Dismantle white privilege in collections and services.
Diversify our staff.
Develop better relationships with community organizations and groups.
Document and share Duke’s complex institutional history.
And finally, “practice more inclusive metadata creation, with the goal of harm reduction from biased and alienating description and classification.”
Creating “Guiding Principles” for RL Technical Services
The Rubenstein Library Technical Services Department has been seeking to create “inclusive metadata” for much longer than the summer of 2020, but we have recently been inspired by Duke Libraries’ “Statement of Our Commitment” to more formally and concretely define what “inclusive metadata” means. We began this process by collecting and reading library and community literature, listening to panels and presentations on these topics, and researching what our peers and role models are doing. Our staff met and workshopped a draft of new “Guiding Principles for Description,” which was subsequently edited and adopted by the department and is now available here (along with links to some further reading and references):
The Rubenstein Library Technical Services Department acknowledges the historical role of libraries and archives, including our own institution, in amplifying the voices of those with political, social, and economic power, while omitting and erasing the voices of the oppressed. We have developed these Guiding Principles for Description as the first step in our ongoing commitment to respond to this injustice.
We will use inclusive and accessible language when describing the people represented by or documented in our materials. We commit to continually educate ourselves on evolving language and practices of inclusivity and accessibility.
We will prioritize facts and accuracy, and resist editorializing, valorizing, or euphemistic narratives or phrases in our description. This includes a commitment to revisit and revise our past description.
When describing our collections, we will purposefully seek and document the presence and activities of marginalized communities and voices.
We welcome and will seek to incorporate input and feedback on our descriptive choices from the communities and people represented by and in our materials.
We will be transparent about the origin of our description, and our role in adding or replacing description. We will also commit to increased transparency about our own institution’s past descriptive practices.
We will advocate for and celebrate library description, and the essential labor and expertise of the library practitioners who create and maintain that description, as crucial for any ongoing preservation of, access to, and research within library collections.
Developing this list of guiding principles is only one part of our ongoing commitment to create inclusive description of Rubenstein Library materials. Our department processes and catalogs a wide range of special collection formats (printed books, serials, ephemera, zines, archival papers, institutional records, film, video, born digital files, objects, and more) and creates description that is shared across a variety of platforms like the library catalog, finding aid database, and Duke’s institutional repository. Going forward, we hope the “Guiding Principles” will serve as the foundation for any type of description created or managed by Rubenstein’s catalogers and archivists.
Current and Future Inclusive Description Projects
There is much work already underway, and much more planned as Rubenstein Technical Services continues to prioritize the creation of inclusive description. Some of these projects pre-date the coining of our “Guiding Principles” — for example, we are proud of the ongoing cataloging of the thousands of items in the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection, where catalogers are creating name authority records and detailed provenance notes tracing the often hidden role of women in printing, publishing, and book-binding. Our work to preserve and digitize film, including creating detailed description for collections like the H. Lee Waters’ Movies of Local People, have ensured the preservation and availability of community histories. When developing ArcLight, our finding aid interface (just launched in July), an important feature was the addition of a feedback button to encourage suggestions, particularly if a user spots harmful or incorrect descriptive language in our metadata.
Our projects continue this fall despite the COVID-19 pandemic. While working remotely, the Rare Materials Section has prioritized creating new manuscript catalog records for the Rubenstein’s American Slavery Documents, which will center the names and lives of Black people who were enslaved. We will share more about this project as the records are published in our catalog later this year.
Our Archival Processing Section has begun reviewing manuscript collections with outdated, inadequate, or offensive description, and they will be reprocessing, re-describing, and exploring how to be transparent about any changes or updates they make through development of a new style guide for finding aids. This includes acknowledging our library’s past decisions or mistakes, which may mean more blog posts like this one that question and critique our institution’s collecting and descriptive choices. Across the department, we intend to ramp up reparative description projects, particularly for our nineteenth-century Southern white family papers, because we know that the records of enslavers may be the only remaining documentation of those who were enslaved. We are seeking marginalized, hidden, and silenced voices. Even in their silences, our collections have much to say. Please stay tuned, and stay in touch, as we pursue this important work.
Post contributed by Noah Huffman, Archivist for Metadata, Systems, and Digital Records
On July 1, 2020 the Rubenstein Library will launch a new and completely redesigned discovery and access interface for our collection guides (a.k.a. finding aids). The new site, soon-to-be available at archives.lib.duke.edu, will replace our current finding aid platform and is the result of over a year of planning and six months of local development work. Duke staff can access a demo app (VPN required) for a sneak peak of the interface before it launches.
Built on the open-source ArcLight software, the site will offer researchers new ways to search, browse, and explore nearly 4,000 detailed inventories of collections held in the Rubenstein Library, including the Duke University Archives. In total, the site will contain information about the contents of nearly 80,000 boxes of material held in the Rubenstein, including manuscripts, letters, diaries, organizational records, photographs, audio visual recordings, oral histories, objects, zines, digital materials, and much more.
What to expect from the new finding aid site:
While the new site will contain the same data available on the old finding aid site, you will notice many differences in the way information is structured and presented. Listed below are just some of the new features along with a few screenshots of the new interface. We’ll provide more details about the new interface after the July 1st launch. In the meantime, you can read about some of our design and development work in a blog post from Sean Aery, the primary developer for ArcLight at Duke.
Advanced searching by name, place, subject, format, and title
Filter search results by name, place, date, format, subject, and several other facets
Limit search results to only materials available online
Browse Duke-focused collections by University Archives Record Group (for university offices, schools, former presidents/provosts, athletics, student/campus life, etc.)
Easily navigate large finding aids and complex collection hierarchies (by series, sub-series, etc.)
