Category Archives: Do Your Research

Curating the Self: The Dawn Langley Simmons Papers and Transgender History

Post contributed by Adrian Kane, doctoral candidate in History at the University of Washington

I travelled to the Rubenstein Library this winter, with generous support from the new Harry H. Harkins Jr. T’73 Research Grants, to conduct research for my dissertation “Narrating Sex: Transitional Bodies and ‘Expertise’ in the British Empire and Commonwealth, 1945-1970.” The Dawn Langley Simmons papers, a collection of correspondence and ephemera related to the English-born Charlestonian author, offer an unusually rich portrait of the life of a woman of transgender experience in the 1960s and 70s—one all the more valuable because Simmons played an active role in the archive’s construction.

Simmons, a prolific biographer in her own right, was keenly aware of the way textual evidence shapes memory. Her sequence of donations to Duke chronicle her 1968 transition and marriage to John-Paul Simmons—the first marriage between a white woman and Black man in South Carolina, she claimed—as well as her struggles with racist violence, housing instability and single-income working motherhood. Many of the documents bear Simmons’s marginal comments in colorful ink, explaining in-jokes or clarifying her relationship to the correspondent. Her 1975 diary, for example, closes with a list of “Points of Int.” written on the inside flyleaf, while the bland, newsy letters from her sister Fay assume a different tone in light of Simmons’s comment that Fay and her right-wing “Powellite” family refused to see her in person after her wedding.

Front endpapers of Dawn Langley Simmon's diary, showing handwritten notes by her on both sides
Front endpapers of Dawn Langley Simmons’s diary

What is largely absent from either the letters or the marginalia, however, is the suggestion that transition was a central part of her identity or a primary source of adversity in her life. Of all the letters she chose to donate only one expresses disapproval of her transition, and her friends in the United States and England alike seem to have readily adopted her new name and pronouns. This may, of course, reflect curation on her part. But even if there are deliberate gaps in the archival record, it is significant that Simmons chose to preserve vacation postcards and programs from her daughter’s Christmas pageants rather than accounts of her changing body or any hostility she endured because of it. Even today, after all, trans people are expected to recount feelings of gender-based misery in order to access basic healthcare and legal support, and, as an historian, I had assumed that the pressure to reproduce the “correct” narrative would have been still greater in the early days of the Johns Hopkins gender identity clinic. Yet Simmons seems to have taken active steps to ensure that no future biographer could reduce her life to a simplistic tale of suffering and its surgical redemption. She was a writer, a mother, a lover of antiques and old houses, a bon vivant, a restless soul with one foot planted on either side of the Atlantic—all of these aspects of her identity come to the fore in the Dawn Langley Simmons papers, and serve as a reminder that published or institutional records of transition cannot fully represent the way mid-twentieth century trans people understood themselves.

“Physogs:” Hard to Say and to Play

Post contributed by Taylor de Klerk, Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern

Rubenstein Library researchers take their work seriously, and we do, too. But sometimes their research includes playing games, and when that’s the case we’re more than happy to oblige!

Photograph of the Physogs game box with the lid off. In the center is a stack of cards with a head with a blank space for the face. On the left are four sets of cards, one of eyes, one of noses, one of mouths, and one of descriptions of facial features. Instruction booklets are on the right.
Original storage for game

We recently played Physogs: The Novel Card Game,” a board game from the 1940s about physiognomy, the practice of determining an individual’s character based on their facial features. The game is based on sociologist Jacques Penry’s Character from the Face, which guides readers through using distinctive facial features as a means of identifying personality traits. Represented here as a fun game, the popularization of physiognomic practice added fuel to an already steady 20th century fire of stereotyping based on physical appearance.

To play the game, players each hold four cards and take turns drawing cards from a central pile then discarding cards into another pile in an effort to try to make their face, nose, and mouth cards match with a descriptive text card. The first player who thinks their face is accurate shouts “physogs!” just like in Bingo.

