Category Archives: Technical Stuff

Final Papers, Meet New Finding Aids

Time to get cracking on those final papers? Start your research with one of the collections described in these brand-new finding aids!

African American Miscellany, 1757-1983

This collection of approximately 400 print and manuscript items relating to African and African American history was assembled over a number of decades by the staff of the RBMSCL. These documents—largely from the southern United States—speak to the sales, escapes, and emancipations of slaves from colonial times through the Civil War, the civil rights era from 1950-1970, and to a lesser extent, the period in between the 1870s and the 1950s.

South Africa Documentary Photographs Collection, 1940s-2007 and undated

Metal artist Titus Moteyane, Atteridgeville, Pretoria, 1984. Gisele Wulfsohn. From the South Africa Documentary Photographs Collection.

Acquired as part of the Archive of Documentary Arts, the South Africa Documentary Photographs Collection consists of four series of photographs documenting South African social conditions under and after apartheid, dating from approximately the 1940s-2007: Beyond the Barricades, The Cordoned Heart, Then and Now, and Underexposed. Each series originated in an exhibition, book, or project developed jointly by Duke University and South African institutions. The collection represents work by 45 South African photographers, many of whom were members of Afrapix, a collective photography agency that was politically active in the 1980s, or were otherwise active in documenting anti-apartheid struggle.

Louanne Watley Photographs, 2002-2010

The photographs and supporting materials created by Louanne Watley depict communities of Catholic nuns in Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia, and images of their religious life in those communities. She typically focuses on the women’s individual faces, hands, and feet. There are also a few images of monks and their communities as well. The formats are primarily black-and-white prints with some color prints, contact prints, Polaroids (diffusion transfer process), large color inkjet prints, and negatives. As with many Archive of Documentary Arts collections acquired in recent years, digital scans of Watley’s work are also included.

Walter McGowan Upchurch Papers, 1841-1977

Walter McGowan Upchurch, Jr. served as a member of Duke’s Board of Trustees and was senior vice-president of Shell Companies Foundation, Inc. This collection contains personal correspondence among members of the Upchurch family, including correspondence between Upchurch and his brother during World War II, when they were both serving in the U.S. Navy; professional correspondence concerning Duke University administrative affairs; and genealogical materials for the Upchurch, Daniel, and Meadows families of North Carolina. Additional materials include Shell Development Company records on personnel issues such as labor relations and salary administration at the progressive Emeryville Laboratories; and Shell Companies Foundation records from 1963 to 1974, chiefly relating to the foundation’s endowments, scholarships, grants, and donations. The Duke University Archives also holds a smaller collection of Upchurch’s papers.

Please remember that many RBMSCL collections are stored off-site in our wonderful Library Service Center and need to be requested by RBMSCL staff members at least 24 hours before your research visit. We encourage you to e-mail special-collections(at) for assistance.

Our National Sweepstakes

In the spirit of election day, we are highlighting a new acquisition: the James Cartoons Posters, a series of political cartoon posters created by the New Process Electro Corporation in 1920 and 1921.

They are remarkable for a number of reasons—including their large size (21 x 31 inches) and their beautiful colors. Originally offered as a subscription for $1.25 per week, the posters feature not-so-subtle commentary on everything from the League of Nations, prohibition, Russian aggression, and the Ponzi scheme. One common topic is the 1920 presidential election, where Warren G. Harding challenged James Middleford Cox. One of our favorites, “The Home Stretch!,” stars Harding (riding on the GOP Elephant) and Cox (being pulled in a wagon by the Democratic Donkey) racing towards the Election Day finish line.

Detail from “The Home Stretch!”

Many of the posters reflect America’s increasing isolationism, particularly regarding Europe and the League of Nations. Harding’s campaign for a “return to normalcy” struck a chord with voters who were exhausted by World War I and disillusioned by global politics. He defeated Cox in a landslide on November 2, 1920.

The James Cartoons Posters collection has only a sampling of the originally published series, so unfortunately we don’t know what the artist had to say about Harding and the Republicans post-election.