View digital objects in the context of their collections: More seamless integration with the Duke Digital Repository
Bookmark collections, boxes, or folders of interest; save the bookmarks; and email them to yourself or others
View a rotating gallery of featured items on the homepage (with citations and links to collections)
Mobile-friendly display, but also optimized for wide displays
Improved visibility of restriction information: Know when materials are restricted or require certain conditions for access
WCAG2.0 AA compliant: works well with screen readers and other assistive technologies; easily navigable by keyboard
Faster page-load times for large finding aids and for researchers with low-bandwidth connections
We welcome your feedback!
We’re proud of the new site and we hope it empowers researchers to discover and interact with our collections in new ways. Still, we know that there is more work to do and we welcome your feedback. If you have questions, find a bug, or want to suggest a new feature, please let us know!
Post contributed by Laurin Penland, Library Assistant for Rubenstein Technical Services
For someone like me who studied Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness in school, the Congo River can play an outsized role in my imagination as a place of brutal Western imperialism. So, you can imagine, how, when I was carefully paging through a diary from 1852 for a ship named the Mary Adeline, I froze in a moment of recognition upon seeing the words, “I was in the Congo River 12 days, during which time got ashore Shark’s Point. Was attacked by the savages, defended the vessel successfully and was eventually got off by … [the] steamer ‘Firefly’ and schooner ‘Dolphin.’”
This ship’s diary was written almost forty years before Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, during a time when enslavers were still abducting people from Africa and selling them if not legally, then illegally, especially to countries in South America (by that time many countries, including the US, had outlawed the transatlantic slave trade). The diary was kept by a man named Appleton Oaksmith—captain of the Mary Adeline—and though he does not mention enslaving people in the diary, I was suspicious. I wanted to know what he was doing in the Congo River and why he was “attacked.” So, I began to do more research.
First, I should provide a little more context. This diary was donated to the library as an addition to the Appleton Oaksmith papers, which the Rubenstein has held since 1937. The library had previously borrowed the diary in the 1950s so that it could be microfilmed. And now, decades later, the owners of the physical diary decided to donate it to the Rubenstein. It’s part of my job in the library to process new additions to collections, and this addition of the diary led me to try and discover what exactly the diary was about and how I might add it to the existing collection.
I did not know much about Oaksmith. In our online catalog, the description of Oaksmith stated merely that he was an “adventurer, author, ship owner, and industrial promoter of Hollywood, N.C.” A quick Google search for Oaksmith led me to think that “adventurer” was at best a polite euphemism and at worst a papering-over of the history of illegal slave trading. Here is one of the first entries I found about Oaksmith and his ship, the Mary Adeline:
“The U.S. brig Mary Adeline departed from Rio de Janeiro in April 1852 destined for the coast of Angola. After having been visited by the British steamship Fire Fly investigating evidence of slave trading, the Mary Adeline ran aground on a sandbar at Shark’s Point near the mouth of the Congo River. Within hours an estimated fifteen hundred to three thousand Africans attacked the boat. They used muskets, spears, oars, and cutlasses as weapons, along with hooks and poles to climb the side of the ship. The small crew of the Mary Adeline fought back by shooting a six-pound cannon that killed several of the Africans…. News of the battle spread quickly. Couriers capable of running fifty to sixty miles a day surely carried this information along the African coast. Inhabitants of Salvador learned of the attack after the return of the Mary Adeline to Salvador in late July. A planned attack by Africans of a slaving vessel helped to convince Bahians and foreigners resident in Salvador that a resumption of the slave trade would pose significant and unwanted risks.”
This passage is from Dale Torston Graden’s monograph, From Slavery to Freedom in Brazil, Bahia, 1835-1900. Graden’s description of the battle in the Congo River suggests two important points: 1) It is likely that Oaksmith was attempting to enslave West Africans, and 2) the attack played a significant role in limiting or ending the slave trade in Brazil. If these things were true, why did previous archivists describe Oaksmith as an “adventurer” and not as an enslaver?
This question sent me searching our digitized collection of the Rubenstein’s old card catalog. This is often the first place I look when trying to find more information about collections that the library has held for a long time, given that sometimes, descriptions in the old card catalog were never migrated to the online catalog due to length, complexity, or outdated language. The old card files on Oaksmith included a long biographical sketch. The writer of the description chose to describe the battle on the Congo River through the lens of the crew members of the Dolphin who helped Oaksmith escape. According to the Dolphin, Oaksmith fought “gallantly” against “3000 natives who had assembled for the purpose of plundering [the Mary Adeline’s] valuable cargo.” Later, the card file mentions that Oaksmith was indicted for slave trading, that he escaped from jail, and that he was eventually pardoned by President Grant. I was confused by the card file and by our online description, especially in juxtaposition to other scholarship that I found online. Was Oaksmith on the Congo River to enslave people? What was his valuable cargo? Why was he attacked? If he was eventually indicted, when was he convicted? How should I change the description of Oaksmith in the online catalog?
“[In 1852] the British Prime Minister to Brazil, Henry Southern, wrote to the foreign office about indications that the US vessels Mary Adeline and Camargo were being prepared to engage in the slave trade. ‘Mr. Marsden, a broker in Rio, a citizen of the United States,’ continued Southern, ‘is the party who is actively interested in getting up and aiding these speculations.’”
Later in 1852, the Camargo “disembarked 500 slaves at Bracuhy, south of Rio de Janeiro.” Marsden was jailed but was eventually freed. The captain of the Camargo, Nathaniel Gordon, escaped from Brazil, but was hung ten years later in the United States for slave trading. (Gordon is the only person in US history to have been executed for the crime of slave trading; his conviction and hanging are largely credited to the politics of that moment with the start of the Civil War and the beginning of Lincoln’s presidency.) The last place that Gordon abducted West Africans was at Shark’s Point on the Congo River, the same place that Oaksmith had run aground years earlier. And as for Marsden, after he was released from jail, he went on to be involved with a New York shipping company that was caught trafficking enslaved people to Cuba. Oaksmith also had significant ties to Cuba: his brother Sidney lived there, and Oaksmith himself was perhaps best known by historians as an ardent supporter of William Walker who “planned to establish a Central American empire that would ultimately include Spanish Cuba.”