Photo of someone's hand holding four cards. One with a nose on it and two with a mouth, and a fourth with a description of a "crafty - self-centered" face.
Cards in game play
Photograph of a white woman seated at a table. In front of her is a complete Physogs card. She is looking at it.
History of Medicine curator Rachel Ingold tallies her score

After someone says “physogs,” each player compares the cards they hold to the key book, which determines points awarded. We played a few rounds and quickly learned that we’re very good at earning negative points. With subjective descriptions of nose types like “Well proportioned. Very finely textured skin,” and “Long, narrow ridge. Crude or bony appearance,” and “Broad, crude and bulbous,” it’s challenging to try to match the words to the pictures. And that’s just one facial feature!

It was also immediately apparent that all facial features represented the same skin tone: white. Additionally, many descriptors are written in a heavily gendered and sexist tone, all of which we found unsurprising for a game from the 1940s. For example, a “pleasant and cheerful” woman should be paired with “full, smiling lips, showing the teeth. Dimple at corner of mouth.” Meanwhile an “excitable and impetuous” man should be paired with lips that are “very wide and large. Lips are full yet flat in appearance, with a downward curve in centre.” These personalities are not absolutely equivalent, but give a good sense of the gendered descriptions of relatively similar characteristics.

Photograph of the various cards and instruction manuals for Physogs set up for game play..
Physogs game setup
Photograph of the game's key book and a completed card
Comparison of a constructed face with the game’s key book

Our Physogs game experience made for an interesting Friday afternoon with the added benefit of helping a scholar conduct her research and understand the game in practice. Physiognomy’s historical use for judging people based on their looks prompted lively conversations about the 1940s-era facial descriptions and their incorporation in a game. Though physiognomy may sound like fun and games, this “science” was often appropriated for stereotyping by race or gender. Some used this practice to make conclusions about mental intelligence and criminal behavior based on one’s physical appearance, and it’s important to bear those historical uses in mind when interacting with these materials.

If you’d like to learn more about Physogs: The Novel Card Game or Jacques Penry’s Character from the Face, we encourage visitors to visit the Rubenstein Library online or in person. For more of the Library’s holdings about physiognomy, click here.

Teaching with Archives: Duke Summer Doctoral Academy

Date: May 20-24, 2019
Time: 1:30-4:30pm
Location: Rubenstein Library, Room 150
Registration Required. Registration closes May 5, 2019.

Faculty from across the humanistic and interpretive social science disciplines will demonstrate how they have incorporated archival materials into undergraduate teaching, providing students with the chance to hone research and critical thinking skills through close engagement with rich primary sources.  Seminar participants will discuss the challenges and opportunities presented by these new pedagogical approaches, including best practices in using new technologies to present archivally-based research.

Participating faculty include:

Trudi Abel (Rubenstein Library)
Edward Balleisen  (Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies)
Kristen Neuschel (History)
Thomas Robisheaux (History)
Victoria Szabo (Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Information Science & Studies)
Elvira Vilches (Romance Studies)
Clare Woods (Classical Studies)

This course  is offered to Duke doctoral students and Duke post-doctoral fellows at no charge. There is a $500 fee for Non-Duke students and Non-Duke post-doctoral fellows. More details are available on the Duke Doctoral Academy website.

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.

Announcing our 2019-2020 Travel Grant Recipients

The Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2019-2020 travel grants! Our research centers annually award travel grants to students, scholars, and independent researchers through a competitive application process. Congratulations to this year’s recipients:

Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture (Mary Lily Research Grants):

Emily Fleisher, Artist: Artistic project will include a series of drawings based on historic needlework that create a narrative about the lives of American women before 1920

Charlie Jeffries, Faculty, University of East Anglia: Your Best American Girl: Construction of Adolescent Sexualities in the US Culture Wars

Laura Kenner, Doctoral Candidate, Harvard University, History of Art and Architecture Department: Text, Sex, and Video: New York City’s Downtown/Underground Scene (1973-1996)

Nell Lake, Doctoral Candidate, Brown University, American Studies Department: Research for dissertation that will link 20th century moral discourse around care and domestic labor with 20th century politics of women’s work

