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Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University
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The Noise in the Silence: Radio Haiti During the Coup Years

Mon, 09/28/2015 - 17:36

What can we learn from the gaps, absences, and silences in an archive?  What are the stories that are hidden between the lines?

From September 1991 to October 1994, Haiti was ruled by a military junta that overthrew the democratically-elected government only a few months after it came into power.  The military regime was a particularly unjust and brutal era in Haiti’s unjust and brutal history, in which dissidents, pro-democracy and human rights activists, and journalists were beaten, raped, imprisoned, and killed by military and paramilitary forces.  The politically-engaged poor were especially targeted, and subjected to physical and psychological terror.  The US responded by imposing a trade embargo on the de facto regime, in the hope that economic sanctions would force the coup leaders from power, but the embargo hurt the poorest and most marginalized Haitians the most.  Fearing political persecution and struggling under a suffocated economy, tens of thousands of people fled on boats seeking refuge in the United States.  Much as Reagan had done in the early 1980s, the Bush administration claimed that the Haitian refugees were not victims of human rights violations, and therefore the US would not grant them political asylum.  Many died at sea; others were incarcerated at detention camps at Guantanamo; most were repatriated to Haiti (where some were indeed killed for their politics).

Radio Haiti stopped broadcasting on October 4, 1991, five days after the coup d’état, after the military regime cracked down on independent media.  Soon after, Jean Dominique and Michèle Montas went into exile in New York for the second time.  The station did not open again until 1994.

Jean Dominique uses his famous pipe to point to the bullet holes in the façade of the Radio Haiti building. Washington Post, October 25, 1991. Radio Haiti Collection, paper archive.

We have no tapes from that time, save one – a recording of the July 1993 meeting at Governors Island in New York, where US officials attempted to broker an agreement between deposed president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and junta leader Raoul Cédras.  When Radio Haiti was on the air, the paper materials reflect the audio materials: on-air scripts and journalists’ notes, and printed material from Haitian organizations.  By contrast, the paper archive contains no notes and no scripts from the coup years, except for Jean Dominique’s assiduously detailed handwritten chronology of the Governors Island meeting.

The first page of Jean Dominique’s notes on the 1993 Governors Island meeting. Radio Haiti collection, paper archive.

But it is not a passive silence; it is a fraught and frustrated silence, an absence that draws attention to itself.  Radio Haiti’s paper archive gives us a glimpse of Jean Dominique’s experience of exile – of a time when he, like the Haitian masses, could not speak freely in his homeland; of a time before the Internet and long before social media, when reliable firsthand information coming from Haiti was scant, terrifying, and tragic.  For a Haitian in exile from Haiti, a journalist exiled from his microphone, the distance must have been unbearable.

The volume of secondary printed material from 1991 to 1994 testifies to an archive passionately and scrupulously amassed.  There are several fat, overstuffed folders filled with tightly-bound news clippings, most of them from American media – the New York Times, Newsweek, the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post the Nation.  We have several artifacts from the reliably nuanced and thoughtful New York Post.

New York Post, October 6, 1991, Radio Haiti collection, paper archive.

There are also clippings from smaller publications, such as college newspapers and newspapers of the Haitian and Caribbean communities in New York.   There are in-depth articles, photo spreads, short op eds, brief marginal asides.  They were cut out of newspapers, mailed by friends and family (often with notes attached).  These articles detail the mounting violence in Haiti, the effects of the embargo, the plight of refugees at sea and incarcerated at Guantanamo, the Bush administration’s refusal to grant asylum, and pro-Aristide demonstrations in New York, Miami, Washington DC, and elsewhere.

The collection features some rather extraordinary documents. There is this acerbic fax from pro-democracy activist Antoine Izméry, dripping with unconcealed disdain, congratulating Bush on his loss in the 1992 presidential election.  “You failed all over,” Izméry declares.  He decries the Bush administration’s racism, hypocrisy, and self-interest and blames the US for engineering the 1991 coup, before wishing the departing president a “peaceful and repentant retirement.”

Antoine Izméry’s fax to George H.W. Bush, November 4, 1992. Radio Haiti collection, paper archive.