It turns out that there is a copious amount of scholarship on Oaksmith and the illegal slave traders of his time. While I have not yet determined with certainty the purpose of Oaksmith’s journey to the Congo River in 1852 aboard the Mary Adeline and the reasons for the battle that ensued, I found historical evidence for his later attempts at slave trading, thus justifying two changes in the collection description: mentioning in the online catalog that Oaksmith was indicted for outfitting the slave ship Augusta in 1861 and finally convicted for outfitting the slave ship Margaret Scott in 1862, and adding “Slave trade – United States – 19th century” as a subject heading. I also decided to remove the word “adventurer” from his biographical description, lest it glorify the horrors of the slave trade and chattel slavery. The Appleton Oaksmith papers have also been added to a list of collections to which Rubenstein archivists hope to return, down the road, so that we can provide more detailed and just description. This is one of many legacy collections at the Rubenstein that deserve to be reprocessed and re-described so that we can better document the history of slavery and redress archival errors, silences, omissions, and erasures.
As for the ship’s diary that inspired this blog post, it has finally joined the rest of Oaksmith’s papers at the Rubenstein Library and will be requestable in the reading room once the library has reopened.
 Dale Torston Graden, From Slavery to Freedom in Brazil, Bahia, 1835-1900 (Albuquerque: University of Mexico Press, 2006), 8.
 Card catalog entry for the Appleton Oaksmith Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
Blog Post Contributed by Liz Adams, Rare Materials Cataloger
The Rubenstein Library has 2,142 individually cataloged printed maps, collectively covering nearly the entire world. There are aerial views of Alexandria, Egypt and Venice, Italy; fire insurance maps of our own North Carolina and ones of nearby Tennessee and Virginia; and pre-1800 (or what we call “early”) maps of what is now the United States. We have maps charting rivers in Southeast Asia and thematic ones related to public health and nuclear proliferation. Our maps perform dual functions: they orient users to particular places and ideas in particular times and reveal the beliefs of the map creators about those places and the wider world.
It’s a truism that early printed maps look a little different to modern eyes. This is partly the result of imprecise mathematical knowledge prior to the 18th century. According to David Woodward in The history of cartography, “before careful measurement, distances from place to place could be roughly paced” (13). “Roughly” is the key word. These differences are also bound up in the original goals of the maps, which in the case of Western European countries, often included economic, religious, and political expansion nearby and into faraway places (that is, colonialism) (Woodward 19). And finally, and very much related to the first two points, the world has never been static. For example, there was once a province called Carolina that included North Carolina and South Carolina as well as parts of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi. Things change.
I’m a cataloger, and catalogers want to describe those early maps accurately. But how do we do that when distance was “roughly” measured, or when place names and boundaries have changed? For example, how do we document a map showing that Texas once “included much of what later became Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Oklahoma” (Lepore 222)? Subject headings do some of that work in a catalog record, but geographic headings specifically relate to modern boundaries, not historic. The real heavy lifting comes from including bounding coordinates, the easternmost and westernmost longitudes and northernmost and southernmost latitudes seen on a map. We provide those coordinates in two places in the record, one more visible than the other. If you look at one of our catalog records online, you’ll see the coordinates under “Scale.” We also include those same coordinates as coded data in a separate area in the MARC record (see row below beginning with “=034”). This coded data is very precisely structured data. You can’t see it in our online catalog, but if you ever need access to it, let us know! We’re here and happy to help.
Adding coordinates to map records is a relatively new practice, and not all Rubenstein Library maps include that data. We’re trying to change that. Using a combination of data editing software, and digitized versions of maps, we’ve begun adding that data point to our early printed map records. Doing this work today has an immediate impact for researchers. In our online records, you can see the coordinates and use that data to make research decisions. It also serves an important task for the future. Coordinate data is easily accessible to librarians and can be changed into other data standards for use in digital humanities projects (Kiser & Smeltekop). Without coordinates, this work may be at a standstill.
Since we began this project a few weeks ago, we’ve made changes to over 100 hundred records, with no plans to stop. We still have several hundred to go!
Want to know more about maps? We don’t blame you! In 2013, Duke students in Borderworks Lab curated “Mapping the City: a stranger’s guide,” an exhibit featuring maps and atlases held by the Rubenstein Library. The exhibit is online and is very cool.
Kiser, Tim, and Nicole Smeltekop. “A Method for Creating Scanned Map Metadata for Geoportals, Library Catalogs, and Digital Repositories: Reworking Existing MARC Records of Paper Maps to Create New Records for Their Scanned Counterparts.” Journal of Map & Geography Libraries, vol. 14, no. 2-3, Feb. 2018, pp. 109–131. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text, doi:10.1080/15420353.2019.1640166.
Lepore, Jill. These Truths: a History of the United States. W.W. Norton & Company, 2019.
Woodward, David. “Cartography and the Renaissance: Continuity and Change.” History of Cartography, vol. 3:1, University of Chicago Press, 2007, pp. 3–24.