Detail from “The Home Stretch!”

Post contributed by Meghan Lyon, Accessioning Associate.

D is for Diaries, Drama, and Dracula

Buck and his chewing gum.

I’m lucky. As a volunteer at the RBMSCL, I’ve been creating finding aids for small manuscript collections—collections such as love letters and travel diaries from the 19th century—which can be more compelling than any historical novel. One in particular I found to be especially memorable is the John Buck Diary.

Elaborate script and comic sketches recount the eight week long vacation in England and Scotland in 1887 of John Buck, an affluent, young American who spent several days in close company with Henry Irving, the famous English actor; the equally famous actress and Irving’s rumored paramour, Ellen Terry; and the business manager of the Lyceum Theatre as well as Irving’s personal assistant, Bram Stoker. Yes, the Bram Stoker who later wrote Dracula. His visit begins with the Royal Lyceum’s performance of another popular demonic tale:

I reached Edinburgh at seven o’clock and was met by Mr. Stoker. He took me to the Edinburgh Hotel (close by the station) where Mr. Irving was staying. . . . Mr. Stoker after fixing me comfortably hurried away to the theatre and I had my dinner served in Mr. Irving’s dining room. The dinner was good but I was so anxious to see some of “Faust” that I left at the end of the third course and jumping into a hansom drove to the Royal Lyceum Theatre, where I found Mr. Stoker “laying” [?] for me. He . . . took me into the only remaining private box. Mephistopheles was just transforming Faust into a young man as I entered the box, so I had not missed much of the play. . . . At the end of the act Mr. Stoker took me around [to the stage] to see Mr. Irving and Miss Terry. . . . While we were chatting and I was being questioned about “home affairs” the scene shifters were building Marguerite’s room around us, and very soon I was compelled to “skip” as the curtain was about to be rung up. . . . Mr. Irving was grand, and he will make a tremendous hit with Faust in America. (pages 67-70)

One of Buck's sketches.

The diary is so extraordinarily descriptive and entertaining; it is as if Buck, who loved the theater, were writing the storyline for his own theatrical play. At times, I could imagine his diary recast as a BBC period drama! Equally remarkable is the extent to which Buck’s personality is so clearly revealed. He was sometimes irreverent and informal, even when visiting the Duke of Beaufort at Badminton House in Gloucestershire, highly competitive, a bit arrogant, and more interested in pretty young women, having fun, and socializing than sightseeing; he seemed so American, and so amazingly like a few modern young men that I have known.

Happy Halloween!

Post contributed by Danielle Moore, RBMSCL Technical Services volunteer.

Dorothy Allison Papers Arrive at Duke

In the early 1990s Ginny Daley, then director of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, was convinced that Duke should acquire Dorothy Allison’s papers. “I saw her as the quintessential Southern writer,” Daley wrote recently. “Her personal papers and literary works fit well with Duke’s collections of Southern literature and women’s culture, while bringing fresh perspectives on queer culture and truth-telling to the mix.” Through campus visits and other seed-planting efforts, Ginny Daley introduced Ms. Allison to the possibility of Duke as the permanent home for her collection.

Photo by Brett Hall.

Now, after a nearly twenty year period of considering this momentous decision, Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina and other works and renowned activist in the LGBTQ community, has selected the RBMSCL to be the repository for her papers. Bingham Center and literary curatorial staff collaborated on the initial acquisition of nearly 60 boxes of Allison’s papers, including drafts of her writings, extensive correspondence and research files, personal journals documenting her life and creative process, and more. For Allison, a South Carolina native now living in California, it’s a relief to have the papers at the RBMSCL: “All I know is that now I feel that all that . . . I saved is going to be safe and of use. Since we are entering high summer here with 90 degree temperatures and high risk of fire, I can also stop worrying that a wildfire might sweep through the redwoods and erase all that history. Safe and of use is infinitely preferable.”