Jessica Lapp, Doctoral Candidate, University of Toronto, Faculty of Information: The Provenance of Protest: An Exploration of Feminist Activist Archiving

Kaja Marczewska, Research Fellow, Coventry University, Centre for Postdigital Cultures: Distribute-it-Yourself: Judy Hogan and the History of North American Small Press in Circulation (1960s-1990s)

Jennifer Withrow, Doctoral Candidate, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Economics Department: Three Essays on Labor and Marriage Markets: Farm Crisis and Rural-to-Urban Migration in the United States, 1920-1940

 

John Hope Franklin Center for African and African American History and Culture:

Selena Doss – Faculty, Western Kentucky University, Involuntary Pilgrimage: Black Southerners and Territorial Separatism, 1783-1904

John Harris – Faculty, Erskine College, Pirates of New York: The United States and the Final Era of the Illegal Slave Trade, 1850-1867

Jacqueline Fewkes – Faculty, Florida Atlantic University, American Mosques: An Ethnohistory of Space, Memory, and Muslim-American Community

Crystal Sanders – Faculty, Penn State, America’s Forgotten Migration: Black Graduate Education in the Age of Jim Crow

Kali Tambree – Doctoral Candidate UCLA, Enslaved African peoples who jump off of the slave ship as it is en route to the Americas

Charles Weisenberger – Doctoral Candidate, University of Massachusetts-Amherst “The Telfair Family and the Antebellum One Percent: Slavery in the Early United States, 1735-1875”

John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History:

Sarah Arnold, Faculty, Maynooth University, Department of Media: Television, Technology and Gender: New Platforms and New Audiences

Mark Bartholomew, Faculty, University of Buffalo, School of Law: “Advertising Outrage and its Legal Regulation”

Rachel Kirby, Doctoral Candidate, Boston University, American and New England Studies: Study of visual representation of Southern agricultural products

Shayan Lallani, Doctoral Candidate, University of Ottowa, Department of History: Cultural Globalization in the Caribbean: Dining and the American Middle-Class Turn in Cruise Ship Tourism, 1920-2016

Adam Mack, Faculty, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Liberal Arts Department: Limitless: Supermarkets and the Dilemma of Choice

Brent Malin, Faculty, Pittsburgh University, Department of Communications: Ordinary and Necessary: A History of the American Tax Deduction for Advertising

James McElroy, Doctoral Candidate, University of Minnesota, Department of History: Racial Segregation and Market Segregation: The Late-Twentieth Century History of the American City Supermarket, 1960-1990

Emily Morgan, Faculty, Iowa State University, Department of Visual Culture: Imagining Animal Industry: Visualizing the American Meatpacking Trade, 1890-1980

Robert Terrell, Faculty, Syracuse University, Department of History: The People’s Drink: The Politics and Culture of German Beer in the Twentieth Century

Emily Westkaemper, Faculty, James Madison University, Department of History: Career Women: Image and Reality in U.S. Popular Culture, 1940-2000

 

History of Medicine Collections:

Matthew Barrett, Doctoral Candidate, Queen’s University, History Department: Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Doctor: Medical Attitudes toward Homosexuality and the Court-Martial of Dr. Percy E. Ryberg

Kelly O’Donnell, Faculty, Thomas Jefferson University, College of Humanities and Sciences: Study of the role doctors’ wives played in the medical profession, recasting the history of American health care by focusing on the women behind the “great men” of medicine

Laura Smith, Doctoral Candidate, University of Arkansas, History Department: Southern Doctors from Southern Communities: Medical Education and Professionalization in the Nineteenth-Century South

 

Human Rights Archive (Marshall T. Meyer Research Travel Grants):

Meghan Gibbons, Independent Researcher: Nationalism and Maternal Protest in the US, El Salvador, and Argentina

Gabrielle Girard, Doctoral Candidate, Princeton University, History Department: Modeling Democracy: The Global History of an Argentine Human Rights Experiment, 1978-1991