Post contributed by Craig Breaden (Audiovisual Archivist for the Rubenstein Library) and Liz Adams (Rare Materials Cataloger for the Rubenstein Library)
Harold Becker’s film, Ivanhoe Donaldson (1964), which was filmed during August, September, and October 1963, follows the titular Ivanhoe Donaldson, a 21-year-old Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) field secretary as he travels from his home in East Lansing (Michigan), to Danville (Virginia), Selma (Alabama), and Greenwood (Mississippi), organizing demonstrations and voter drives. This rare 16mm film was recently acquired by the Rubenstein Library and is one of the first films we have digitized using our newly-purchased motion picture film scanner (a Filmfabriek HDS+). The film scanner, beyond offering impressive technical capabilities (we can scan each image up to 4k!), allows us to further our commitment to the preservation and discoverability of our moving image resources in the interest of the histories they generate and illuminate. In this case, footage shows Donaldson and other SNCC staffers, including Cordell Reagon and Avon Rollins, running workshops to show civil rights activists how to protect their bodies from high pressure water hoses and riot sticks; it shows canvassers urging citizens to exercise their right to vote; and it shows SNCC staffers invoking the name of Medgar Evers and discussing the efficacies of indirect and direct action in the wake of the 16th Street Bombing in Selma, Alabama.
Ivanhoe Donaldson not only documents the work of Donaldson and SNCC, but it also captures the joy with which they work. Between footage of workshops and peaceful demonstrations, the camera follows staffers as they clap their hands and sing civil rights staples like “We shall overcome.” Donaldson is frequently shown singing boisterously, even if in the words of Dorothy Moore, “he can’t sing too well.” But more than anything else, it’s incredibly clear that Donaldson loves to sing, and when he does, there’s nowhere he’d rather be. And as audience members, we’re right there with him.
With the courage of his namesake, Ivanhoe Donaldson both shaped and survived a crucible moment in American history as a field secretary for the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, organizing and training young people to put themselves in harm’s way, challenging white supremacy and asserting the right to vote. Becker’s emotionally-charged cinema vérité, the product of following Donaldson and his foot soldiers through the South in the summer and fall of 1963, provides an immediacy that is unique to film and, as SNCC’s members age and pass, a meaningful perspective to supplement memory. Also, having a resource created with documentary and poetic intention at the time the events occurred — much like James Karales’ photographs from an earlier period of SNCC’s existence — enlivens the dialogue of past and present immeasurably.
The digitization and preservation of the Ivanhoe Donaldson film is part of a larger effort made by the Rubenstein Library over the last decade to ensure that SNCC’s legacy is captured in documents, photographs, oral histories, and conferences, and made available on websites such as the SNCC Digital Gateway (https://snccdigital.org/). To learn more about Ivanhoe Donaldson, you can view a biographical entry and listen to an interview at https://snccdigital.org/people/ivanhoe-donaldson/.
So, you might be wondering, when can I see the whole Ivanhoe Donaldson film? Since the film is still under copyright, we cannot post it to the web. But, you can view the newly digitized preservation copy by requesting the film in the online catalog and then visiting the reading room at the Rubenstein Library.
At Smith Warehouse, the Technical Services archival processing area of Bay 11 is quiet. But not because the librarians working there have shushed everyone. Rather, the archivists, catalogers, interns and student workers perform many tasks by themselves. And most of us are wearing headphones or earbuds. Undoubtedly we are listening to music, podcasts, sports events, and whatever else we can stream. As a self-proclaimed news junkie, I often listen to live broadcasts.
As an archivist of University Archives records, my worlds collided in a “deja vu all over again” manner. At the end of January and beginning of February I was listening to the impeachment hearings and trial of President Donald J. Trump as I was processing the John S. Bradway Correspondence with Richard M. Nixon records. The collection is comprised of letters written between the Duke law professor, and his former student from 1959-1978. Nixon graduated from Duke Law in 1937, and the two men stayed in touch. These letters were recently gifted to Duke from a historical society in New Jersey.
The correspondence covers the time periods that Nixon worked as an attorney at a law firm, a United States Vice President, a newly-elected United States President, an embattled impeachment defendant, and finally, a former President looking back at his legacy. But the bulk of the letters fall between 1973 and 1974, when President Nixon was first tied to, then accused of, and later resigned due to the Watergate break-in and scandal and subsequent White House cover-up.
Bradway and Nixon’s correspondence show the respect each had for the other. They often mention their spouses, Mary Bradway and Pat Nixon, offering their greetings to them in each letter. The men also write glowingly of each other, and Bradway offered his suggestions to “stay with it” and his view that neither the Republican party nor the country would have anything to gain by Nixon resigning. When Nixon finally did resign and leave Washington, the correspondence continued, and Bradway urged him to write “a book or a series of articles” giving his side of the Watergate story.
Processing this collection with impeachment trial streaming through my earbuds led to an unusual echo chamber. The same phrases that I saw in the documents were being repeated on the floors of the House and the Senate. For example, liberal media was mentioned in both the recent impeachment hearings and the correspondence. The phrase “Impeachment is a political process” and concerns about the health and future of the Republican party were discussed in the letters I read, and in the very recent commentaries I heard. For me it was a startling reminder of how primary source documents very clearly connect to our present-day lives and current affairs.
Post contributed by Laurin Penland, Library Assistant for Technical Services
Warning: Some of the language in this blog post is outdated and considered offensive today. There are also descriptions of violence against African Americans in the South during Reconstruction.
The way in which archivists think about Reconstruction (1865-1877) in the United States can sometimes determine how we describe and interpret materials produced during that period. For example, if you believe that Reconstruction was an ill-fated, corrupt takeover of the South by Northern Republicans—a brief episode doomed to fail—then it makes sense that you would describe a Republican politician in Georgia as self-interested. The particular politician that I have in mind is John Emory Bryant (1836-1900), who was born in Maine, fought for the Union, and pursued a Republican political career in Georgia after the Civil War. Bryant was also an abolitionist, teacher, agent of the Freedmen’s Bureau, newspaper editor and publisher, and lawyer. The Rubenstein Library holds his papers, the bulk of which were acquired in 1968 (a later addition arrived in 2002). His papers came up recently as a candidate for re-processing due to their popularity among researchers, the aging folders and worn-out boxes housing the collection, and the fact that there were many voices within the collection that could benefit from updated description in the online collection guide. Also, when we investigated further, it became clear that there was a large discrepancy between what was described in the old paper catalog and the online collection guide. The original card catalog entry included 50 cards of description! And the online collection guide included only two small paragraphs. Sometimes this discrepancy happens because of the way the library managed the mass migration of our collection guides online; description was simplified. And sometimes this happens when the description was viewed as problematic for some reason. For the JEB papers, the discrepancy in descriptions could have been for multiple reasons. My task was to assess the description that was available to me and to do my best to improve the collection guide, a process which inspired me to think about how archivists and researchers interpret and describe materials from the Reconstruction Era. This process ultimately led me to edit descriptions of JEB and to make sure that the voices of people of color where discoverable in the collection.