The papers will be a rich resource for those interested in Allison’s life and work, as well as for researchers exploring the development of LGBT and Southern literatures, lesbian communities and families, and the history of American sexuality, among many other topics. Materials will be added to the collection as Allison continues to write and publish (a new book of short stories and a novel coming soon!).

A preliminary finding aid for the collection is now available here. In the coming months staff will review, process, and revise the finding aid for the collection to make it available for research. Researchers interested in using the papers should contact the Bingham Center staff to discuss their availability.

Post contributed by Will Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections.

Nell Irvin Painter Reflects

Date: Monday, 13 September 2010
Time: 4:00 PM
Location: Rare Book Room
Contact Information: Amy McDonald, 919-681-7987 or amy.mcdonald(at)

Photo by Robin Holland.

With a career that has stretched from top public universities and the Ivy League to institutions in Italy, Ghana, and France, Nell Irvin Painter brings her rich experience to a personal consideration of African American women in academia. In “Alone and Together: One African American Woman’s Experiences in the Academy,” Dr. Painter will reflect upon her professional successes and challenges, as well as her career-long exchanges with several fellow African American women scholars.

Dr. Painter’s professional and personal papers, which are held by the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture, have recently been opened to public research. For more information about her papers, visit the collection inventory or contact special-collections(at)

This program, part of a year-long celebration of the 15th anniversary of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History, is the first in a series of two events co-sponsored by the Franklin Research Center and the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute.

For more information about the second event, hosted by the Franklin Humanities Institute the following day, please visit the event’s webpage.

Hot New Finding Aids!

Is the heat wave getting to be too much to bear? Head on over to the RBMSCL and do some research in our cool reading room!

Full Frame Festival Program, 2007. From the Full Frame Archive Film Collection.

Full Frame Archive Film Collection, 1998-2010

The largest film festival in the United States entirely devoted to documentary film, the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival has been an annual highlight of Durham’s cultural scene since 1998.

In 2007, Duke University Libraries and Full Frame, with support from Eastman Kodak and Alpha Cine Labs in Seattle, announced the creation of the Full Frame Archive, to be housed at the RBMSCL, with the aim of acquiring, archiving, and preserving copies of all of the Festival’s award-winning films. The Full Frame Archive Film Collection comprises preservation masters of documentary films that won awards at the Full Frame Film Festival between 1998 and 2010. Each year’s festival will bring new additions to the collection!

Confederate States of America Collection, 1850-1876

One of our older collections has a brand new finding aid. This perennially-popular collection includes a wide variety of records from the administrative bodies within the Confederate States of America, including original and typed copies of acts and statutes of the C.S.A. Congress, Army soldiers’ correspondence and papers of several Army units, and records from the Treasury Department. There might even be a clue about the lost Confederate gold!

Preserving Duke’s Webpages (At Least 457,009 of Them)

Archive-It's capture of

As I was preparing for my last year at the School for Information and Library Science (SILS) at UNC, I knew that I needed to gain some practical experience in the library field in addition to my current part-time job. At SILS, I became fascinated with electronic records and how they are being preserved for the future. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) defines electronic records as “any information that is recorded in a form that only a computer can process and that satisfies the definition of a record.” The actual definition of a record can vary slightly depending on who is consulted (i.e., NARA or the Society of American Archivists).

I contacted Duke’s University Archivist, Tim Pyatt, who put me in touch with Seth Shaw, the Electronic Records Archivist. Unbeknownst to me, Tim and Seth had been discussing the need of preserving information found on Duke’s various websites. When I approached them about a possible field experience, they felt that this would be a good project for me to assist with.

Online material has become an integral part of many institutions and Duke is no different. In order to preserve this information, web sites need to be collected and archived. Out of all the ways to do this (and there are many), we decided that the Internet Archive’s tool, Archive-It, would be the best option. Before starting to capture websites, we created a policy that defined what types of materials we wanted to collect. I used that policy to select the websites of 350 out of 500 Duke student organizations for capture.