Michael Jones, Doctoral Candidate, Tulane University, Department of Political Science: Blood & Peace in the Hills of Africa: Post-conflict Institutions in Comparison

Zachary Norman, Faculty, University of Utah, Department of Art & Art History: “Researching Images of Incarceration: Developing Visual Art & Studies Courses to be Taught Inside”

Mira Rai Waits, Faculty, Appalachian State University, Department of Art: Colonial Carcerality: The Birth of the Modern Prison in India

 

Harry H. Harkins T’73 Travel Grants for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History:

Jonathan Coleman, Independent Researcher: Anywhere, Together: A Queer History of Kentucky

Benjamin Serby, Doctoral Candidate, Columbia University, History Department: Gay Liberation and the Politics of the Self in Postwar America

 

Photographic Research Grants, Co-Sponsored by the Archive of Documentary Arts and the History of Medicine Collections:

Rachel Fein-Smolinski, Faculty, Syracuse University, Department of Transmedia: “Sex Lives of Animals Without Backbones: A Study of the Aesthetics of Pain and Courage Within the Western Healthcare System”

 

We look forward to working with you all!

Developing a Code of Ethics for Rubenstein Library Instruction Sessions

So far this academic year, Rubenstein librarians have taught 132 class sessions (though we won’t finalize these numbers until the end of the spring semester). You’d think that’d be enough to fill our time, but we’ve also been meeting monthly to discuss our individual teaching practices and how to improve our students’ experiences in our class sessions. We want to inspire confident special collections researchers for life!

Through our discussions, we realized that we often returned to couple of key points about archives and primary source research in our class sessions. We’d broach those points on an ad hoc basis as they arose in classes, but we wondered if starting our class sessions off with a shared understanding of those points would be useful, reassuring, and perhaps even empowering for our students.

We’ve followed the development of codes of ethics for different spaces and organizations within (and beyond) our profession and thought that model might also work for us. Early this semester, we drafted and began implementing what we’re calling our approach to classes at the Rubenstein Library. (“Code of ethics” seemed so heady that it might have the unfortunate effect of tamping down student engagement.) Here is what we developed:

Explore and be curious! Our class sessions are interactive, hands-on opportunities to look at lots of materials, so take advantage of this time. Challenge yourself to look (even briefly) at items that don’t initially catch your interest—you might be surprised at what you discover.

Our class sessions seek to be inclusive, offering multiple perspectives, viewpoints, or lived experiences, but may not include the voices of every population for a number of reasons. Let’s talk in class about the voices that aren’t being presented.

The background, experience, and knowledge you bring to this class session are valuable. There isn’t one right interpretation of a historical document. Please listen carefully and treat everyone’s responses respectfully.

The material you encounter in this session has the potential to be uncomfortable or upsetting. Be kind to yourself and recognize your limits. You can look at something else or even step out of the room to take a break.

When working with historical documents, you may encounter racist, oppressive, or outdated language in the documents themselves or in the archival record. When we discuss these items, we will want to use terms that reflect the ways these communities describe themselves today.

Later this month, we’ll come together as a group of instructors to talk about how we’ve been able to incorporate the code into our class sessions—but informal reports suggest it’s been useful! Our practice has generally been to give students two to three minutes to individually read over the code (presented on a slide) and then talk as a class about any questions they might have and how the individual points in the code might come up in the class session.

Color photograph of librarian teaching the code of ethics to a class session. The code appears projected on a screen behind her. Students sit at a conference table in front of the screen.
A Rubenstein librarian teaches our new instruction code of ethics in a recent class session.

We see this as a living document that we’ll continue to refine and add to as needed. So please do let us know what you think and feel free to borrow or adapt our instruction code of ethics for your own class sessions!

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.