To get an idea of how JEB papers were originally described, here is an unflattering snippet about Bryant from the old card catalog:
On January 1, 1862, Bryant made a significant statement to Emma [his future wife]. He refers to his “enemies,” who are again conspiring against him. He has been under arrest for stealing from a Negro, a charge which was dismissed later. He says he will come out on top, as he always looks out for ‘no. 1.’ This glimpse of his personality is prophetic for the career he later entered.
The description portrays Bryant (JEB) as contentious, selfish, and possibly corrupt; the description also gives weighty significance to this episode in JEB’s life by suggesting that it illustrates an important aspect of his personality and the foundation for his political career. I think it’s also important to note that JEB was accused of stealing from a black person, which, if true, would do significant harm to any claims of integrity he might have had in fighting for the civil and political rights of African Americans.
Why did the previous cataloger of this collection choose to highlight this episode in Bryant’s life? One reason could be because of popular notions about Reconstruction during the 1960s—for example, the cataloger, expecting to find a corrupt carpetbagger, could have been drawn to troublesome moments in JEB’s life and career. After all, JEB was no stranger to conflict and controversy in both public and private affairs. In her book, Carpetbagger of Conscience: A Biography of John Emory Bryant, Ruth Currie-McDaniel probes JEB’s life and career, wading through many of his successes, failures, flaws, and contradictions in order to try to discern what kind of Republican he really was. Currie-McDaniel comes down on the side that JEB was a staunch supporter and fighter for civil rights for African Americans; he was also “a complicated mixture of idealistic reform zeal on the one hand and a certain selfish realism on the other,” as well as being a neglectful husband. To say the least, JEB was a complicated person, and the letters that he left behind tell of a controversial personality.
Eric Foner, who is one of the most well-known Reconstruction scholars and who is heavily inspired by W. E. B. Du Bois (Du Bois wrote “Black Reconstruction in America: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880,” published in 1935), lays out an understanding of Reconstruction in which
the [Republican] Radicals in Congress were acquitted of both vindictive motives and the charge of serving as the stalking-horses of Northern capitalism. They emerged instead as idealists in the best nineteenth-century reform tradition…. Their Reconstruction policies were based on principle, not petty political advantage, for the central issue dividing [President] Johnson and these Radical Republicans was the civil rights of freedmen.
Foner writes that a key element of this understanding of Reconstruction, which is very different than the one depicted by previous historians such as William Dunning and films like Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind, is the “testimony of the central participant in the drama of Reconstruction—the black freedman.” While John Emory Bryant was an important player in Republican politics during Reconstruction in the South, I took Foner’s depiction to heart and shifted my gaze beyond JEB’s voice and actions alone. Who were these black freedmen that Foner mentions, and what is their testimony from the Reconstruction Era? This blog post is an exploration of the African-American voices found within the JEB papers.
Daniel Broomfield: School Teacher in Warrenton, Georgia
Scattered throughout the JEB papers, there are myriad portrayals of black people fighting for a better life (and sometimes fighting just to live) by participating in civic, educational, religious, and political organizations. In 1866, one school teacher, who recently built a small schoolhouse, writes to report being shot at:
William John Spence came to the school house last Monday evening just after I had turned out and shot two balls through the house, he then shot three times at me as I run. I only built a small house, I was not able to build a very large one, I done the best I could. I had a good many scholars spelling and reading. I reported to the Bureau here but to very little effect did it take.
This kind of terroristic violence is documented throughout the John Emory Bryant collection, perhaps most strikingly in a deposition describing KKK activity in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia in the 1870s. The African-American victims listed in the document are: Edward Thompson and his wife in Florida; Boss Fullard, Gamble Wright, and John Askie in Dublin, Georgia; and George Daymond in Montgomery County, Georgia. The atrocities recounted in the deposition paint a picture of white-supremacist terror. We do not know the author of the deposition, but for those who are interested in this account and the efforts to hold the perpetrators of terror and violence responsible, we have another collection at the library that has more information. The Williams Woods Holden Papers, 1834-1929, document the life of a “journalist and Republican governor of North Carolina…. He was elected governor as a Republican in 1868, but was impeached by the Democratic state legislature in 1870 for his efforts to combat the Ku Klux Klan.”
