance Periodicals collections. I was looking for material about feminist underground comics of the 1970s and ‘80s—books such as Wimmen’s Comix and Tits and Clits. I wanted to determine what feminists of the time period thought about the comics, and whether they viewed them as serious literature or just mindless entertainment.

I soon found several articles that turned popular notions of comics on their heads. Most notable was a February 1976 article from the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, newspaper Amazon: A Feminist Journal. Written by Barb Behm about the now obscure Pricella Pumps/Star Buckwheat Comic Book by Barba Kutzner (1976), the article cogently praised the book’s relatability and satire of American society and its metaphorical significance for all women. Behm touted Kutzner’s protagonist as both a character with which women could heartily identify and a way to break free from the oppressive system and celebrate non-normativity.

This source was instrumental in showing that feminist underground comics, far from being tangential and lowbrow parts of the second-wave feminist movement, were instead an important part of the intellectual discourse within feminism. By finding a critic who enthusiastically engaged with the work on a level beyond its perceived lowbrow status, it became clear that some feminists viewed comics as a valid and direct medium to write and engage with feminism on a level that would not be widespread until the zine revolution of the late 1980s and early ‘90s. This reframing of comics’ literary history deepens our understanding of second-wave feminism and gives a more nuanced portrait of its discursive diversity.

Cover by Barba Kutzner, Amazon: A Feminist Journal (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), February 1976. From the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance Periodicals Collection, Box 1.

 

Duke’s May Queen

Post contributed by Theodore D. Segal, guest contributor1

On September 26, 2020, Duke University announced that the Sociology-Psychology Building on its West Campus was renamed the Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke Building to recognize Reuben-Cooke’s role as one of the “First Five” Black undergraduates at Duke and her many contributions to the university. A fitting honor, this recognition recalls a different time at Duke, one when Reuben-Cooke’s election as the school’s first Black May Queen stirred controversy.

* * * * * * * * *

Although by 1967 a number of longstanding traditions at Duke had been set aside, the annual practice of crowning a “May Queen” endured. Selection of the “Queen” was a centerpiece of popular “May Day” celebrations, a holiday whose origins date back to the ancient world. Villagers throughout Europe would collect flowers and participate in games, pageants, and dances throughout the day. It became customary to crown a young woman “May Queen” to oversee the festivities. During the early 20th century, selection of a May Queen became common at women’s colleges in the United States and had acquired a special meaning in the South. “The crowning of the May Queen as the ritual incantation of Southern society’s ideal of femininity,” historian Christie Anne Farnham wrote, “was a traditional event at Southern female schools. . . . The queen was usually elected by the students on the basis of ‘sweetness’ and beauty,” Farnham explained, although the father’s status often played a role.

May Queen traditions at Duke dated back to 1921 when the school was still known as Trinity College. The Trinity Chronicle reported that 2000 spectators attended May Day festivities that first year, and that the two-day celebration was spent “in gaiety and amusement.” Undergraduate Martha Wiggins was crowned Queen of May that year. The school newspaper wrote that she, “wore a lovely costume of shimmering white, bearing a corsage of white roses with her golden hair cascading in waves down her back, making a charming picture of perfect grace and absolute loveliness.”

Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke poses at the Anderson Street entrance to the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in 1967. She wears a cardigan and skirt, and the Duke Chapel is visible in the distance behind her.Given this context, it was newsworthy when Wilhelmina Reuben, a member of Duke’s first class of Black undergraduates, was selected as the Woman’s College May Queen in spring 1967. As runners up in the voting, white coeds Mary Earle and Jo Humphreys were designated to serve as Reuben’s “court.” The Associated Press picked up the news, reporting that “Mimi, as she is known to her friends, is a Negro—the first of her race to receive the honor at the women’s[sic] college of the university.” Chosen for her character, leadership, campus service, and beauty, Reuben had been selected May Queen by a vote of students in the woman’s college. A fact sheet on Reuben prepared by Mary Grace Wilson, dean of women, described her as “warm, friendly, perceptive and sensitive to the feelings of others.” Wilson called her “one of the most admired and highly respected students on the campus.” Reuben was a member of the freshman honor society and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior. A student intern at the State Department, she was listed in “Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges. For her part, Reuben was pleased by her selection. “I’m still trying to adjust to it,” she told the Associated Press. “I’ve been walking around in a delightful haze of disbelief and excitement.”