Gilded Age Cures for Soldiers Suffering from Opiate Addiction

Post contributed by Jonathan S. Jones, historian and PhD candidate at Binghamton University

In the Civil War’s wake, thousands of veterans became addicted to medicinal opiates. Hypodermic morphine injections and opium pills were standard remedies in the Civil War era for amputations, sickness, and depression, and they often lead to addiction. Take, for example, the case of A.W. Henley, a Confederate veteran, who recalled in 1878 that, “In the army, I had to use opiates for a complication of painful diseases.” The medicine soon “fastened its iron grip on my very vitals, and held me enchained and enslaved for near fifteen years.”[i]

Historians have long recognized the causative link between Civil War medical care and the high rate of opiate addiction among veterans. However, although we know that doctors were in many ways the originators of the postwar addiction epidemic, we know surprisingly little the about the medical response to the crisis. Did American doctors ignore the opiate addiction among veterans, or did physicians seek to help veterans suffering from addiction? And if so, what did those efforts look like?

These are questions I seek to answer in my dissertation, “A Mind Prostrate”: Opiate Addiction in the Civil War’s Aftermath.” My research benefited greatly from a History of Medicine Collections Travel Grant, awarded by the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The History of Medicine Collections at the Rubenstein Library includes several manuscripts and rare items that suggest answers to elusive questions about the medical responses to Civil War veterans’ opiate addiction.

THE BLAME GAME

Physicians fell under a wave of criticism after the Civil War for causing opiate addiction crisis. Veterans and observers in the media accused doctors of overprescribing opiates to ailing old soldiers and other patients, resulting in widespread opiate addiction. This criticism posed a problem for physicians—so-called “regular” doctors—because it undermined their precarious position in the hyper-competitive Gilded Age medical marketplace. Physicians had been struggling to out-compete alternative healing sects and “quacks” for decades. Being labeled the culprits for the crisis only weakened the regulars’ footing in this struggle.

CHANGING PRESCRIBING PATTERNS

In response to this professional crisis, some physicians advocated for a move away from prescribing medicinal opiates. During the 1870s and 1880s, ex-military surgeons, in particular, exhorted their colleagues in medical journals and scientific studies to prescribe fewer opiates, to substitute the drugs with supposedly less-addictive painkillers, and even to refrain from prescribing opiates altogether. As the ex-Union surgeon Joseph Woodward surmised in 1879, “The more I learn of the behavior of such cases [of overprescribing] under treatment, the more I am inclined to advice that opiates should be as far as possible avoided.”[ii] Such proposals were truly radical, considering that opiates were the most commonly prescribed medicines of the nineteenth century up to that point.

But did physicians heed these warnings? Were radical proposals merely hypothetical, or did physicians implement them in practice? To answer these questions necessitates the close analysis of late nineteenth century clinical records. I was fortunate enough to stumble across one such record in the History of Medicine Collections at the Rubenstein Library, a rare casebook from the Philadelphia Orthopaedic Hospital and Infirmary for Nervous Diseases, professional home of the physician Silas Weir Mitchell.

Pages with handwriting in ink.
Casebook from the Philadelphia Orthopaedic Hospital and Infirmary for Nervous Diseases, professional home of the physician Silas Weir Mitchell.

An eminent neurologist, Mitchell was one of the most vocal members of the anti-opiate camp. Mitchell—whose infamous “rest cure” inspired the feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman to write The Yellow Wallpaper, a feminist critique of Mitchell’s methodswas a prolific writer. In many of his medical works, he railed against the habit-forming potential of medicinal opiates and doctors’ role in facilitating opiate addiction. As Mitchell explained in an 1883 work about pain management, “often, in my experience, the opium habit is learned during an illness of limited duration, and for the consequences of which there is always some one to be blamed.” He blamed doctors who were “weak, or too tender, or too prone to escape trouble by the easy help of some pain-lulling agent” for causing their patients to develop opiate addiction.[iii] Doctors must refrain from prescribing opiates empathetically, Mitchell warned, lest the medical profession continue to be blamed for the opiate addiction crisis.