Henry McNeal Turner: Republican Leader, Preacher, Post Master General, and Bishop
In the midst of violence, terror, and constant, ever-present racism (including both hate-filled and less incendiary paternalistic propaganda), black freedmen (formerly enslaved people) and black people who were born free pushed full-steam ahead. The same year that the school teacher, Broomfield, writes to report the assault against him, Henry McNeal Turner (1834-1915) writes a series of letters to JEB. Turner was a chaplain during the Civil War and went on to become a black Republican leader, legislator, preacher, Post Master of Georgia, and bishop in the African Methodist Church. He writes his letters to Bryant while enduring loss and illness in his family; one of Turner’s children had just died and his wife was gravely ill, yet Turner pushed on for Republican causes. He writes to JEB about political news, updates him on his efforts to get subscribers to their Republican newspaper, tells of his hopes for the Georgia legislature, and strategizes ways to inform black citizens about new laws: “Major General Howard at my suggestion is going to print copies of the Emancipation Proclamation, Civil Rights Bill etc. for general distribution through the South for the colored people. I told him there should be thousands of copies distributed like tracts.” When Turner tries to get Democrats to subscribe to his Republican newspaper, he says, “The few democrats that are here, with whom I have come in contact, treat me very scornfully. They say I aught not to speak of those outrages. But the Republicans have assured me, that Mr. Johnson shall execute that civil rights bill or leave his seat. They also say there is more on hand, when they get ready to enforce it, and they will do it.” The Civil Rights Act about which Turner is writing was passed on April 9, 1866 (three days before Turner’s letter). This act provided:
that all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States; and such citizens, of every race and color, without regard to any previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall have the same right, in every State and Territory in the United States, to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, and give evidence, to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property, and to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property, as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, and penalties, and to none other, any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, to the contrary notwithstanding.
The law was passed, vetoed by President Andrew Johnson, and then passed again with a two-thirds majority. In another letter, Turner offers aid to JEB, who, he has heard, has been arrested and whose paper was suppressed. He writes, “If you are in great need, write to Oliver Sanders of Columbus, Ga. I helped them to organize a society there, and they have some money, which they will send you as quick as lighting if you need it.” Turner’s letters show someone who was deeply engaged in the issues of the time, made personal sacrifices to fight for what he believed in, and cared for his friend and colleague, JEB.
Charles R. Edwardes: Preacher and Labor Organizer
One of the common threads that connects several of the people in the Bryant papers is the importance of newspapers. JEB, along with Turner and William Anderson Pledger (who I’ll mention later), published Republican newspapers, which allowed them to share their ideas more widely and broaden their connections throughout Georgia. One African-American minister, Charles R. Edwardes, writes to JEB in 1869 to tell him about his efforts to get more subscribers for Bryant’s newspaper, and to inform Bryant of a meeting—of the Colored Men of the Mechanics and Laboring Men Association—that he would like to be mentioned in the newspaper. Edwardes reports that there are 87 members of the Association and that he hopes they will have many more members soon. At the meeting, the men counted how much land they had purchased, how many crops they had produced, and how much money they had made as tradesmen. Edwardes explains, “We wants to buy land as soon as we can to give homes to our poor peoples for many don’t [have] homes and land to work and cheated out what money works for. I have some promise to take your paper. I will do all I can to have this paper among my people. Do what you can for us.” 
William Anderson Pledger: Teacher, Republican, Lawyer, Newspaper Publisher
My Dear Sir: The schools of this county being in the hands of the Democrats and they having such an avowed hatred to me till it has become impossible for me to obtain employment. Their hatred is because of my Republican principles, or because that I speak them freely—yet moderately. Consequently I must have recourse to my Republican friends to obtain a livelihood: to you I look as a very dear friend, because you know the privations an active Republican is subjected….
This letter is written by William Anderson Pledger, who was a prominent black Republican in Georgia. He was also an editor, teacher, and friend of JEB. Pledger’s letter press copybook (dated 1875-1879) includes faint copies of letters written to various Georgian politicians and Republicans, including John Emory Bryant, Henry McNeal Turner, E.R. Belcher, Benjamin Conly, Henry Farrow, M.T. Ackerman, and others. Many of the letters show his urgent attempts to attain employment and describe the discrimination that he faced due to his Republican political activities. In a different letter, he writes, “The Democrats have offered me if I would only leave off indoctrinating ‘radicalism’ into the negros’ [sic] heads that they would put at my disposal any position I wanted. You know I can not go back on Republicanism though I perish from this uncivilized conduct.”
Pledger’s letters and scrapbook also show his engagement with social and political organizations, such as the Grand Fountain of Georgia (also referred to as the “colored Good Templars”), a black temperance organization. Pledger was the Grand Worthy Master of the State in Georgia in 1876 and was credited with increasing the membership from 2000 to 8000. These types of fraternal organizations were often at the heart of segregation battles that would go on to define the Jim Crow South. In a newspaper clipping, Pledger writes to the editor about a dispute within the Grand Fountain between the white and “colored” lodges, and he explains how the matter has been settled in his favor by the organization’s supreme court in England. Another clipping from 1878 describes “Emancipation Day,” which “was held in the First Congregational Church on Collins Street on Tuesday night, January 1st to celebrate the anniversary of Emancipation.” There, the Emancipation Proclamation was read aloud and speeches were given, including one by Pledger. It is clear that Pledger was highly active in the public sphere. In The Way It Was in the South: The Black Experience in Georgia, author Donald Grant describes Pledger as being at the center of Republican politics: “he was a delegate to every Republican national convention from 1876 to 1900 and remained on the state Republican committee until his death in 1904.” In 1879, “smoldering black resentment against the white leadership of the Republican party resulted in a revolt by the blacks, who elected a new state committee of twenty-four blacks and eight whites. Black leader William A. Pledger led the revolt and replaced John E. Bryant as party chairman.” During this period of Reconstruction, there was an internal struggle in the Republican Party against the lily-whites (those who wanted all-white leadership) and the black-and-tans (a coalition of blacks and whites). Three years after Pledger was elected chairman, he was “ousted” and “replaced by a white, Alfred E. Buck.” Another important shift during this time was African-American disenfranchisement. During this moment in Reconstruction, black voting and participation were at their height: “In 1876, 53 percent of the eligible black males voted. The white vote was only slightly higher.” However, due to poll taxes, the Populist defeat, the lack of secrecy of ballots, the barring of black voters from primaries (called the “white primary”), intimidation and violence, and other disenfranchising efforts, black voting hit its nadir in Georgia in 1904 at 4 percent.