Also in the archive is a copy of this press release from Father Gérard Jean-Juste, a liberation theology priest and prominent Aristide supporter.  Jean-Juste, “in hiding in Haiti,” refers to Bush’s “skinhead policy,” suggests that Bush’s sudden illness at a state dinner in Japan earlier that year was the result of a
“voodoo curse,” and implores him to “BE A GENUINE AMERICAN, Mr. BUSH.  Get your perceived KKK titles off.  Work your way to HEAVEN as being a christian.”

Gérard Jean-Juste press release, November 3, 1992. Radio Haiti collection, paper archive

Haiti’s beleaguered pro-democracy movement was hopeful that the election of Bill Clinton would lead to more just and humane policies toward Haitian refugees and the restoration of the Aristide government.  But Clinton ultimately did little to improve conditions for Haitian refugees, and Aristide would not return to power until nearly two years later, after armed intervention by the United States.  By then, Antoine Izméry would be dead.  He was dragged from Sacre Coeur church by plainclothes police and shot dead in the street on September 11, 1993 in full view of parishioners and human rights observers attending a commemoration of the 1988 St. Jean Bosco massacre.

In late 1994, after Aristide was restored to power, Radio Haïti reopened.  The three years of radio silence were broken by a new series of jubilant jingles and slogans: Nou tounen!  Nou la pi rèd!  [We’re back!  We’re here stronger than ever!]  But the damage wrought by the coup years and the conditions of Aristide’s return was enduring; the pro-democracy movement would never again possess the same momentum or clear emancipatory promise that it had in 1991.

Post contributed by Laura Wagner, Ph.D.,  Radio Haiti Project Archivist. 

The post The Noise in the Silence: Radio Haiti During the Coup Years appeared first on The Devil's Tale.

Accidental Collections part 2

Thu, 08/27/2015 - 19:06

Previously I have written about what I termed an “accidental collection” that occurred with collections of print ads cut from magazines, whereby frequently interesting and equally historical ads appear on the back side of the ad that was intentionally collected. Accidental collections remain hidden unless there is some way to document their presence. Unfortunately, there are not many mechanisms in current archival description “best practices” to document them.

Recently I’ve encountered another and quite different kind of accidental collection. I’m currently working with the Cause Marketing Forum’s Halo Awards collection recently acquired by the Hartman Center.  This award is given to projects that utilize marketing and media to promote social causes via partnerships between businesses and nonprofit organizations such as Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the USO among many others. While “cause marketing” as a term may not be a familiar one, the campaigns form a significant part of businesses’ and nonprofits’ marketing efforts and many are probably well known to you: Race for the Cure; VH1 Save the Music; Cartoon Network’s Rescue Recess; Lee National Denim Day; and at holiday time your favorite department store has likely teamed up with the likes of Toys for Tots, the Salvation Army or a local food bank or rescue shelter. That’s cause marketing.

The Halo Awards collection contains over a decade’s worth of the award’s entry forms and accompanying documentation, the latter which arrives in a wide variety of formats. One really interesting format here is an amazing variety of promotional thumb drives. Many simply feature a corporate logo or slogan, perhaps a website URL, but others feature artwork or have designs that can range from the emblematic to the whimsical. Time Warner’s “Connect a Million Minds” drive forms a bracelet, while the National Association of Realtors’ drive looks like a block of wood. A drive for New Balance imitates a running shoe where the heel pulls off to reveal the drive connection.  EMTec’s drive resembles a cartoon character whose head comes off, and a drive for Chevron is a toy car where the connection slides out from the rear.

Together these promotional drives form a collection of their own, as artifacts and ephemera representing a form of media belonging to a very particular time (in this case, the past 6 or 7 years). One day the design and promotional nature of these drives may take on an historical importance of its own apart from the significance of the contents of the drives for the collection to which they originally belong. This kind of thing frequently poses a dilemma for archivists and conservators: the relative significance and archival value of the contents of a document or medium versus the form of the media itself. How does one evaluate and/or value the vessel? Is it possible to describe collections within collections, or do the conditions of possibility of one mode of description preclude others?

Post contributed by Rick Collier; photographs by Katrina Martin

The post Accidental Collections part 2 appeared first on The Devil's Tale.

Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Rush on the quality he values “more than all things”

Mon, 08/24/2015 - 18:34

While processing the Benjamin Rush papers, which will soon be digitized and available online, Alice Poffinberger, Archivist/Original Cataloger, came across a letter from Thomas Jefferson to fellow Founding Father Dr. Benjamin Rush. The letter, dated January 3, 1808, requests that Rush grant Jefferson’s teenage grandson his “friendly attentions” when he moves to Philadelphia the coming autumn.  Though unnamed in the letter, the grandson in question is Thomas Jefferson Randolph, who attended the University of Pennsylvania from  1808 to 1809.

Stating that he is “without that bright fancy that captivates,” Jefferson hopes the fifteen-year-old “possesses sound judgment and much observation” in addition to the quality he values “more than all things, good humor.”  Jefferson goes on to list the qualities of the mind he appreciates as good humor, integrity, industry, and science. Following this list, he claims “The preference of the 1st to the 2nd quality may not at first be acquiesced in, but certainly we had all rather associate with a good humored light-principled man, than an ill-tempered rigorist in morality.”


Randolph would go on to serve six terms in the Virginia House of Delegates and manage his grandfather’s sizable debts as the sole executor of his estate.

Post contributed by Katrina Martin, Technical Services Assistant. 

The post Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Rush on the quality he values “more than all things” appeared first on The Devil's Tale.

Onè! Respè! (Honor! Respect!)

Wed, 07/29/2015 - 19:39

The Radio Haiti archive project is underway! We’ve spent the first couple weeks creating a behemoth database…

…assigning each and every tape a unique ID number, and putting the tapes in nice new comfortable bar-coded boxes. This means that an archive which arrived looking like this…

Radio Haiti boxes arrive in North Carolina after a long voyage

… now, happily, looks like this.

AV archivist Craig Breaden with some newly-boxed Radio Haiti tapes


We are incredibly fortunate that the former Radio Haiti staff and friends and family in Port-au-Prince (you know who you are!) sent the tapes with a detailed inventory — it makes our job so much easier.

We are also inspecting the tapes for mold (and we have found mold aplenty).

¼ inch tape with mold on it ¼ inch tape with mold on it


We are also keeping track of which tapes are going to require a little extra TLC.

We’re creating rather sweeping controlled vocabulary — describing subjects, names, and places that appear in the archive. Once we’ve put in all this metadata, we can send the more than 3500 tapes off to be cleaned and digitized.

These tasks (organizing, typing in data, cross-referencing, labeling, bar-coding, describing, mold-noting), while arguably unglamorous, are necessary groundwork for eventually making the recordings publicly accessible, ensuring that these tapes can speak again, and that Radyo Ayiti pap peri (Radio Haiti will never perish).

We’ve only listened to a small sampling of the recordings so far, but the tapes themselves, as physical objects, tell a story. Even the mold is part of the story. That white mold on the tapes and the dusty dark mildew on the tape boxes tell of the  Radio Haiti journalists’ multiple exiles during which the tapes remained in the tropics and the future of the station was uncertain.

To glance over the titles of the recordings — the labels on their spines, lined up in order, row upon row — is to chart the outline of late 20th century Haitian political history — a chronology of presidencies, coups, interventions, massacres, disappearances, and impunity. The eighty-nine tapes chronicling the Raboteau trial of 2000, in which former junta leaders were tried for the 1994 torture and massacre of civilians, take up an entire shelf.

And then there is the long, long sequence of recordings after the April 3, 2000 assassination of Jean Dominique, when the center of the station’s orbit violently and irrevocably shifted.

It is uncanny to look at the tapes with hindsight and see the patterns emerge. Here is the political landscape of Haiti, from the 1970s to the 2000s, from dictatorship to the democratic era: The same impunity, the same lies, the same corruption, the same suffering, the same mentalities, the same machinations. Chameleons change their color, oppressors repaint their faces, state-sanctioned killings become extrajudicial killings, and the poor generally come off the worst.