This project provided me with a good amount of hands-on experience that will definitely be beneficial as I pursue my career in library science. Although I’ve finished my field experience, there will soon be a new field experience student to take up the reins and assist Seth in making sure that part of Duke’s cultural heritage is preserved.

Post contributed by Stephanie Brantley, RBMSCL Technical Services field experience student.

Gee, Paperclips are Expensive…

Archival supplies are often the overlooked backbone of special collections. Imagine if we didn’t have boxes to hold all those priceless papers, or rubber stamps to warn everyone that the enclosed tintypes were “FRAGILE”?

Stainless Steel Paperclips

Boxes, folders, envelopes, interleaving paper: all of these things have been specially made treated to be acid-free, lignin-free, and archivally safe for the materials we store in them. They are designed to extend the life of our collections by preventing items from shifting during transport, or letting users grab a sturdy folder instead of a delicate manuscript. Some boxes and folders are chemically engineered to absorb oxidative gases from items like old newspapers, preventing them from yellowing or damaging other papers that might be stored in the same box.

Specially designed supplies usually result in extremely expensive supply costs for a special collections library. Regular cardboard boxes can cost as little as a dollar, while our archival boxes for letter-sized paper cost as much as $10. Oversized material requires extra-large folders and boxes, which can run as much as $40 per box! Even tiny supplies pack a punch: stainless steel paper clips, for example, cost a whopping 8 cents per paper clip. Regular paper clips are much cheaper (less than 1 cent), but they also rust and damage paper.

As archivists, we want to protect our collections so they will last as long as possible. Special supplies, while expensive, are critical to our success.

Post contributed by Meghan Lyon, Technical Services Assistant.

A Jazz Master’s Papers Come to Duke

Frank Foster, ca. 1970s. From the Frank Foster Papers.

The Jazz Archive at Duke University announces the recent arrival of the Frank Foster Papers. Foster is one of the leading jazz saxophonists, big band leaders, and composer/arrangers of the post-World War II era. While serving as the primary arranger for the Count Basie Orchestra since the 1950s, Foster continued to compose and arrange for a variety of ensembles, receiving two Grammy Awards in the 1980s for his work. In 2002, Foster received the Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The papers (which range from 1927 to 2009) reveal Foster’s personal and professional lives. Scores and parts composed or arranged by Foster for jazz big bands, as well as business records, publicity, reviews, and news clippings documenting Foster’s career, are complemented by personal correspondence, photographs, and a variety of Foster’s own prose writings. There are also roughly fifty hours of concert recordings featuring various bands Foster performed in.

While portions of the papers are currently open for research, the entire collection should be processed and available for use by the fall of 2010. If you’d like to arrange a visit to view the collection, or if you have any questions, please e-mail us at special-collections(at)

Post contributed by Jeremy Smith, Jazz Archivist.

April Showers Bring New Finding Aids!

Our technical services archivists have created a veritable deluge of new finding aids for some of our older collections. All of the following collections are open for research. Please contact the Special Collections Library at special-collections(at) with any questions.

Japanese Matchbox Label Collection, circa 1910

400 vividly-colored Japanese matchbox labels are mounted in a contemporary paper album and housed in a custom-made cloth box. Unfortunately, the name of the person who created this marvelous collection is unknown.

Ann Atwater Interviews, 2006

Master and use copies of Jeff Storer’s oral interviews with Ann Atwater, an African-American civil rights activist based in Durham regarding her friendship with Ku Klux Klan leader C. P. Ellis.

Montrose Jonas Moses Papers, 1789-1960

The papers of this drama critic, journalist, and author of works on American and European drama and on children’s literature includes correspondence with giants of the turn-of-the-20th-century theater, including Eugene O’Neill, Percival Wilde, David Belasco, and Margaret Anglin.

Thomas Lee Settle Papers, 1795-1949

The papers of this Virginia surgeon, said to have pronounced the death of abolitionist John Brown, shed light on the practice of medicine in the 19th century. Of particular interest are documents detailing Settle’s own medical service for the 11th Virginia Cavalry.