Pledger was also a journalist and newspaper publisher. He founded The Athens Blade in 1879 “with the credo: ‘The Arm of justice Cannot—Will not Sleep,’” and he was very engaged in the debates of the time, such as the plan for African Americans to emigrate to Liberia. Pledger also helped organize the Afro-American League (which later became the Afro-American Council) in 1890 in Chicago, and he was known for fighting against lynching. He “once led armed blacks to the Athens jail and successfully defied a mob bent on lynching two prisoners.”
Altogether, Pledger’s papers show someone who seized upon the political momentum of the time to fight for a Republican platform that was built on equal rights for African Americans.
As archivists, when we preserve, organize, and describe manuscript collections, sometimes it is tempting to try to decide whether someone like John Emory Bryant did more good in the world than harm. To complicate matters, it is unclear how much significance to attribute to the correspondence, ephemera, and artifacts left behind by historical figures (e.g., we wonder whether these papers represent the whole person). In this case, widening my gaze beyond John Emory Bryant to his broader context and networks helped me address the issues at the center of this collection of papers, such as the Republican social and political fabric during Reconstruction, and, in particular, it illuminated the testimony of those fighting for equal rights, especially people of color. To give credit where credit is due, much of the work to describe this collection had been done by previous catalogers and researchers. My work benefited from the detailed description in the old card catalog, which highlighted contributions by Pledger, Turner, and others. In my revised collection guide, I built on the work that came before me, updated the language, and edited out descriptions that may have tried to pigeon hole Bryant as a self-interested Carpetbagger. Most importantly, widening my view helped me to make choices in my description of the collection, ultimately placing less focus on Bryant’s eccentricities and more focus on making a variety of voices discoverable. For instance, previously, the KKK disposition had been relegated to a “Miscellaneous” folder and was not described. Now, it has its own folder and is discoverable in the collection guide. This is not to say that now—fifty years after we acquired this collection—the description is finally complete. It can always be improved; and perhaps fifty years from now, archivists and researchers will take a new approach to this collection.
As an addendum, I would like to address the fact that all of the people mentioned in this blog post are men. John Emory Bryant, while being a supporter of equal rights for men of color, did not support women’s suffrage or equal rights for women. However, there is copious correspondence in the collection between Bryant and his wife, Emma Spaulding Bryant, which is deserving of a blog post of its own. Emma Bryant often pushed back against ideas of male dominance and superiority. We have digitized a small portion of her correspondence that documents a particularly passionate response to John, who apparently objected to Emma seeing a male doctor about “uterine difficulties” without John’s permission or presence. Thanks to historian Ruth Currie-McDaniel, you can find a published collection of Emma Spaulding Bryant’s correspondence in Duke Libraries’ general collection: Emma Spaulding Bryant: Civil War Bride, Carpetbagger’s Wife, Ardent Feminist.
Blog post contributed by Liz Adams, Rare Materials Cataloger
Way back in 2018, back when the new decade was but a glint in our eyes, we received something very big (literally and metaphorically) here at the Rubenstein: a single volume of 83 prints associated with William Hogarth. The creation dates for these prints span from 1732 (Midnight modern conversation) to 1781 (Mr. Walpole). Some of them are sincere, like a portrait of the actor David Garrick as Richard III. Others chart corruption and vice, notably in the series A rake’s progress and A harlot’s progress. Still others are pointed rejoinders to Hogarth’s nemeses, which included people like the satirist Charles Churchill (The bruiser, C. Churchill), alcoholic beverages (Gin Lane), and the French military. The themes are varied; the production methods evolve; and even Hogarth’s role in the creation of these prints oscillates between publisher, printer, artist of original work, and artistic supervisor. The prints are thus unified by their differences.
In 2019, I learned these differences were not just between prints but also within them. Hogarth was a tinkerer: He would return to the same copper plate, darkening and expanding shadows, adding crosshatching, changing clothing and facial features, and even excising text. He would do this work multiple times, releasing subsequent editions, or “states” of each print. There are at least ten different versions of some of Hogarth’s most famous prints, all subtly different and requiring the viewer to have excellent “I spy” skills. Luckily (for me and you, but mostly me), Hogarth is a very famous and well-studied artist. Dr. Ronald Paulson’s Hogarth’s graphic works tracks every change, making it possible to differentiate between moderate cross-hatching and slightly deeper cross-hatching. Thanks, Dr. Paulson!
I want to point out just one more wrinkle: After Hogarth’s death in 1764, his copper plates first went to his family, who then sold them to the publisher John Boydell. In 1790, Boydell published a volume of Hogarth’s works using the unaltered copper plates. Thus, a print that might be physically dated 1732 might really have been printed in 1790, long after Hogarth’s death. Furthermore, Boydell printed the plates on laid paper given to him by Hogarth’s wife Jane, as well as on a newer type of paper known as wove (Donihue). This can make dating quite complicated, as the use of laid paper might still mean that Boydell printed it, and not Hogarth. Some of our prints are also trimmed and mounted, making it hard to distinguish paper at all. In situations like that, caveats in catalog records really do work wonders.
This all leads me to 2020. The future that seemed far away is our present. Our once uncataloged volume of 83 Hogarth prints is now very much cataloged. You too can see what comes of industry and idleness (spoiler: basically what you’d expect) and what wigs looked like in the 18th century (elaborate and itchy). Happy new year, new decade, and new researching to you all!
These prints were a gift acquired as part of the Frank Baker Collection of Wesleyana and British Methodism.
Although he wouldn’t know it at the time, 1979 would become the most eventful year of Robert Cox’s life. A British journalist who spent most of his adulthood up to this point in Argentina, Cox found out that his son Peter had received a highly detailed anonymous death threat. The threat came as a result of Cox’s work covering the Dirty War as the editor of the English-language newspaper the Buenos Aires Herald. Cox and his family decided to flee from Argentina. His wife Maud Cox and their five children all came to England and then the United States with him at Harvard where Cox held a Nieman Fellowship. They later came to Charleston, South Carolina where Cox became the assistant editor for the Post & Courier.