The journalists who did these reports and conducted these interviews experienced these events in real time. They could not yet know the whole story because, in each of these moments, they were in the middle of it. For them, the enthusiasm of 1986 (after Duvalier fell, and Radio Haiti’s staff returned from their first exile) and of 1994 (when Aristide was reinstated, and Radio Haiti’s staff returned from their second exile) was unfettered. Likewise, for them, the struggle against impunity and injustice was urgent.

There is a recording labeled “Justice Dossier Jando Blocage 4.9.01” — “Justice Jean Dominique case blocked investigation.” Those short words contain a saga: by September 2001, a year and a half after Jean Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint were murdered, Radio Haiti was already reporting on how the investigation had stalled. In 2001, perhaps, justice appeared attainable, just out of reach. Now, fourteen years later, the case remains unsolved.

Back in 2011, I attended a talk by Haitian human rights activist Jean-Claude Bajeux in Port-au-Prince, where he said, “gen anpil fantòm kap sikile nan peyi a ki pa gen stati.” (“there are many ghosts wandering through this country that have no statue”). He was speaking of those who were disappeared under the Duvalier regime. But he could have been speaking, too, of innumerable others who have died and been erased – those who were killed by the earthquake, under the military regime, through direct political violence and through the structural violence of everyday oppression.

This archive is not a statue or a monument, but it is one place where the dead speak. Sometimes the controlled vocabulary feels like an inventory of ghosts.

Sometimes I think I am working on an archive that was never meant to be archived, something that was supposed to remain an active, living struggle. I think of how far these clean cardboard storage boxes and quiet temperature-controlled spaces are from the sting of tear gas, the stickiness of blood, the smell of burning tires, the crack of gunfire, the heat and noise, the laughter and fury of Haiti.

But salvaging and preserving is part of the struggle; remembering is, itself, a political act.

Post contributed by Laura Wagner, Radio Haiti Project Archivist.

The post Onè! Respè! (Honor! Respect!) appeared first on The Devil's Tale.

Come for the ad, stay for the history lesson

Mon, 06/29/2015 - 14:00

The Hartman Center houses a Vertical Files collection from Brouillard Communications, a division of the J. Walter Thompson Company advertising agency, with files on an extensive set of industry groups and individual companies. While processing this collection I came across this 1948 ad for Avondale Mills of Alabama. The ad celebrates graduates from an Avondale Negro School with a quote from Booker T. Washington (“Cast down your bucket where you are”) and encouragement to take advantage of the opportunities that education provides, whether in one of Avondale’s mills—the ad points out that 1 in 12 Avondale employees were African American, about 600 out of the 7,000 total workforce—or in any of a number of other professions. As a corporate public relations piece, it is effusively inspirational.

We tend to think of Birmingham as the epicenter of the civil rights movement, a place Dr. King once called the most segregated city in America, where racial oppression was at its harshest. Bull Connor, the bombing of the 16th St. Baptist Church, King’s letter from jail there.  History, however, is more complicated and more vexing.  In 1897 Braxton Bragg Comer (who would serve as Governor of Alabama from 1907-1911) established a mill in the Avondale neighborhood of Birmingham, not far from the city center.  Comer’s vision, carried out and expanded by his sons and other family members, was to create an ideal Progressive-era mill village, complete with schools, hospitals and dairy farms to serve the employees. Avondale employed men and women (and also some children, which brought sharp criticism from child labor reformers), white and black, and offered profit sharing and retirement plans, medical care, living wages, affordable housing, even access to vacation properties in Florida. By the time this ad ran in the Saturday Evening Post, the company had expanded to several mills and 7,000 employees who, as the ad proclaims “participate in Avondale’s ‘Partnership-with-People’.”

This all sounds very much like contemporary progressive economic and social rhetoric, and the list of Avondale’s employee benefits would be appealing today. The following decades, of course, would see the collapse of the textile industry in the U.S. South as production moved overseas (the Avondale Mills would themselves close for good in 2006), but here in this ad is a remarkable testimony to a social experiment that combined progressive social welfare ambitions with company town paternalism.

Post contributed by Richard J. Collier, Technical Services Archivist, John. W. Hartman Center.

The post Come for the ad, stay for the history lesson appeared first on The Devil's Tale.