Many at Duke were pleased with the news. Randolph C. Harrison, Jr., an alumnus from Richmond, Virginia, wrote to Douglas Knight, Duke’s president, that the “undergraduates’ choice of Miss Reuben as May Queen attests once more to Duke’s greatness. What a step towards inter-racial accord.”

If Reuben’s election represented progress to some, however, the prospect of a Black May Queen flanked by two white members of her “court” felt like a violation of the established social order to others. Jonathan Kinney, president of the Duke student government, saw the reaction when he had the responsibility of “crowning” the queen and her court. “I kissed all the rest of the panel,” he recalled, “so I kissed [Wilhelmina Reuben]. There were a lot of boos in that stadium at that time.” An anonymous alumnus sent the Duke president pictures of the “pretty May Queens chosen at Peace, St. Mary’s, and Meredith Colleges,” all of whom were white, along with a picture of Reuben, “a colored girl who was chosen May Queen at our Dear Ole Duke University.” The alumnus noted the “deplorable contrast between the May Queens of other colleges and the stunning representative from Duke.” He told Knight “Duke Alumni everywhere were stunned and several in South Carolina had strokes.” One correspondent, identified as a “lifelong, respected citizen of Wilmington, North Carolina,” outlined with exasperation the problems that Reuben’s election was creating at the city’s annual Azalea Festival where May Queens from throughout North Carolina were invited to attend:

The Sprunt’s annual garden party at Orton [Plantation] for the college queens (held for the past 20 years) has been cancelled; the Coastguard Academy, which was supposed to furnish her escort, says they don’t have a colored boy available; the private home in which she was supposed to stay is not now available; and there are all sorts of complications.

“The crowd who elected her has done a disservice to her,” the writer opined, “and placed a no doubt nice girl in an embarrassing situation.”

Finally, two trustees weighed in. C. B. Houck told Knight that he liked and respected “the colored people” and wanted them to have “every opportunity that the white people have.” Still, he thought Reuben’s election was in “bad taste” and that the “East Campus girls were leaning over backwards to be nice.” For Houck, the symbolism was deeply troubling. “To select a colored person for May Queen and have white maids of honor flanking her on either side,” he concluded, “makes for poor and critical relationship [sic] among many people, particularly in the South.” Trustee George Ivey was also deeply concerned. Writing from Bangkok, Thailand, he called Reuben’s selection “very upsetting to me.” Even if the selection was by Duke’s coeds, Ivey regretted “that the University has attracted the type of students that would vote for a Negro girl as a ‘beauty’ to represent the student body. It is nauseating to contemplate.”

By spring 1967, Duke had eliminated most of the school’s de jure discriminatory policies and practices. Reuben’s election as May Queen could be seen as another positive sign of racial progress. But the episode also shined a spotlight on the depth of attachment some still had to traditional racist ideas. These attitudes would become even more pronounced in the months to come as Black student activism accelerated on campus.

1Ted Segal is a Duke graduate (A.B. 1977), retired lawyer, and a board member of the Center for Documentary Studies at the school.  His book, POINT OF RECKONING: The Fight for Racial Justice at Duke University, will be published by Duke University Press in February 2021. Special thanks to the Duke University Archives for preserving the historical records quoted in this piece and for making them readily accessible.

Understanding the Eye through Pictures

Post contributed by Wenrui Zhao, a Ph.D. candidate in the History Department at Columbia University and a History of Medicine Collections travel grant recipient

What did people know about the anatomy of our eyes and the causes of eye diseases in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? How did they understand vision and think about the sense of sight? My dissertation “Dissecting Sight: Eye Surgery and Vision in Early Modern Europe” tries to answer these questions. Thanks to a generous History of Medicine travel grant, I could consult the wonderful collections at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to support my project.

The absolute highlight of my visit is the book Ophthalmodouleia, das ist Augendienst by the German surgeon Georg Bartisch, published in 1583 in Dresden. It is one of the earliest publications on eye diseases and eye surgery, and is written in vernacular German. Bartisch was a man of modest upbringing who never received university medical training, yet he was appointed oculist to the Elector of Saxony late in his life.