Accordingly, Mitchell’s clinical records confirm that he stopped prescribing opiates to chronic pain patients, those at greatest risk for addiction, in his own clinic. Mitchell’s clinic, the Philadelphia Orthopaedic Hospital, was the cutting edge of American neurology in the late nineteenth century. Doctors working there alongside Mitchell specialized in treating chronic nervous pains, headaches, and other symptoms classified under the diagnostic category of neuralgia. During the previous decades, most of these individuals would have been treated with opiates. Indeed, Mitchell prescribed opiates heavily during the Civil War, witnessing the genesis of opiate addiction in several of his patients. Yet by the 1880s, Mitchell reversed course. The clinic’s casebook reveals Mitchell did not prescribe opiates to a single patient among the 62 individuals for which he recorded clinical notes between 1887 and 1900.  Other physicians, I suspect, mirrored Mitchell’s increasingly conservative approach to prescribing opiates during the Gilded Age.

THE COMPETITION

But physicians like Mitchell were not alone in responding to the Gilded Age opiate epidemic. Ailing Americans could choose from a vast spectrum of treatments and healers to remedy their medical woes during late nineteenth century. Unlike today, regular physicians were often outcompeted by alternative healers during the Gilded Age. So-called “quacks”—at least, that is what physicians dubbed them—often impinged on physicians’ customer bases.

Dozens of entrepreneurial healers spotted new commercial opportunities amidst the rising rates of opiate addiction. They invented and marketed a diverse array of treatments for opiate addiction between the late 1860s and the turn of the twentieth century. John Jennings Moorman, the proprietor of a nineteenth century West Virginia hot springs resort, exemplified this trend. I encountered a rare copy of Moorman’s 1880 advertising pamphlet for his White Sulphur Springs resort in the Rubenstein Library. Founded in the late 1830s, Moorman marketed his exceedingly popular hot springs as a cure for a diverse spectrum of diseases during the antebellum years, from rheumatism to neuralgia, jaundice, scurvy, and others.

Blue pamphlet
Front cover of Dr. J. J. Moorman’s pamphlet about the curative properties of White Sulphur Springs in West Virginia, 1880.

Always looking to expand his enterprise, Moorman perceived an opportunity in the rising rates of opiate addiction after the Civil War. Naturally, he expanded his operation to cater to opiate addicted customers desperate for a cure. Moorman began marketing White Sulphur Springs as a treatment for “opium eating” in 1880. Prior versions of Moorman’s marketing material do not include references to opiate addiction.[iv]

Paragraph titled "Use of the Water b Opium Eaters"
Page from Dr. J. J. Moorman’s pamphlet: White Sulphur Springs, with the analysis of its waters, the diseases to which they are applicable, and some account of society and its amusements at the Springs, 1880.

As Silas Weir Mitchell’s casebook and John Jennings Moorman’s advertising pamphlet indicate, Gilded Age medical practitioners responded to the opiate addiction crisis in diverse ways, from prescribing fewer opiates to marketing hot springs therapy for addiction. The rare medical manuscripts held by the History of Medicine Collections at the Rubenstein Library thus made significant contributions to my research, unlocking answers to elusive questions about the various medical responses to Civil War veterans’ opiate addiction.

—————————————————————

[i] Basil M. Woolley, The Opium Habit and its Cure (Atlanta: Atlanta Constitution Printer, 1879), 30.

[ii] Joseph Woodward, The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, Pt. II, vol. I (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1879), 750.)

[iii] S. Weir Mitchell, Doctor and Patient (Philadelphia: Lippincott Company, 1888), 93.

[iv] J.J. Moorman, White Sulphur Springs, with the analysis of its waters, the diseases to which they are applicable, and some account of society and its amusements at the Springs (Baltimore: The Sun Book and Job Printing Office, 1880), 25-26.

 

Teaching & Learning with Artists’ Books

Post contributed by Kelly Wooten, Librarian for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture

In the fall 2018 semester, I worked with students in two sections of Dr. Amanda Wetsel’s Writing 101 course, Photography and Anthropology to introduce them to the Rubenstein Library’s collection of artists’ books.