A strong theme throughout Cox’s papers is the disappearances of political activists and dissidents, especially those of Jewish descent, throughout the country. Cox himself wrote about the desaparecidos (disappeared) and advocated for the Buenos Aires Herald to cover the violence enacted against them. Articles within the collection that cover the kidnappings range from brief passages to notices created by family members of the “disappeared.” However, one format that stands out above others in the collection never made their way into being published in an official formats – pamphlets created by the family members of the disappeared.
These pamphlets, almost zine-like, were created by Xeroxing official documents, photographs, newspaper clippings, and passages written by the creators alongside one another to create a narrative about what was known about the disappearance of this individual or group of individuals.
We know that at least one of these pamphlets was mailed to Robert Cox himself, as evidenced by Robert Cox’s mailing address on the back of the pamphlet. Working with the ERP (the People’s Revolutionary Army), Jorge Marcelo Dyszel Lewin and his wife Mirtha Nelida Schwalb de Dyszel were disappeared May 18, 1978. They were 22 and 21 years old respectively. Jorge was from a Polish Jewish immigrant family. This pamphlet was likely created by Jorge’s mother, Beatriz Lewin, who was very active in Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo).
Another pamphlet tells the story of the disappearances of Graciela Antonia Rutilo Artes and her daughter Carla Graciela Rutilo Artes. Graciela’s mother Matilde Artes Company created the pamphlet and became active with Las Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo.
The Grandmothers and the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo continue to work to hold accountable those who disappeared their grandchildren and children.
Cox did not return to Argentina for over a decade. However, from afar, Cox wrote about Argentina with continued urgency and commitment. His personal papers reflect this engagement, consisting of his own personal writings and those collected by him written by colleagues or other interested parties about Argentina. When democracy was restored to Argentina with the election of Raúl Alfonsín, Cox reported on this and outlined the challenges that lay ahead of the new president as he grappled with the aftermath of the Dirty War. His reporting continues shape how Argentines and the outside world view Argentina and its recent history.
His story is also told through two books written by his wife Maude, Salvados del Infierno: A 25 años de la dictadura Argentina, and his son David, Dirty Secrets, Dirty War: The Exile of Robert J. Cox.
If you are interested in learning more, a documentary film about Cox’s life and work called A Messenger on a White Horse is available from the Lilly Library. A shortened version of the film is also available on Amazon Prime.
Post contributed by Paula Jeannet, Visual Materials Processing Archivist at the Rubenstein Library
Did you know that October is American Archives Month? During this time archivists and their allies take to social media and other outlets to raise public awareness about the importance of preserving the historical record. This year’s theme in North Carolina is “Activism and Social Justice in North Carolina.” To honor that theme, this post highlights an inspiring N.C. activist organization whose records are in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
Officially founded in 1992 in Durham, N.C., Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) has brought college and high school students and farmworkers together to collectively work for economic justice, consumer awareness, and improved living and working conditions for people who grow and harvest our food.
The long arc of SAF’s activist work, which began in the 1970s, is well-represented in their archives in the Rubenstein library. The collection’s 148 boxes house materials documenting SAF’s founding, its operations, meetings, and planning, and records on every program from inception to launch. There are many photographs, audio, video, and, with the arrival of the 2000s, digital records.
College-age interns, many of them from farmworker families, travel to isolated rural migrant camps to document living conditions through photography, oral histories, and writing. Thousands of SAF student alumni have also gone out into the world to join and found other social justice programs and organizations.
Student projects such as this 2011 video documentary created by three students are housed in the SAF collection at the Rubenstein (student project folders require permission for access). Through Story+, a summer research internship sponsored by Duke University libraries and the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, students have created several other SAF video documentaries.
An integral part of SAF’s work is educational programming and outreach for children, teens, and adults. In 2014, SAF’s Levante Leadership program was recognized as one of the most effective programs in the nation that improves educational outcomes for Latino students.
SAF also organized and participated in protest actions, including the Mount Olive Pickle Company and Burger King labor protests. These actions directly led to improved conditions in the factories and fields.
Did you know that many farmworkers are forced to live next to fields sprayed with pesticides? SAF has mounted successful long-term campaigns on specific issues such as pesticide safety that include outreach tools such as this video for children called “José Learns About Pesticides.”
Theater in the Fields brings a powerful message and educational opportunities to the fields where agricultural workers toil. The giant puppet “Big Papa” is also found in the SAF archives! The puppet was created by NC sculpture artist Daniel L. Mathewson (1964-2011) for the play “Gigantes en los Campos/Giants in the Fields,” written by NC writer Cara Page. The Big Papa character had few lines, but loomed ominously over scenes in the play as a method of intimidation and mockery of the farmworker characters.
The mobilization of students and farmworkers originally begun at Duke in the 1970s was in part inspired by a 1960 documentary by N.C. journalist Edward Murrow, “Harvest of Shame.” Today, the same labor, health, and social justice issues continue to plague the U.S. agriculture system, so Student Action with Farmworkers continues its work to improve conditions and to make their vision a reality, that “One day, all farmworkers will have dignity in their work and livelihood.”
During this Archives Month, we salute those who give so much of their energies to justice, and to those who recognize the importance of keeping this history alive in collective memory by placing their records in an archive.
The records of the Student Action with Farmworkers organization span the entirety of their history, and are available at the Rubenstein Library. Learn more by visiting the online collection guide.
To learn more about SAF, view this video. There are more videos on this site, many using archival resources from the collection to tell the farmworkers’ stories. Also, check out their 25th anniversary “More Than One Story” exhibit and web site.
Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University