Bartisch’s treatise is about the mechanism of seeing, but also enacts an experience of seeing. The most striking feature of this book is the great number of finely-executed illustrations alongside the texts. These woodcuts depict various subjects related to ocular disorders and surgical techniques. The Rubenstein Library has one of the very few hand-colored copies of this treatise. While I have already seen this edition in black and white elsewhere, examining this beautiful hand-colored copy was a very different experience and brought new insights.

Color photo of movable flap illustration from Ophthalmodouleia, das ist Augendienst showing the interior of the head.

Two sets of the illustrations are movable flaps, representing the internal structure of the head and the anatomy of the eye respectively. The red blood vessels, light brown iris, and the meticulous shading and cross-hatching help distinguish different parts of the eye. They evoke the ocular surgical procedure, and prompt the readers to ponder their own faculty of vision when they lift these sheets layer by layer.

Color photo of movable flap illustration from Ophthalmodouleia, das ist Augendienst showing the anatomy of the eye.

Color photo of illustration from Ophthalmodouleia, das ist Augendienst showing a pair of scissors highlighted in gold and silver.Some of the images representing surgical tools were even heightened by gold and silver, such as this pair of scissors, thereby accentuating their intricate and elegant design.

Bartisch’s Ophthalmodouleia represents an emergent interest in the anatomy and physiology of the eye from the late sixteenth century. It also serves as a great example of how medical knowledge could be visualized and communicated at that time.

“Why Are You Constantly Harassing Us on the Street?”

Post contributed by Molly Brookfield, a Ph.D. candidate in the departments of History and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan. She is writing a dissertation about the history of sexual harassment in public places in the United States. Her research at the Sallie Bingham Center was generously funded with a Mary Lily Research Grant.

Imagine you are a young woman walking down the street on a sunny summer day in New York City. The sidewalk is crowded with people and you are thinking about the day ahead. You’re so absorbed in your thoughts that the shouted remark from a fellow passer-by jolts you unpleasantly back to your surroundings. The remark comes from a man who is also hurrying down the sidewalk. Maybe he shouts, “Looking good, honey!” or “How’s it going, sweetheart?” The specifics of the remark aren’t what’s important; it’s enough to know that he’s tried to grab your attention in a loud and public way that has startled you and forced you to acknowledge his presence. Annoyed, you turn to face the man, reach into your bag, and grab hold of a stack of cards you’ve had made for this occasion. You hand a card to the catcaller, and his eyebrows arch as he reads the first lines: “Brother, I feel insulted and oppressed by your comment. You and men like you make it unpleasant and difficult for all of us women, including your mothers, sisters and daughters, to leave our houses alone. Why are you constantly harassing us on the street?”

This was the tactic taken by New York feminist Marigold Arnold in 1971. That summer, Arnold handed mimeographed cards to men who harassed her in the street and the Women’s Health and Abortion Project published the full text in their newsletter—which is where I found it, while visiting the Sallie Bingham Center on a Mary Lily Research Grant. According to her mimeographed card, Arnold wanted men who catcalled to know that they “interrupt … [women’s] train of thought when we are walking alone, acting as though simply because you are a male we will be honored by your talking to us.” But Arnold was adamant, “We don’t feel honored.” In distinctly 1970s-flavored rhetoric, Arnold’s card declares, “The road of true liberation for all people is for each of us to struggle against oppressing our brothers and sisters. No more oppressive comments to women on the street.”

Arnold’s mimeographed statement was just one way that New York women resisted sexual harassment on the street in the 1970s. The New York Radical Feminists (NYRF) had a Street Harassment Committee that held self-defense workshops. Women raised awareness of street harassment with poems, stories, and cartoons in the group’s newsletter (see image). In 1976, members organized a Women’s Walk Against Rape, similar to the more recent Take Back the Night marches. When one of their members was harassed in Zabar’s, a deli on Broadway, the NYRF even started a blacklist of New York businesses where male employees harassed women.

These documents illustrate that women have experienced sexual harassment in public places since at least the 1970s (and my dissertation will show it has been a problem for much longer). While the New York Radical Feminists did not completely succeed in eradicating street harassment, their work can be viewed as a precursor and inspiration to groups like Hollaback! or Stop Street Harassment, work that is increasingly relevant as we continue to grapple with the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in American society.

All materials cited here can be found in the New York Radical Feminists Records, Box 1 at the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.

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.