As context, Dr. Wetsel shared that students in Photography and Anthropology consider how anthropologists have treated photographs both as an object of inquiry and a means of communicating their findings.  She writes, “As they read both early and contemporary anthropological texts, students think about multiple ways words and images interact. They then conduct ethnographic research on a photographic genre here at Duke, such as lock screen photographs, Instagram accounts, and displays of photos in dorm rooms.”  As a final project, several students used the format of an artists’ book to convey their findings with words and photographs.

After their research visit, Dr. Wetsel reflected on how the works the students explored during their session inspired them to think creatively about their own projects:

Viewing artists’ books at the Rubenstein prompted students to think about how the form of a book can reflect its content, how to create powerful texts and format those texts creatively, and ways of making books engaging.  As they unfolded the game board of Julie Chen’s A Guide to Higher Learning, stretched Ed Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip across the table, tugged down the staircase-like accordion folds of text on Clarissa Sligh’s What’s Happening with Momma and unrolled the delicate, cigarette-shaped scrolls of Amy Pirkle’s Smoke, students thought about how they could adapt the forms to communicate their own research.  We’re fortunate to have a range of creative and beautiful artists’ books at the Rubenstein for students to touch, read, and use as inspiration.   The form of the artists’ book allowed the students to combine text and photos in powerful and unexpected ways.

Kim’s “A View into the Wallpaper”

Joanne Kim, ’22, created a book entitled A View into the Wallpaper. The book itself resembles a cell phone, a box which opens to reveal four smaller icon-shaped boxes. She writes:

Detail from “A View into the Wallpaper”

The transition from home to college life is a daunting change which necessitates adaptation and the reconciliation of homesickness, and in some cases, existentialism. At Duke University, freshmen female and male students handle change differently. Female students respond by physically displaying the change in spaces such as their cellphone lock and home screen wallpaper. Male students seek some consistency in a major time of change, and therefore, keep their lock and home screen wallpapers the same through the transition. All the while, both genders utilize the space as a means of protecting and discovering their core identities throughout their freshman year and beyond.

Joshua Li, ’22, describes his piece Lily as having “six long and blue trapezoidal flaps with a Rubik’s cube at the center.” Each flap as an image of a meme which he presents as a form of community building, and the cube can be removed and played with separately. He shared a quote from the text in the book:

Memes function like a societal adhesive, a catalyst for unity in the ultra-diverse Duke community, as these witty photographs have for many years brought people together through shared laughter and warmth. Similar to how creating and looking at memes promote harmony, solving a Rubik’s cube enables one to achieve that same sense of harmony by restoring order to the scrambled and disorganized faces of the cube.

“Lily,” opened
“Lily,” closed

He titled his book Lily “not only because the end product looked like the flower, but also because in Chinese culture lilies symbolize harmony and unity, which was the main conclusion from my research.” He continues, “The fact that the meme cube is at the center of a display made up of Duke colors (or close to Duke colors – the 3D printers here don’t bleed Duke Blue and white apparently) emphasizes the theme of memes being at the center of Duke University.”

Applications Now Accepted for the 2019-2020 Travel Grant Program

The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library is now accepting applications for our 2019-2020 travel grants. If you are a researcher, artist, or activist who would like to use sources from the Rubenstein Library’s research centers for your work, this means you!

The Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture, the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, the History of Medicine Collections, the Human Rights Archive, and the Archive of Documentary Arts, will each award up to $1,500 per recipient ($2,000 for international applicants to the Human Rights Archive) to fund travel and other expenses related to visiting the Rubenstein Library. The Rubenstein Library also awards up to $1,500 for individuals who would benefit from access to our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender history collections through the Harry H. Harkins, Jr. T’73 Travel Grant.

The grants are open to undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, independent scholars, artists, and activists who live more than 100 miles from Durham, North Carolina, and whose research projects would benefit from access to collections held by one of the centers listed above.

More details—and the grant application—may be found on our grants website. Applications must be submitted no later than 5:00 PM EST on January 31, 2019. Recipients will be announced in March 2019.